Angels’ loss spoils Orange County native Patrick Sandoval’s solid debut
A white sock holding two baseballs hung off a hook in the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park, the black ink scrawled across the cloth indicating two significant milestones: a first major league pitch and first major league strikeout.
Angels left-hander Patrick Sandoval, once a star at Mission Viejo High, pitched well enough Monday in his first big league appearance to merit more than just those souvenirs. He struck out eight and limited a hot-hitting Cincinnati Reds team to two runs on three hits. He overcame a shaky debut inning, during which he seemed so overcome with adrenaline that his usual 92-94 mph fastball touched 96, to make it through five-plus innings without faltering.
“It was an excellent first [outing],” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He should be happy with the way he pitched.”
But the Angels failed to shake off an early deficit, suffering their fifth consecutive loss and ninth in 11 games with a 7-4 defeat.
Sandoval reveled anyway. He grew up in Orange County and attended games at Angel Stadium before the Houston Astros drafted him as a teenager in 2015. When the Angels acquired him last July for catcher Martin Maldonado, he was so excited about the possibility of playing for his hometown team that he published an image on social media of himself pitching in an Angels uniform as an 8-year-old.
Angels starter Andrew Heaney, who has been hampered by shoulder inflammation since mid-July, is expected to play this weekend against the Red Sox.
Now Sandoval, 22, will be able to update that Instagram post.
“It was unbelievable, something I could never imagine,” he said, a few minutes after taking photos on the field with about a dozen family members. “You dream of that growing up. I got to take the mound for my hometown team.”
If not for such a calamitous beginning, Sandoval might have had a chance to leave his debut with a fonder memory.
For the second time in four games, the Angels watched their usually reliable opener strategy go up in flames. Taylor Cole (1-3) allowed six of the first seven batters he faced in the first inning to reach base. Five runs scored. Things went so poorly for the Angels that even Mike Trout wasn’t immune; he failed to catch a routine fly ball in center field, extending Cole’s miserable outing a few minutes longer.
“This game is more mental than anything,” said the right-hander, who had allowed just one run in his last 14 innings before surrendering four in one-third of an inning as the opener in Friday’s 7-3 loss at Cleveland. “I think I went out there with a pretty good mental approach. Obviously I didn’t minimize the damage. That’s part of maturity. I need to grow and learn to keep it within a couple runs rather than turning it into a five-run outing. I just didn’t do the job.”
The futility of the Angels’ offense eliminated any possibility of a comeback.
Reds right-hander Luis Castillo, one of the most effective starters in baseball this season, picked apart the Angels. His high-90s fastball received 12 strike calls. His biting changeup induced 18 swings and misses.
Castillo (11-4) struck out a career-high 13 in seven innings, underscoring a bigger problem for the Angels. They struck out nearly 24% of the time while stumbling last week, the 10th-highest rate in that span. Before that stretch, the Angels boasted one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball.
Ausmus attributed the Angels’ struggles more to opponents than their own approach at the plate.
Limited to five hits — Trout’s 37th homer, Luis Rengifo’s fourth and Brian Goodwin’s 10th accounted for the damage — the Angels (56-58) fell to two games below .500 for the first time since they were 38-40 on June 22.
“Guys [go] through stages of pressing at times when they feel like they’re not performing the way they believe they should,” Ausmus said. “I can’t say there’s not a guy here or there who’s pressing. But I actually thought our at-bats tonight against a really good pitcher were pretty good. Better at-bats than we’ve had recently. I thought that was a plus because Castillo has really good stuff, elite stuff.”
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