The oversized pillow that was supposed to provide a soft landing for the Angels after playing six of nine games against the powerhouse Houston Astros and Dodgers has been more like a bed of nails.
The Angels returned home from scoring a two-game sweep in Dodger Stadium last week hoping to pad their record against the two worst teams in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, who are both on pace to lose more than 100 games.
The Angels gave up 27 runs in three losses to the Orioles before salvaging Sunday’s series finale on a Matt Thaiss walk-off homer, and their best reliever got roughed up — again — in the eighth inning of Monday’s 7-2 loss to the Tigers before an announced crowd of 35,457 in Angel Stadium.
“The timing of us struggling against Baltimore and in the first game of this series isn’t good,” manager Brad Ausmus said after the Angels fell 5 1/2 games back in the American League wild-card race with Wednesday’s nonwaiver trade deadline looming. “We made some strides to get five games over .500 and took a few steps back.”
Rookie right-hander Ty Buttrey entered the eighth inning with the Angels trailing 3-2. One inning, two hits, two walks, one wild pitch, three runs and 29 pitches later, the Angels were down 6-2.
Buttrey opened the eighth by grooving an 0-and-2 fastball to No. 9 hitter Jordy Mercer, who blooped a single to right. JaCoby Jones and Niko Goodrum walked, and Miguel Cabrera, with the infield in, grounded a two-run single up the middle. Goodrum scored the final run of the inning on a wild pitch.
Buttrey, the team’s primary setup man, had a 2.45 ERA in 46 games entering the Baltimore series. He gave up seven runs and seven hits in 2 1/3 innings of his next three appearances, his ERA jumping to 3.60.
“I wouldn’t say he got hit hard,” Ausmus said. “Today was more about the command, strike-throwing. The stuff is still there.”
The Tigers, who snapped a six-game losing streak, added an insurance run off Luis Garcia in the ninth. Detroit right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who entered with an 0-8 record and 7.57 ERA, gave up two runs and four hits in 5 1/3 innings, giving the Tigers their second win by a starter in 44 games since June 5.
“When you play against major league clubs and you make mistakes and don’t play as well as you should, you’re gonna lose,” Angels left fielder Justin Upton said. “We haven’t played as well as we should be playing. We have to do a better job.”
Upton could have been talking as much about himself as the Angels. After pulling to within 3-2 in the sixth when Thaiss singled and scored on David Fletcher’s double, the Angels loaded the bases with one out when Trout was hit by a pitch and Shohei Ohtani drew a walk from left-hander Blaine Hardy.
But Upton, who is batting .160 (eight for 50) with one homer, four RBIs and 19 strikeouts in 14 games since July 13, swung through a 79-mph, full-count changeup, and Kole Calhoun struck out on a 77-mph curve to end the inning.
“He didn’t throw me a strike,” Upton said of Hardy. “The pitches were close, but they were never strikes. … I’m just not swinging at good pitches. I’m working on timing, slowing things down, but it just hasn’t been clicking. It’s one of those things where you have to keep fighting through it.”
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the first when Cabrera homered to center off Jaime Barria. Detroit made it 2-0 in the fourth when Nicholas Castellanos reached on a two-base error by Thaiss and Christin Stewart hit a two-out RBI double to left-center.
The Tigers added another two-out run in the fifth when Mercer drove a 91-mph Barria fastball over the wall in center for a 3-0 lead.
Zimmermann, who threw the first no-hitter in Washington Nationals history in September 2014, gave up a one-out single to Trout in the first. Trout was wiped out on Ohtani’s inning-ending double-play grounder, a 114.6-mph one-hopper that was hit right at Goodrum, the Tigers’ second baseman.
Zimmermann retired the next 10 batters and needed only 41 pitches to complete four innings before Calhoun broke up his shutout with a one-out homer off the top of the left-field wall in the fifth to make it 3-1.
The Angels had a chance to pull even or ahead in the sixth, but Upton and Calhoun could not deliver.
“He’s not swinging like he normally does,” Ausmus said of Upton. “He’s coming off the ball a little bit. I know he doesn’t feel right, and he’s working hard to correct it.”
Fletcher, the Angels’ second baseman, helped keep it close when he made a lunging back-hand grab of John Hicks’ grounder behind the second base bag and flipped the ball with his glove to shortstop Andrelton Simmons to start a double play to end the top of the seventh.