For a while Tuesday night, in an 8-3 loss to one of baseball’s hottest-hitting teams, the Angels acquitted themselves well despite long seeming doomed without Andrelton Simmons in the lineup, diagnosed with a Grade-3 sprain of his left ankle.
Mike Trout hit his 11th home run of the season in the first inning, swatting a letter-high fastball from Minnesota Twins starter Michael Pineda into Angel Stadium’s left-field corner. Brian Goodwin scored on David Fletcher’s RBI single and Luis Rengifo came home on a wild pitch to give the Angels a 3-0 lead in the second.
Then the Angels’ bats fell silent. None of their final seven base runners advanced beyond second base.
And the Angels’ bullpen, perhaps the most encouraging component of a team that has struggled to get to .500, imploded for a second straight night, giving up seven runs in the last four innings.
“The bullpen has been an extreme strength of ours, so I’m not gonna, after two games, claim it’s a weakness,” manager Brad Ausmus said of a relief corps that entered Tuesday with the ninth-lowest earned-run average in baseball. “It’s just two games. It’s a pretty good offensive club we’re playing against in the Twins. I’m not gonna read too much into it.”
Rookie Ty Buttrey usually would have entered in a situation like that, but he was unavailable after pitching in three of the previous four games. So Ausmus beckoned Anderson, another of the Angels’ most effective relievers.
The inning erased the progress made by Cahill, who has been stung all season by home runs. Relying on his changeup for a second straight start against Minnesota, he held the Twins hitless through four innings and scoreless through five. He gave up one hit, walked two and yielded few hard-hit balls in that span. He also drew nine swings-and-misses on his offspeed pitches.
“That’s kind of more the Trevor Cahill we envisioned,” Ausmus said of the veteran sinker-baller, who was signed to a one-year, $9-million contract. “Probably his best outing of the year.”
Then Ausmus sent Cahill back for the start of the sixth inning to face Max Kepler, who was one for 10 with a walk against Cahill in his career. The decision backfired. Cahill gave up a double.
“They’ve got a really good team,” Cahill said. “[Facing them] two times in a row, it’s tough. … I’m trying to get through that sixth inning, set up 7-8-9 with a lead for the bullpen instead of them coming in in the middle of an inning with guys on. They’ve done a great job all season. Just a bad taste in your mouth if you can’t get through that last inning.”
A defensive alignment cost the Angels two more runs in the seventh. With two outs and runners on the corners, the Angels shifted their infield defense against the left-handed-hitting Eddie Rosario. Third baseman Tommy La Stella stood on the grass behind the shortstop’s position, shortstop David Fletcher was behind second base and Rengifo, the second baseman, manned shallow right field. Polanco, the lead runner, was not being held at third base, so he took multiple leads toward home plate. Pitcher Luke Bard and catcher Jonathan Lucroy chased Polanco back to third.
The battle ended with Polanco scoring anyway on a two-run single by Rosario, who stroked a ground ball into the shift and still picked up a hit when Fletcher and Rengifo got crossed up chasing the ball.
“He had a good at-bat,” Bard said. “He put a ball in play. I got weak contact but just unfortunately for me it got through.”
Fletcher chalked the misplay up to miscommunication.
“I got a good jump, so I tried to go after it,” Fletcher said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to get there, so I kind of pulled up and I got in his way. … I didn’t think he would have had as easy a play as he probably would’ve if I didn’t go after it.”
Angels reliever Noe Ramirez gave up a solo home run in the eighth to Twins rookie Luis Arraez, the first of the youngster’s career. The Twins’ five-run lead was insurmountable.
It might never have reached that point if Cahill and the Angels’ relievers had stopped the Twins’ momentum.