This was not merely an aberration for Matt Shoemaker, the Angels right-hander who will start Game 2 of the American League division series against the Kansas City Royals on Friday night. It was borderline paranormal, an outing so rocky — and so out of line for the consistent rookie — that it is difficult to explain.
And it came against the team Shoemaker, who sat out the final two weeks of the season because of a mild left rib-cage strain, will make his first career playoff start against.
Shoemaker gave up eight earned runs and 11 hits, including a home run to Omar Infante, in four innings of an 8-6 loss to the Royals in Kansas City on June 27. Shoemaker, who went 16-4 with a 3.04 earned-run average for the season, gave up four earned runs in only one other start.
Even more surprising was that Shoemaker, whose split-fingered fastball induces more ground balls than fly balls, gave up 17 fly balls and four grounders to the 24 batters he faced that night.
"Most of my pitches were up in the zone, and my timing and feel was off," he said. "Since then, I really focused on working the ball down in the zone, pitching up when you need to on purpose, and using all your pitches for strikes."
Shoemaker was hardly scarred by the start, going 11-2 with a 2.09 ERA in his final 14 games and winning AL pitcher-of-the-month honors in August.
"That was probably his worst start of the season," said Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. "He left some splits up and got hit hard. But I don't think that was really indicative of the way Matt can pitch. His last eight starts, he was arguably our best pitcher."
The Angels opted for right-hander Vinnie Pestano over left-hander Joe Thatcher in the bullpen and contact-hitting Efren Navarro over power-hitting Brennan Boesch on the bench.
Thatcher was acquired from Arizona on July 5, but he sat out six weeks of August and September because of a left-ankle sprain and struggled to regain his form, going 1-1 with an 8.53 ERA in 16 games.
The sidearm-throwing Pestano, acquired from Cleveland on Aug. 7, gave up only one earned run and five hits in 8 2/3 innings of 12 appearances, striking out 10 and walking three.
Boesch has more power than Navarro but is more prone to the strikeout. With Kansas City featuring three right-handed power arms — Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera — in the back of the bullpen, Navarro, who can play first base and the outfield, will have a better chance of putting the ball in play in a late-inning pinch-hit appearance.
"Efren has a little more versatility on the defensive end, and his ability to play first or corner outfield is important," Scioscia said. "He can come off the bench and get a bunt down, and if we need him to pinch-hit, he's going to put the ball in play."
By some measures, Danny Duffy was the Royals' most effective starter this season. But the Royals plan to use four starters during the division series, and Duffy is not one of them.
"That's the decision we made," said Royals Manager Ned Yost. "I'm not shying away from Danny Duffy."
Duffy went 9-12 with a 2.53 ERA. The only AL pitchers with a better ERA (minimum 140 innings): Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Jon Lester. Among the Royals starters, he has the best ERA-plus, a statistic that neutralizes league and park factors.
Duffy, 25, and Jason Vargas, 31, are both left-handed. Duffy gave up five runs in one start in Anaheim this season; Vargas one run in one start.
Vargas got the Game 1 start. Duffy is the Royals' long man, and Yost insisted there is no concern about the shoulder injury that sidelined Duffy for two weeks in September.
"We just felt we wanted to go with the veteran Jason Vargas, who pitches better on the road," Yost said.