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Angels’ big seventh inning backs Andrew Heaney’s strong season debut

Angels’ big seventh inning backs Andrew Heaney’s strong season debut
Angels starter Andrew Heaney delivers a pitch in the first inning Sunday afternoon. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

Buried amid the flurry of wild pitches, errors and head-scratching bullpen moves that marred the Angels’ come-from-behind, 7-6 victory over the Texas Rangers on Sunday was a promising season debut by Andrew Heaney.

The Angels left-hander, who missed the first two months of the season because of elbow inflammation, allowed two runs and two hits in five innings, striking out eight and walking one. Mixing a sinking fastball that averaged 92.3 mph and touched 95.1 with a curveball and changeup, Heaney retired the first nine batters, six by strikeout, before giving up solo homers to Shin-Soo Choo and Hunter Pence in the fourth.

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He threw 85 pitches, 53 for strikes.

“He was outstanding,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He was perfect through three, had a bunch of punch-outs. The only thing that held him back was his pitch count.”

One thing holding the Angels back from a winning record is an underperforming rotation that entered the weekend with a major league-worst 5.86 earned-run average.

But with Griffin Canning’s five-inning, one-run effort Friday, Tyler Skaggs’ 5-2/3 scoreless innings Saturday and Heaney’s strong effort Sunday, the rotation might be starting to rise. A return to 2018 form by Heaney, who was 9-10 with a 4.15 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 180 innings last season, would help.

“That would be huge,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “We need someone to step up and shut some people down, and he definitely did that today the first time through the lineup. That was impressive.

“If he can maintain that and go deeper into games, we’re gonna have some fun times with him.”

The Rangers had a 2-1 lead when Heaney departed. Then things got wild.

Texas extended the lead to 5-1 with three runs off reliever Taylor Cole in the sixth, a rally that included Angels shortstop Luis Rengifo’s two-base throwing error and broken-bat RBI hits by Pence (double) and Rougned Odor (single).

The Angels rallied for six runs in the seventh, most of the damage coming after Jeffrey Springs replaced starter Ariel Jurado.

Jared Walsh doubled to center, putting runners on second and third. Rengifo squibbed a two-run single to right that made the score 5-3. Tommy La Stella singled. Rangers manager Chris Woodward left Springs in to face Mike Trout, who hit a solo homer in the first.

Trout poked an RBI double to left to make it 5-4. Woodward then pulled Springs in favor of right-hander Kyle Dowdy to face the left-handed-hitting Shohei Ohtani, whose sacrifice fly tied the score 5-5.

Trout scored on a wild pitch for a 6-5 lead and Kole Calhoun, who’d been intentionally walked, took third when catcher Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s throw to Dowdy covering the plate hit Trout and caromed to the backstop. Calhoun scored on another wild pitch for a 7-5 lead.

With relievers Ty Buttrey, Cam Bedrosian and Hansel Robles unavailable, Ausmus in the eighth turned to Felix Pena, who was scheduled to start or pitch the bulk of Monday’s game at Oakland. Pena struck out three batters with two on and was replaced by Justin Anderson to start the ninth.

Ronald Guzman struck out on a breaking pitch in the dirt but reached when the ball got away from Lucroy. Choo doubled to right for a run that cut the lead to 7-6 and took third on Elvis Andrus’ fly to deep right. The Angels brought their infield in for Pence, who struck out on a nasty sweeping slider.

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“Runner on third, one out, infield in against Hunter Pence isn’t an ideal situation because he makes hard contact,” Ausmus said. “[Anderson] did a good job of getting him on the strikeout.”

Joey Gallo walked, but Anderson got pinch-hitter Nomar Mazara to ground out to second to end the 3-hour, 27-minute game.

“It was awesome,” Heaney said. “I don’t believe in all the win probability stuff, but being down 5-1 in the seventh, I doubt we had that high of one. I’m just glad to be part of the team again. I’ve been here, but when you’re not playing, not producing, you just want to be out there and be part of it.”

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