The early dominance was deceiving and draining. As Angels right-hander JC Ramirez racked up six strikeouts in the first two innings of an eventual 7-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, the effort required to finish off those hitters on a balmy 84-degree afternoon rose exponentially.
Ramirez, a converted starter who spent the last five years as a reliever, needed 19 pitches to complete the first inning and 27 to finish the second, which ended with an eight-pitch strikeout of Alex Gordon. By the third inning, Ramirez admitted he was a little gassed.
Staked to a 2-0 lead on the strength of Cameron Maybin's single, Kole Calhoun's run-scoring double and Andrelton Simmons' two-out run-scoring single in the first inning, Ramirez gave up a double to Ramon Torres to start the third.
Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer capped seven-pitch at-bats with one-out walks to load the bases. Salvador Perez flied to shallow right field, the runners holding.
Mike Moustakas, the former Chatsworth High standout, ripped a three-run double to right-center field for a 3-2 Kansas City lead. Brandon Moss walked and Alcides Escobar grounded to third base on Ramirez's 38th pitch of the inning.
Ramirez yielded a leadoff single to Gordon in the fourth inning and hit Torres with his 89th and final pitch. Jorge Bonifacio singled against reliever Keynan Middleton to load the bases.
Hosmer hit a one-out sacrifice fly for his 500th RBI, and with two outs, Perez turned on a 97-mph fastball, sending it 429 feet to center field for his 14th homer and a 7-2 lead.
"Three-plus innings, 89 pitches … that's a full day's work, that's tough," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Ramirez. "He struck out some guys, sure, but he ran into a lot of deep counts. There was a lot of traffic out there."
Ramirez (6-5) can run his fastball up to 98 mph, and his slider, which he used to strike out four batters Sunday, has a sharp, downward break. But just because he has the stuff of a strikeout pitcher he's not trying to be one.
"You know what? I'm not that kind of pitcher," he said. "I'm the type of pitcher who relies on contact. … Today, I couldn't get those guys to hit the ground ball or fly ball with fewer pitches. That's why I threw so many pitches."
Left-hander Jason Vargas, the former Long Beach State standout who pitched for the Angels in 2013, continued his strong return from elbow ligament-replacement surgery, relying on his changeup and slow curve to limit the Angels to three runs and eight hits in six innings. Vargas, who sat out most of 2015 and 2016, improved to 10-3 with a 2.27 ERA.
The Angels had a chance to put a big dent in the deficit in the sixth inning, when Yunel Escobar doubled, Simmons singled and C.J. Cron walked to load the bases with no outs.
Danny Espinosa, who is hitting .172, swung at a 2-and-0 pitch and flied to shallow right field, the runners holding. Ben Revere hit a sacrifice fly to make it 7-3 and Juan Graterol popped out to end the inning.
"I think Danny got a little anxious," Scioscia said. "It happens."
The Angels outhit the Royals 12-10 but were two for 11 with runners in scoring position, Martin Maldonado grounding into a double play with two on to end the eighth inning and Albert Pujols grounding into a double play with two on to end the game. They rank seventh in the league with a .255 average with runners in scoring position.
"You've got to keep feeding the beast, putting guys in scoring position, and hopefully guys will come through with the hit you need," Scioscia said. "At times we have, but for most of the first half, we haven't."