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Angels lose to Astros 3-1; Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ties Shohei Ohtani for home run lead

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Houston's Kyle Tucker, right, celebrates with teammate Yuli Gurriel after hitting a two-run home run.
(Michael Wyke / Associated Press)

The Angels’ lineup struggled to generate offense in a rubber-match loss to the Houston Astros on Sunday.

Jaime Barria battles, but Angels’ bats fall quiet in 3-1 loss to Astros

Jaime Barria gave up one run in four innings against the Houston Astros on Sunday. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Sunday was full of familiar sights for the Angels.

A young starter — this time, Jaime Barria — looking decent, but far from dominant.

A stellar opposing pitching staff — this time, Lance McCullers Jr. and the back end of the Houston Astros’ lethal bullpen — keeping a short-handed lineup quiet.

And manager Joe Maddon only able to compliment his team’s fight in the wake of another disappointing result — this time, a 3-1 loss in a series rubber match at Minute Maid Park.

“[The Astros] are a team that’s totally in the hunt right now, playing for something more than we are,” Maddon said. “But we’re playing right with them.”

The Angels might have indeed hung with the American League West leaders this weekend, but they couldn’t claim the series either, unable to respond on Sunday after Kyle Tucker hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the fifth.

The Angels are 70-73, playing out the string of a season that will once again end with them outside the playoff picture. The Astros improved to 83-59, reinforcing once again the gulf between themselves and their division rival.

Here are three observations from Sunday.

Barria battles

Angels starting pitcher Jaime Barria delivers against the Houston Astros on Sunday.
(Michael Wyke / Associated Press)

There were few simple moments for Barria during a four-inning, one-run start Sunday.

In the first inning, the right-hander had four of the Astros’ first five batters reach base, leading to one run and a bases-loaded, one-out jam. But then, he limited the damage there, getting Carlos Correa to pop out before fanning Aledmys Díaz with a slider that ended the inning.

After striking out the side in the second, Barria had to work around a two-out single in the third, then another bases-loaded jam in the fourth, escaping the latter threat on a flyout by Alex Bregman.

“With a team like that, you have to be perfect with every pitch,” Barria said through an interpreter. “That’s constantly on your mind. You have to be out there ready to compete, knowing they have a good lineup and you have to be locked in.”

Highlights from the Angels’ 3-1 loss to the Astros on Sunday.

By the time he was replaced to begin the fifth — José Quijada came on in relief, but gave up the two-run blast to Tucker that broke a 1-1 tie — Barria had racked up a season-high six strikeouts but also had yielded four hits and four walks while throwing 96 laborious pitches.

“This is a team that if you want to pitch more deeply into the game with them, understand they’re not going to expand a whole lot and you’ve got to get them out [with pitches] in the zone,” Maddon said. “But, he still had some velocity at the end. I liked a lot the way he battled through it. I still think there’s a growth moment in there.”

Since moving into the starting rotation in late July, Barria has a 4.15 ERA in nine outings (on the season, he has a 4.93 mark in 11 total appearances).

Vlad. Jr catches Ohtani

Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero hits his 44th home run of the season.

Shohei Ohtani was in the middle of the Angels’ best comeback opportunity, hitting a single in the eighth before being stranded on base as the potential tying run (the Angels left six men on base during the game and went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position).

The two-way star also drew a walk, keeping his on-base-plus-slugging percentage this season at .972.

One thing Ohtani didn’t do, however, was go deep. Instead he stayed at 44 home runs on the season, a major-league-leading mark that Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. tied earlier in the day with a blast against the Baltimore Orioles — Guerrero Jr.’s eighth home run in his past 14 games.

It made Sunday the first day since June 28 that Ohtani didn’t finish a day with sole possession of first place in the MLB home run chase.

Ohtani was asked Friday how important it was to him to try and finish the season leading the majors in homers.

“It’s definitely something I’m shooting for,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “But I have to get back to the basics and make each at-bat a quality at-bat every time I can, and see where it goes.”

Marsh, Adell banged up

Neither of the Angels two rookie outfielders came through the weekend series unscathed.

Jo Adell missed Sunday’s game with backside soreness resulting from hitting the wall while trying to make a catch the night before. While Maddon had hoped Adell could possibly come off the bench for Sunday’s game, he said postgame that “I never even asked, but I do not think he was available.”

Maddon said he was still hopeful Adell would be ready in time for Tuesday’s series-opener against the Chicago White Sox, but said he’d know more over the next couple days.

Brandon Marsh, meanwhile, was battling soreness after fouling a ball hard off his right foot in the ninth inning. He finished out the game, and Maddon said he was waiting to hear more from the training staff on Marsh’s status.

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Angels vs. Astros recap: Astros win 3-1

A recap of the Astros 3-1 win over the Angels on Sunday.

End 1st, 1-0 Astros — Jaime Barria limits damage: Jaime Barria got into immediate trouble in the bottom of the first against the Astros, giving up an RBI single to Yuli Gurriel before walking Kyle Tucker to load the bases with one out.

The right-hander, however, escaped without any further damage, getting a pop out against Carlos Correa before striking out Aledmys Díaz to end the inning.

End 4th, 1-0 Astros — Barria gets out of bases-loaded jam: The Angels offense hasn’t been able to score yet off Lance McCullers Jr. But Jaime Barria has done his best to keep them in the game.

He has a season-high six strikeouts, and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth by getting Alex Bregman to fly out to center.

Top 5th, tied 1-1 — Juan Lagares homers: Juan Lagares got the Angels even, drilling a solo home run to left field. It was his sixth long ball of the year.

Bottom 5th, 3-1 Astros — Kyle Tuckers goes deep: After Jaime Barria left the game following four innings and 96 pitches, the Astros immediately retook the lead against reliever José Quijada on a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker.

Bottom 7th, 3-1 Astros — Angels keep deficit at two after strange play: There wasn’t much routine about the bottom of the seventh inning.

It began with a leadoff single by Alex Bregman off Angels reliever Jimmy Herget, who then was called for a balk with one out that moved Bregman to second.

In the ensuing at-bat, Yuli Gurriel hit a routine fly ball to right. But just as Juan Lagares settled under the ball to make the catch, he lost his footing and fell down.

The ball ricocheted off the wall and Bregman, who had initially held at second believing Lagares would make the catch, rounded third and went for home plate.

Back in right field, however, Lagares had recovered, scooping up the loose ball and beginning a relay with second baseman David Fletcher, who fired a throw to catcher Max Stassi in penty of time to tag Bregman at the plate and keep the Astros lead at just two.

Final, Astros win 3-1: The Angels squandered too many opportunities Sunday, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position to lose to the Astros 3-1. The Angels are now 70-73 and will open a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday.

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Jo Adell out of Sunday lineup with backside soreness

Jo Adell tries to make a leaping catch on Saturday. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Los Angeles Angels right fielder Jo Adell cannot catch an RBI-double off the wall by Houston Astros’ Garrett Stubbs during the ninth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Jo Adell wasn’t in the Angels lineup on Sunday because of backside soreness, manager Joe Maddon said.

Adell got banged up after colliding with the outfield wall in the ninth inning on Saturday trying to make a leaping catch. While Adell finished out Saturday’s game, he came to the park on Sunday still feeling too sore to start.

Maddon said at this point, he doesn’t think the injury will require an injured list stint. He’s hopeful Adell could be available off the bench for Sunday’s game.

Sunday will mark only the second time Adell hasn’t been in the Angels lineup since being recalled to the big-league roster on Aug 3.

Short hops

— The Angels still haven’t decided who will pitch their final two games against the Chicago White Sox this week, but Maddon said rookie Janson Junk is a possibility.

— Shohei Ohtani’s next pitching start won’t come until at least after the series in Chicago, Maddon said.

— Here’s the Angels’ full lineup for Sunday’s rubber match against the Houston Astros. Right-hander Jaime Barria will be on the mound:

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José Suarez keeps building case for future role, helps Angels beat Astros

The Angels' Luis Rengifo celebrates his two-run homer with third base coach Brian Butterfield on Sept. 11, 2021.
The Angels’ Luis Rengifo is congratulated on his two-run homer by third base coach Brian Butterfield during the third inning Saturday.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

The end of this Angels season is serving as a casting call for the future, a chance for aspiring players on the fringes of the roster to earn a role for next season and beyond.

And in the position of most intrigue — the starting rotation — there is one name starting to stand out among the rest.

After throwing his first career complete game last week, José Suarez came back with another solid outing Saturday night against the Houston Astros, holding the American League West leaders to one run over 5⅔ innings in the Angels’ 4-2 win at Minute Maid Park.

Suarez, 23, has given up only two runs in his last 14 ⅔ innings and has a 3.76 earned-run average in seven starts since the beginning of August.

Since making his major league debut in 2019, the left-hander never has had a run this impressive, this consistent or this encouraging regarding his potential.

And for an Angels team (70-72) that likely will need to bolster its rotation with both internal options and offseason acquisitions going into next year, he is making perhaps the biggest impression of any of the young pitchers vying for innings down the stretch.

The Angels describe federal prosecutors’ request as a ‘fishing expedition’ after the team handed over more than 350,000 documents in the past 2 years.

“Him doing all this,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said, “there’s an optimistic approach to watching him play right now.”

Suarez’s start Saturday against the Astros (82-59) wasn’t as clinical as his nine-inning gem his last time out.

After retiring the first 10 batters in a row, he got into a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth, though he escaped and surrendered only one run. He issued three walks while battling a high pitch count over his final several innings. And with two outs in the sixth, he was pulled after yielding a double, the first extra-base hit against him all day.

But he still held the Astros’ potent lineup in check, recording a fourth consecutive start of fewer than four runs — something he achieved just three times in his first six starts after joining the rotation in July.

Highlights from the Angels’ 4-2 road win over the Houston Astros on Saturday night.

“I felt really great about my outing,” Suarez said through an interpreter. “I came out to compete. ... That’s exactly what I did.”

Maddon pointed to Suarez’s improvement with the curveball, a pitch he is throwing almost twice as often t to complement his go-to fastball-changeup combination.

“That totally gives a hitter that one more thing to think about,” Maddon said. “And it’s a good pitch. It’s not just a roller. It’s a real curveball to go with a real changeup and a plus fastball.”

Chatsworth High product Josh Rawitch rose through the executive ranks of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Now he’s ascended to baseball heaven in Cooperstown.

Maddon also noted growth in Suarez’s mental approach, citing Saturday’s fourth inning as the latest example.

“He gets upset with himself on certain pitches,” Maddon said, “but then he’s able to just file it and get to the next moment … Good starters learn how to do that.”

Suarez wasn’t the only factor in what was just the Angels’ third win out of nine games in Houston this year.

After he exited, Mike Mayers and Steve Cishek combined for 2⅓ scoreless innings before Raisel Iglesias gave up a run in the ninth but stranded the potential tying runners at second and third for his 31st save.

Angels closer Raisel Iglesias and catcher Max Stassi celebrate the team's win Sept. 11, 2021.
Angels closer Raisel Iglesias and catcher Max Stassi celebrate the team’s 4-2 win.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

The lineup, meanwhile, scored two runs in the first on RBIs from Jared Walsh and Luis Rengifo and two more in the third on a two-run blast from Rengifo — another of the young players on the roster jockeying for future roles.

But offense hasn’t been the Angels Achilles’ heel in recent seasons. The pitching staff has been.

And while, once again, that group likely will enter the winter with plenty of questions, Suarez is looking more and more like a potential long-term answer — at least as a possible back-of-the-rotation option and, if this keeps, maybe even something more.

Said Maddon: “When you get a young left-hander blossoming into a guy that likes to go more deeply into a game and is able to get a good batting order out the third time through because he’s got a variety of pitches, that’s really promising.”

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Angels vs. Astros recap: Angels win 4-2

A recap of the Angels’ 4-2 win over the Houston Astros.

End 1st, 2-0 Angels — Angels strike first: The Angels’ offense struck for a couple of quick runs in the first inning. After David Fletcher and Shohei Ohtani hit back-to-back singles to lead off, Jared Walsh drove home one run with a double and Luis Rengifo plated another with an RBI groundout.

Angels starter José Suarez, meanwhile, retired the Astros’ first three hitters in order.

End 3rd, 4-0 Angels — Rengifo homers: Luis Rengifo extended the Angels’ lead in the third inning with a two-run homer to right. It was Rengifo’s fourth homer of the year and second since being recalled earlier this month.

Suarez has retired the first nine Astros of the game too and has three early strikeouts.

End 4th, 4-1 Angels — Astros on the board: Suarez’s perfect start to the game ended in the fourth, after José Siri lined a single into right for his first career major league hit.

But Suarez was able to limit the damage in what was a bases-loaded, one-out jam, giving up only one run on a Yuli Gurriel RBI groundout.

End 6th, 4-1 Angels — Suarez finishes another strong start: Suarez got two outs in the fifth before giving up a double and being replaced by Mike Mayers, who stranded the runner to end the inning.

Suarez’s final line: 5 2/3 innings, 1 run, 3 hits, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts.

The left-hander now has a 3.59 ERA this season and has given up just two runs in his last 14 2/3 innings. Since the start of August, he also has a 3.76 ERA in seven starts.

Final, Angels win 4-2: After Suarez’s strong start, the Angels’ bullpen sealed what was only the team’s third win out of nine games in Houston this year.

Closer Raisel Iglesias got in trouble in the ninth, giving up one run but stranding the potential tying runners at second and third. The Angels improved to 70-72.

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Shohei Ohtani back in lineup as DH after Friday pitching start

The Angels' Shohei Ohtani, right, watches his solo home run during the first inning Sept. 10, 2021.
The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, right, watches his solo home run during the first inning Friday.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

A night after giving up six runs on the mound and saying, through his interpreter, that he felt “a little bit of soreness,” Shohei Ohtani was back in the Angels’ lineup Saturday as designated hitter against the Houston Astros.

Asked before the game about Ohtani’s soreness comment, Angels manager Joe Maddon didn’t sound worried.

“If there is any kind of stiffness or soreness, it is September and the guy’s been through a lot this year,” Maddon said, adding: “We definitely will monitor it moving forward.”

Maddon didn’t believe Ohtani — who attributed some of his soreness Friday to throwing a career-high 117 pitches in his previous start Sept. 3 — looked any different during the series opener against the Astros, in which he hit his 44th home run of the season but also surrendered six runs in 3 1/3 innings.

Top prospect Brandon Marsh finally made it to the majors this season. It has come at time when he has had to deal with the death of his father and a close friend.

“It was hard to guess that [he was feeling sore], just watching him throw,” Maddon said. “It looked pretty normal to me.”

Batting the day after a pitching start is nothing out of the ordinary for Ohtani either.

Maddon said the team hasn’t decided when Ohtani might make his next pitching start, but the manager has insisted repeatedly in recent weeks that he hasn’t considered significantly dialing back Ohtani’s usage over the final weeks of the season and instead will continue to communicate with the MVP front-runner about how he’s feeling.

“We’ve got a couple weeks left in the season,” Ohtani said Friday night. “So I’m just focused on finishing strong and healthy.”

Short hops

Packy Naughton will start for the Angels in Tuesday’s series opener against the Chicago White Sox. It will be his third straight start.

— The team has not decided its other two starters for the Chicago series, but Maddon said Alex Cobb could be an option. The right-hander has been out since July because of a wrist injury but felt good after throwing a three-inning simulated game Friday.

— Here is the rest of the Angels’ lineup for Saturday. Left-hander José Suarez will be on the mound, coming off his first career complete game last week. Jo Adell will also bat third for the first time in his major league career:

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Pitcher Chris Rodriguez to miss rest of season because of lat strain

Chris Rodriguez will not pitch again for the Angels this season because of a lat strain.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Angels pitcher Chris Rodriguez will miss the rest of the season because of a right lat strain, manager Joe Maddon announced Saturday.

Rodriguez, a rookie right-hander who started the season in the Angels’ bullpen before being stretched out as a starter, hadn’t pitched since Aug. 10.

“I don’t know if it’s classified as a setback,” Maddon said. “We just arrived at the point with him that the guys determined it’d be best not to push him back and just let it heal, let him feel great for next year.”

In 15 appearances with the Angels this year, Rodriguez had a 3.64 earned-run average and 29 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings.

The first 13 of those appearances came out of the bullpen, after the 23-year-old made the opening day roster following a surprising spring training.

The Angels describe federal prosecutors’ request as a ‘fishing expedition’ after the team handed over more than 350,000 documents in the past 2 years.

Rodriguez gave up only four earned runs in his first 15 2/3 innings of the season but then missed most of May because of right shoulder inflammation.

He was less effective after returning, giving up four earned runs in four innings, and eventually got sent down to the minor leagues June 21 in order to be stretched out as a starter — the role for which he was originally developed after the Angels drafted him in the fourth round in 2016.

Rodriguez made seven starts between double A and triple A before returning to the Angels in August. He did well in his first two MLB starts too, giving up three runs in seven innings against the Texas Rangers and one run in four innings against the Toronto Blue Jays, before suffering his lat injury.

Maddon said Saturday he wasn’t sure which role — starter or reliever — Rodriguez would fill next year, saying it’s something the club will discuss during the winter.

“When I saw him in spring training, I saw a relief pitcher,” Maddon said, before adding: “But then, when he had a chance to get stretched out and start a bit, he started changing my mind. … He really can do either. And I think when you’re that young, normally organizationally speaking, you’d like to see if somebody can start first before you relegate him to the bullpen.”

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Shohei Ohtani hits homer but struggles on mound as Angels fall to Astros

Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani reacts after an RBI double by the Astros' Yordan Alvarez during the third inning Sept. 10, 2021.
Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani reacts after an RBI double by the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez during the third inning. Ohtani (9-2) suffered his first loss since May 28.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

Shohei Ohtani hit a ball extremely hard, threw a handful of extremely hard pitches, did something that hadn’t been done in 51 years, and left Friday night’s Angels loss in dismay.

Such is the oddity of Ohtani, his groundbreaking double duty, his immense talent and the star-crossed team for which he plays.

The Houston Astros knocked around Ohtani for six runs and nine hits in 3 1/3 innings. Despite committing four errors, the Astros coasted to a 10-5 victory at Minute Maid Park.

“He didn’t have his best stuff,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “No swings and misses. I thought he battled it well, but in my mind’s eye there was no reason to push it [and leave him in the game any longer].”

In the first inning, Ohtani lined a full-count fastball 114.7 mph into the right-field seats for his major league-leading 44th home run. Jared Walsh homered in the second, and the Angels held a 2-0 lead that wouldn’t last long. They were the first two homers by left-handed hitters surrendered by Astros left-hander Framber Valdez all season.

Highlights from the Angels’ 10-5 loss to the Houston Astros on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

On the mound, it was a different story for Ohtani, who was coming off a start a week ago in which he threw a season-high 117 pitches. Despite touching 98 mph on five four-seam fastballs, he relied heavily on a slider that too often flattened rather than darted, a splitter he commanded sporadically and a ho-hum cutter.

Ohtani (9-2) had thrown the four-seamer 47.5% and the slider 19.9% of the time this season, but on Friday he threw only 25 four-seamers while throwing 32 sliders, 12 splitters and eight cutters among his 77 pitches.

“I feel like they were sitting on my cutters and sliders and before I could make any adjustments, they had runners on base and were scoring,” Ohtani said through a translator.

Only three times did an Astros batter swing and miss, and Ohtani struck out just one. His earned-run average jumped from 2.97 to 3.36, and he was tagged for his first loss since May 28.

In his two at-bats after the home run — he was removed from the lineup when Maddon took the ball from him in the fourth — Ohtani was walked by Valdez, who staggered through five innings to notch the win.

Ohtani’s second walk was noteworthy because it was intentional, loading the bases in the fourth with two outs. It marked the first time since Jim Kaat in 1970 that a pitcher was issued an intentional walk.

Phil Gosselin struck out, giving the walk the sheen of a shrewd move by Astros manager Dusty Baker.

The Astros' Jose Altuve, right, celebrates with teammate Yordan Alvarez after scoring during the third inning Sept. 10, 2021.
The Astros’ Jose Altuve, right, celebrates with teammate Yordan Alvarez after scoring during the third inning.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

Ohtani departed after Alex Bregman — who had three hits and four RBIs — drove in two runs with a double to stretch the Astros’ lead to 6-4. The Astros (82-58) kept hitting in the fourth, and after Kurt Suzuki was called for catcher’s interference, Aledmys Diez drove in two runs with a single against Andrew Wantz.

The Angels (69-72) went through four more relievers after Wantz, and the Astros finished with 16 hits. Every player in the lineup recorded at least one.

“We faced a team that is good at the plate,” Maddon said. “You have to throw it over the plate. They don’t chase.”

Ohtani’s early home run was the Angels’ only positive takeaway. He has two more than Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays and Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals. Would it be meaningful for him to lead baseball in homers?

“It’s definitely something I’m shooting for,” Ohtani said.

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Shohei Ohtani hits 44th home run

The Angels' Shohei Ohtani, right, watches his solo home run during the first inning Sept. 10, 2021.
The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, right, watches his solo home run during the first inning Friday night.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

Shohei Ohtani gave himself a first-inning lead Friday against the Houston Astros, hitting his 44th home run this season to put the Angels ahead 1-0.

Ohtani drove a full-count fastball by Framber Valdez on a line over the right-field wall. The ball left the bat at 114.7 mph.

It was the first homer allowed to a left-handed hitter this season by Valdez, a left-hander.

Ohtani has two more home runs than Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays, who each have 42.

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Struggling Luis Rengifo gets a bit of praise from manager Joe Maddon

Angels shortstop Luis Rengifo throws to first against the San Diego Padres on Sept. 7.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Infielder Luis Rengifo has struggled at the plate for two years. But he did homer Tuesday, so manager Joe Maddon gave the utility man praise before Friday’s game.

“The thing I really like and want to see with all our guys, is his heads-up play,” he said. “Getting signs, reacting well on the bases, working good at-bats, accepting walks and not expanding the strike zone.”

As a rookie in 2019, the switch-hitting Rengifo showed promise, batting .238 with a .595 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over 408 plate appearances. He hit seven home runs and looked as if he might become the everyday second baseman for years to come.

The promise evaporated in 2020, when he batted .156 with one homer in 106 plate appearances, spending much of the season at the Angels’ alternate site. He hasn’t been much better in 2021, batting .163 with three home runs in 105 plate appearances. His OPS over the last two seasons is a feeble .469.

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Alex Cobb takes another step toward returning to the roster

Angels starting pitcher Alex Cobb throws against the Seattle Mariners on July 9.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Alex Cobb threw a simulated game Friday in Houston, and Angels manager Joe Maddon gave it a thumbs up.

“He kept getting better over the three innings,” Maddon said. “He said he didn’t even think about his wrist.”

Cobb was one of the Angels’ most effective starters through July, going 7-3 with a 3.82 ERA in 15 starts. However, he hasn’t pitched since July 23 because of a right wrist injury that at first didn’t appear serious.

Maddon said the Angels will evaluate how Cobb feels Saturday before taking the next step, which could be a start for the Angels or for a minor league team.

Cobb, 33, is in the last year of a four-year, $57-million deal signed with the Baltimore Orioles.

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