The 92-mph fastball from Kansas City left-hander Danny Duffy caught Kole Calhoun flush on the inside of the left wrist in the fourth inning on Sunday, igniting a fit of fist-shaking anger and a stream of pain-induced invective from the Angels right fielder.
“Looking back, I’m happy he hit me,” Calhoun said after a 5-1 loss to the Royals in Angel Stadium, his wrist wrapped in ice, “because I had a tough day at the plate.”
Calhoun wasn’t being some kind of masochist. After he was hit by that pitch, he scored his team’s only run on Kevan Smith’s double, giving Calhoun one productive plate appearance in a game in which he struck out three times and misplayed a ball in right field during Kansas City’s decisive three-run third inning.
Calhoun’s teammates didn’t fare much better, managing six hits and going one for seven with runners in scoring position against Duffy and three Royals relievers and continuing their seasonlong struggles against left-handers.
Duffy, mixing a fastball that ranged from 91-95 mph with a sharp slider and an occasional slow curve and changeup, held the Angels to one run and five hits in six innings, striking out five and walking three to improve to 3-1 with a 3.45 ERA.
“Today was probably the best I’ve seen him throw,” Calhoun said of Duffy.
The Angels also struck out three times against left-hander Jake Diekman in the eighth. They are now 5-12 against left-handed starters and rank last in the major leagues with a .210 average and 25th with a .648 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against left-handers.
They are 17-12 against right-handed starters and tied for first in the major leagues with a .276 average and fourth with an .813 OPS against right-handed pitchers.
“I don’t know, not really,” shortstop Andrelton Simmons said, when asked if he had any explanation for the team’s inability to hit left-handers. “Maybe the lefties just decide to have their best games against us on those days.”
Manager Brad Ausmus was equally stumped.
“We haven’t found [any reason] yet, but we’ll keep searching,” Ausmus said. “It’s tough to explain, to be honest with you.”
The Angels started their best left-hander, Tyler Skaggs, hoping he could continue his mastery of a Royals team he limited to one earned run in 26 innings (0.35 ERA) of four career starts entering Sunday.
Skaggs gave up four runs — three earned — and six hits in 5 2/3 innings, striking out seven and walking two. He has allowed 14 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings of his last three starts, falling to 4-4 with a 5.01 ERA.
Skaggs threw 110 pitches, the most of any Angels pitcher this season, 34 of them in a laborious third inning that began to sour with Whit Merrifield’s one-out walk and Nicky Lopez’s single to right.
Adalberto Mondesi followed with a flare to shallow right. Calhoun charged in and threw his glove into the air in an effort to fool the runners before pulling up on a ball that he might have been able to catch with a dive.
The ball bounced off Calhoun’s hip and by him for an error that allowed Merrifield to score and the runners to advance to second and third. Alex Gordon struck out, but Hunter Dozier roped a two-run double to left-center for a 3-0 lead.
“It’s right in that gray area,” Calhoun said of Mondesi’s hit. “Maybe I have a chance to get it. If I miss it, we’re in trouble. I decided to check up on it and it skipped away from me and led to a big inning. It’s something you never want to happen. I thought it would bounce a little different and it got away from me.”
The athletic and aggressive Calhoun, who won a Gold Glove Award in 2015, has made numerous diving catches of similar balls. Was he kicking himself for not laying out for the bloop?