There were a few mechanical adjustments, but it was an attitude adjustment that sparked reliever Blake Parker’s resurgence with the Angels.
The 32-year-old right-hander, who spent most of his first 10 professional seasons in the minor leagues before ascending to Angels closer last August, had a 14.54 ERA in 8 2/3 spring-training innings and a 7.71 ERA in 4 2/3 innings of his first five regular-season games.
In 17 games since, including Sunday’s scoreless ninth inning, Parker has a 1.50 ERA, having allowed three runs, struck out 21, walked four and held hitters to a .221 average in 18 innings.
“I think that’s why I had success last year, I always had that chip on my shoulder and that confidence in myself,” said Parker, who had a 2.54 ERA and eight saves in 71 appearances in 2017.
“Coming off a rough spring, maybe I lost that a little bit, and now I’m starting to get that back. That’s big. Pitching is very mental, and sometimes the slightest thing can knock you off.”
With Keynan Middleton, who had gotten most of the team’s save opportunities, going down with a season-ending elbow injury last week, the Angels clearly have no clear-cut closer.
Justin Anderson replaced starter Shohei Ohtani in the eighth inning Sunday and walked Wilson Ramos before striking out Brad Miller to douse the threat.
Parker allowed a leadoff single in the ninth before getting Mallex Smith to fly to left and striking out Daniel Robertson and Johnny Field to lower his ERA to 2.78 in 22 games.
“I’m starting to feel more comfortable, I’m getting some confidence back and snowballing a few outings together,” Parker said. “Being a reliever is all about staying ready.
“[Manager Mike Scioscia] knows that a bunch of us can go out there and get big outs. I was excited for my name to be called, but it could be someone else tomorrow and someone else the next day.”
Shohei Ohtani has put on some impressive power displays during batting practice, even launching a ball off the bottom of the giant scoreboard beyond the right-field seats in Angel Stadium on Friday, a blast the team measured at 513 feet.
The two-way star, tabbed baseball’s most intriguing player, would seem to be a natural for the home run derby. He he did little to fuel speculation, especially in Japan, that he will participate in the event, which will be held on July 16, the Monday before the All-Star Game.
“It’s an honor to even be mentioned in that conversation, but I still feel like I’m not at that level yet,” Ohtani, speaking through an interpreter, said after Sunday’s game. “So I just need to keep on showing up every day, putting up good results, and maybe, we’ll see from there.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash’s strategy of using Sergio Romo, a short reliever, to start against the Angels’ predominantly right-handed lineup worked so well Saturday night — when Romo struck out the side in the first inning of an eventual 5-3 win — that he used it again Sunday.
Romo’s start marked the first time in franchise history the Angels faced the same starting pitcher in consecutive days. It was last done in the big leagues by then-Milwaukee pitcher Zack Greinke against the Houston Astros on July 7-8, 2012.
Greinke was ejected after four pitches in the first game of those back-to-backs for spiking the ball in the dirt following a close play at first base.
Romo struck out three and walked two in 1 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday before yielding to Matt Andriese with one out in the second.
In search of answers
Matt Shoemaker played catch Sunday for the first time since his rehabilitation from a forearm injury stalled on May 6, but that doesn’t mean the right-hander has resolved the nerve issue that has sidelined him since March 31.
The nerve specialist who examined Shoemaker in St. Louis last week told the pitcher he might be able to better pinpoint the source of his pain if he activated his arm. Shoemaker will travel to St. Louis again Monday to be reexamined.
“I feel like we’re getting closer,” Shoemaker said, “but we’re still not 100% there.”