Everything went right for the Angels on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium, as they welcomed back Tyler Skaggs by gifting him an early lead on their way to a 5-1 win over the Kansas City Royals.
Skaggs, who hadn’t started in two weeks as he nursed a left ankle sprain, pitched five-plus scoreless innings. As he wielded an effective curveball and saw the velocity on his fastball spike to nearly 94 mph, he encountered minimal resistance from the Royals. He struck out five. Skaggs allowed three hits and three walks, but the left-hander emerged unscathed.
The Angels’ defense made a few key plays behind Skaggs. Perhaps the most important occurred in the first inning, when third baseman David Fletcher played a chopper hit by speedster Adalberto Mondesi. He tossed it quickly to Luis Rengifo at second and the rookie turned it just in time to beat Mondesi by centimeters.
Skaggs always performs well at Kauffman Stadium. He’s allowed one earned run over 26 innings in four starts here.
In fact, it was here, on a night nearly three years ago, that Skaggs took a major league mound for the first time since undergoing elbow reconstruction surgery. That first scoreless start — a seven-inning, three-hit gem on July 26, 2016 — holds value for Skaggs even now.
“It’s special to me because you work so hard to return from Tommy John and this place always has a soft spot in my heart,” Skaggs said. “I’m happy I can keep it rolling. … I just feel very very confident on the mound here. I don’t know what else to say. I like pitching here.”
Skaggs felt confident despite battling fastball command all game. Those struggles manifested in the fourth inning, when he gave up back-to-back singles and a walk after getting two quick outs. But he got out of the bases-loaded jam by striking out Ryan O’Hearn with the help of two nearly 94-mph fastballs. Adrenaline fueled the velocity spike and the double-fist pump as he came off the mound.
“I was fired up,” said Skaggs, who threw 28 pitches in the fourth. “It’s a little pent-up emotion from not pitching for two weeks.”
Skaggs’ pitch count — he had thrown 88 through five innings, then issued a leadoff walk on four pitches to Whit Merrifield in the sixth before being removed from the game — didn’t allow him to pitch deep into the game, but the Angels bullpen wasn’t fazed by its four-inning task. Luke Bard pitched two scoreless innings, striking out two and reaping the benefits of a double play started by Rengifo to end the sixth. Cam Bedrosian gave up a hit in the eighth but induced his own double play to end the inning. Justin Anderson was the only Angels pitcher to allow a run; Merrifield led off the ninth with a triple and scored on Modesi’s sacrifice fly.
“I don’t know how many games — I don’t think many — you’ll see double plays turned against Mondesi and [Billy] Hamilton,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That’s well done by our defense.”
The Angels took an early lead against Royals left-hander Danny Duffy, who was activated from the injured list to make his first start of the season. Fletcher led off the first inning with a single and scored when Albert Pujols launched a two-out home run into the fountains beyond left-center field. The 430-foot shot gave Pujols the 1,995th RBI of his career, moving him into fourth all time, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Game officials retrieved the ball from the fountain to give to Pujols, who hadn’t received it when he spoke after the game.
“It’s a great accomplishment to pass one of the best players that played the game,” said Pujols, who moved ahead of Lou Gehrig on the list. “I think at the end of the day it was good that we got two runs on the board and were able to stay with that lead and win the game.”
Andrelton Simmons’ fifth-inning double, which was misplayed by Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, scored Mike Trout from first to increase the Angels’ lead to 3-0. Rengifo added another run of insurance on a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning for the first RBI of his career.
Kole Calhoun, batting only .200, knocked his seventh home run in the eighth inning. It was his third straight game with a homer.
“He’s swinging the bat well,” Aumsus said. “I know he had a big long hitting session with the hitting coaches on the homestand and it immediately started paying dividends with some of the home runs he’s been hitting.”
The Angels (11-16), with three victories in their last 12 games, have back-to-back wins for the first time since a six-game winning streak earlier this month.
“It’s nice to have [Skaggs] back,” Ausmus said. “He’s a guy we were counting on. Hopefully we keep him healthy the rest of the way and he continues to pitch well.”