In a perfect world, Jose Suarez would be pitching for triple-A Salt Lake and not the Angels right now, finishing a full season of minor league development.
The Angels, of course, don’t reside in or anywhere near a perfect world. Their best starting pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, died on July 1. Three other starters in their season-opening rotation were either released (Matt Harvey), demoted to the bullpen (Trevor Cahill) or designated for assignment (Chris Stratton).
Veteran left-hander Andrew Heaney missed almost three months of the season because of shoulder and elbow injuries. Felix Pena, the team’s most reliable starter, suffered a season-ending knee injury Aug. 3.
The short-handed Angels have had no choice but to turn to youngsters such as Suarez, the 21-year-old left-hander who made his 11th big league start Monday night. The result was almost predictable.
Suarez lasted three innings and 69 pitches in a 10-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in Angel Stadium, giving up six runs (four earned) and seven hits, striking out two and walking none.
Suarez got little help from his defense. Errors by third baseman Matt Thaiss and first baseman Albert Pujols led to two unearned runs in the first inning. But Suarez gave up a solo homer to Kevin Newman in the second and a two-run double to Jacob Stallings in the third.
Stallings, Bryan Reynolds and Josh Bell each hit solo homers off Angels reliever Jose Rodriguez — it was Bell’s 30th homer this season — as Pittsburgh snapped an eight-game losing streak. Stratton, traded to the Pirates for cash in May, threw three scoreless relief innings.
“Ideally, would they be [better off] in the minor leagues getting more experience? Possibly,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said of Suarez and Griffin Canning, the 23-year-old right-hander who will come off the injured list to start Tuesday night.
“But it is out of necessity. This is where we’re at, they’re here, so we have to find a way to win with them. And in the process, they get experience.”
Canning and Suarez entered this season as the organization’s top pitching prospects. After going 3-4 with a 3.79 ERA in his first 11 starts, Canning is 1-2 with an 8.15 ERA in his last five games. Suarez is 2-4 with a 6.57 ERA. Though they were rushed to the big leagues, Ausmus sees benefits to their ascents.
“There’s only one way to get big league experience, and that’s to play up here,” Ausmus said. “These are the best hitters in the world. You can’t get called up from the big leagues. This is as high as they go. As a young pitcher coming up, you’re facing the best, you’re learning how to get the best out.”
But when those hitters get the best of you on a consistent basis, as they have with Suarez, could it harm a young pitcher’s psyche?
“It’s a tough line to line to walk because you don’t want his confidence to be eroded,” Ausmus said. “You want him to get experience, but you don’t want him to be beat down. … You still have to look at the big picture, and with his age, there’s still time to get better.”
The Angels will open 2020 with a seven-game trip to Houston and Texas, and 16 of their 20 interleague games will be against the National League East, including a Mike Trout homecoming series at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park on July 17 to 19.
The last time the Angels played in Philadelphia in May 2014, some 7,000 fans from Trout’s hometown of Millville, N.J., which is 45 miles south of Philadelphia, attended the games. The ovation Trout received before his first at-bat was so long and loud that it “gave me chills,” Trout said at the time.
The 2020 season opener will be March 26 in Minute Maid Park. After four games in Houston, the Angels and Rangers will play the first regular-season games at the new Globe Life Field in Arlington on March 31 to April 2.
The Angels’ home opener will be March 3 against Houston. Freeway Series games against the Dodgers will be Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11, in Anaheim — both teams will be off the Sunday before the All-Star break — and Aug. 25 and 26 in Dodger Stadium.
The Angels will host Washington (May 11-13), Miami (June 9-10) and the New York Mets (Aug. 18-20). In addition to Philadelphia, they will play interleague road games at Miami (April 14-15) and Atlanta (July 3-5).
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, out since Aug. 3 because of a left-ankle sprain and bone bruise, expects to resume baseball activities this week with an eye toward returning by next week. “I don’t have any timeline,” he said Monday, “but I don’t think it’s going to be too long.” … Reliever Justin Anderson was placed on the 10-day injured list because of a lat strain, an injury the right-hander suffered Friday in Boston, and right-hander Rodriguez was called up from triple-A Salt Lake. … Pena will undergo surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament Friday. … Reliever Keynan Middleton, recovering from Tommy John surgery, is scheduled to pitch for Class-A Inland Empire on Tuesday. Ausmus said the right-hander will then make a few appearances for Salt Lake before joining the Angels.