Sickly Angels’ offense searches for cure in time for home opener

We asked Los Angeles Angels players two important questions: What makes a good walk-up song and should the shift be outlawed?

The promise inherent in the Angels’ home opener Thursday hadn’t taken hold. The lockers around Jonathan Lucroy were empty, the showers were going full force, and still the Angels catcher sat dutifully in the visiting clubhouse at T-Mobile Park, waiting to speak with reporters after his team lost 2-1 to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night.

Lucroy, a veteran in his 11th major league season, anticipated the questions. He had narrowly missed beating out a ground ball minutes earlier. Had he made it to first base a half-step sooner in the ninth inning, Mike Trout would have scored the tying run.

Instead, it was just another Angels scoreless inning.

Instead, it encapsulated the Angels’ early scoring woes.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Baseball’s a game of millimeters.”

The Angels (1-5) have been held to three or fewer runs in five of the first six games, leading to their worst start since the franchise’s first season in 1961. Their team OPS is a sickly .481, their batting average an unsightly .178.

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Lucroy, the only Angel batting over .300, addressed the question without anyone even asking it: When is the offense going to come alive?

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that we’re going to start hitting,” he said. “We have too many good hitters in here, too many guys that have done too much in their careers. This is just a slow start. Teams have slow starts. … I’m not worried about it.”

The Angels are scuffling despite indications they should have more success.

— Their starting pitchers haven’t allowed more than four runs in any game. Had the offense been clicking, every game would have been winnable.

— Their relievers have allowed only three runs, tied for second-fewest in baseball, in 18 1/3 innings. The bullpen has kept games in reach.

— Approaches at the plate have been good enough that the Angels have only swung outside the strike zone 26.5% of the time, according to Fangraphs. Not many other teams have demonstrated better discipline.

Yet here are the Angels, so weak offensively that manager Brad Ausmus has had to find five ways in six days to explain his team’s deficiencies.

“Look at the numbers on the board,” Ausmus said. “Guys just aren’t where their career numbers are. This whole road trip was a struggle for us offensively. It certainly can’t keep up.”

Two gaping holes in the lineup can’t be ignored. Slugger Justin Upton will remain on the injured list at least through May because of a toe sprain, and 2018 American League rookie of the year Shohei Ohtani is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and could be activated to hit in early May.

Upton and Ohtani combined to hit 52 of the Angels’ 214 homers and score 139 of the 721 runs last season. Without their potent bats hitting behind him, Trout has been pitched around. He’s drawn five walks, two intentional, and twice he’s been hit by pitches.

But he’s scored only once.

“We’re struggling swinging the bats,” Ausmus said. “There’s no mystery to it.”

There’s little mystery to how the Angels can emerge from this dark stretch either: Keep grinding. The hitters are not discouraged by the start, which is tied with the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox for the worst in baseball. They remain engaged.

Some took early batting practice before Tuesday’s game. Others continued to rack up hours indoors with the Angels’ trio of hitting coaches, studying videos of opposing pitchers and their own at-bats. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who is four for 23, even took swings in the batting cage immediately after Monday’s 6-3 loss to the Mariners.

The efforts will likely be rewarded. Whether improvement comes in time for the home opener remains to be seen.

“We’re not going to not hit all year,” Lucroy said. “We’re going to hit. We’ve just got a little slow start going right now.

“I feel sorry for whoever it is we’re going to face when we get going.”

Twitter: @maria_torres3