Six weeks ago in Texas, the Angels asked reliever Fernando Salas to preserve a two-run eighth-inning lead against the Rangers. They were only four games under .500 then, not the 17 they fell behind after Monday’s latest loss, 4-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays.
That day, Salas did as requested, but barely. He loaded the bases, then lucked his way out when Mitch Moreland laced a first-pitch fastball off his right arm. Salas picked up his prize, tossed it underhanded to first base, and examined his arm as he jogged off the field.
At the time, the 31-year-old right-hander carried a 2.11 earned-run average in 21 1/3 innings. He had struck out 20 men and walked four. Since that moment, he owns a 9.72 ERA in 16 2/3 innings, with seven strikeouts and seven walks. He has been a far inferior pitcher, and he bore the brunt of Monday’s defeat when he yielded the decisive runs in the sixth inning.
“After the line drive in Texas, something has been different,” Salas said. “But it’s no excuse. It’s baseball. I’ll just keep trying.”
He said he is healthy, and he has told the team he is healthy. It’s unclear what, exactly, the liner could have caused, as Salas’ velocity appears normal. Two scouts said they did not notice any alterations within his delivery.
“Never in my career has it been this difficult,” Salas said. “It’s the same action with my arm and my body. I didn’t change anything.”
Still, this is his worst professional stretch. Salas is not a star; he settled into a middle-relief role following his surprising success as St. Louis’ closer in his first full season. But it is a role he filled well. Last season, his 74-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio portended more success than he had, and the Angels expected to rely on him in 2016. They have not been able to do so, and their bullpen has suffered.
“There are some guys we know can pitch better,” Manager Mike Scioscia said Monday. “We feel they will. But until then, these games keep coming, and we’ve got to get somebody who is going to come out here and pitch well.”
Twice during Monday’s matinee at Tropicana Field, Nick Tropeano yielded solo home runs on his changeup. On the first occasion, he left one up, to Brad Miller. The second time, Logan Morrison reached to push out a pitch placed right on the strike zone’s corner.
Tropeano was upset with only the first. The start was his first in the majors since May 29. He spent three weeks on the disabled list with shoulder tightness, then made two minor league starts to work his way back here.
Yunel Escobar, an ex-Ray, reached on a first-inning bunt after an error and notched the Angels’ first hit with a double in the third inning. Mike Trout followed with a comeback single. They did not score a run then. The next inning, Andrelton Simmons pushed one across with a double, and, in the sixth, Jefry Marte slapped a solo homer.
The game was tied then, and Salas entered in relief of Tropeano. Within three batters, the Rays had taken the lead. The Angels rallied to bring up the potential go-ahead run in the ninth, but that man, C.J. Cron, popped out to end it.