There was no hint, no indication, that Ricky Nolasco would suddenly morph into the dominant right-hander who went 4-2 with a 1.47 earned-run average in his final six starts of 2016 for the Angels.
It just happened, in the same way a bloop hit will sometimes spark a hot streak for a slumping hitter, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for an injury plagued rotation in need of a shot in the arm.
Nolasco threw his sixth career shutout and 12th complete game Saturday night, surrending just three singles, striking out seven and walking none in a 4-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium.
Nolasco’s previous shutout came last Aug. 31 against the Cincinnati Reds. Before Saturday, the longest start of the season for any Angels pitcher was seven innings.
The sterling effort came on the heels of last Monday night’s gem against the Dodgers, when Nolasco held baseball’s hottest lineup scoreless over 6 1/3 innings in which he gave up five hits in a 4-0 Angels victory.
Nolasco entered that game with a 2-9 record and 5.23 ERA, an American League-high 23 home runs allowed and a career-long seven-game losing streak. He has allowed eight hits in 15 1/3 innings in his last two starts.
“I think in the Dodger game, you could see him working toward his pitch execution, and the mistakes weren’t as prevalent,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Some of the games he was struggling, he would try to go outside corner and was missing middle in.
“He was really struggling with repeating his delivery and making pitches. But as he got into the Dodger game, you saw the consistency start to come. He he carried it over into tonight and pitched a great game.”
Mixing a fastball that touched 93 mph with a slider, split-fingered fastball and an occasional slow curve, Nolasco retired the side in order in six of nine innings Saturday. Of his 105 pitches, 69 were strikes.
Only one Mariners runner reached second base, when Danny Valencia was hit by a pitch with two outs in the fifth and advanced on Mitch Haniger’s single to right. Angels center fielder Cameron Maybin raced in to make a nice running catch of Jarrod Dyson’s sinking line drive to end the inning.
“I tried to use their aggressiveness to my advantage. They came out hacking,” Nolasco said of the Mariners on Friday night. “I had a game plan going in and stuck to it until they made an adjustment. I tried to make better pitches early [in the count] because I know they were coming out hacking.
“It’s almost like pitching with two strikes from the get-go. They came out swinging,” he reiterated of the Mariners on Friday, “so I tried to learn from that and make better pitches. You don’t want to make too many mistakes against those guys.”
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons gave the Angels a 1-0 lead when he crushed his ninth homer of the season, a 438-foot solo shot to left-center, in the second. Simmons hit four homers in 2016, his first with the Angels; the only time he’s reached double figures in homers is 2013, when he 17 for Atlanta.
“I thought it was a double,” Simmons said. “I hit it, dropped my head, and I ran. I guess hit it harder than I thought. It definitely went a lot farther than I thought it was going to go. Instead of going down, it kind of had that backspin.”
Maybin, in a five-for-37 slump (.135) in the previous nine games, had two hits, including an RBI single in the third. He also backed Nolasco with several superb defensive plays.
Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz opened the second with a laser off the center-field wall. Maybin fielded the carom and fired a one-hop throw to second base in time for Simmons to swipe a tag on Cruz.
Haniger led off the third with a drive to deep right-center, where Maybin made a leaping catch at the wall for the out. One out later, catcher Carlos Ruiz hit a sinking line drive to shallow center. Maybin sprinted in and made a sliding catch just before the ball hit the turf to end the inning.
“Those were big outs,” Scioscia said. “Cruz hits a ball off the wall, Cam throws a strike to second and turns a single or a double into an out. He showed great range on Dyson’s ball with runners in scoring position. And Yunel [Escobar] at third base turned two bullets early in the game into outs.”
Ben Revere led off the bottom of the third with a single to left and stole second. Nick Franklin, making his Angels debut after being acquired from Milwaukee on Friday, advanced Revere with a grounder to first. Maybin’s single to center scored Revere for a 2-0 lead.
The Angels tacked on two insurance runs in the seventh. Yunel Escobar led off with a single to center off Seattle starter Sam Gaviglio and took third on Luis Valbuena’s double into the left-field corner off reliever Marc Rzepczynski.
Martin Maldonado was walked intentionally to load the bases. Rzepczynski threw a wild pitch that allowed Escobar to score, and Revere grounded out to first with Valbuena scoring for a 4-0 lead.
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