On a night his teammates shut down with runners in scoring position and lost 5-4 to the Houston Astros, Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun stood out Friday at Minute Maid Park.
Calhoun went four for four with two extra-base hits. He assembled his first four-hit game since April 21, 2015, and slammed a lead-off home run in the eighth inning to bring the Angels within one run of a tie.
The solo shot just barely got enough lift to fly over the right-center field fence. But Calhoun put a hard enough swing on the pitch from Houston’s Hector Rondon that the ball jumped off the bat at 106.1 mph — the third-hardest hit ball of the night.
The home run capped one of his best performances of the season, and underscored the strides the 31-year-old has made.
Calhoun had the worst season of his career in 2018, batting .208 with an equally miserable .652 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He overexerted himself trying to fix his swing and landed on the injured list because of an oblique strain.
While hurt, he turned to then-minor league hitting coordinators Jeremy Reed and Shawn Wooten. Reed and Wooten, now on the major league staff, helped him rediscover a stance that had worked for him in the past. Their teachings put him on track to post a 1.018 OPS in 35 games before fizzling out the rest of the season.
Calhoun has built off those lessons this year. His .802 OPS is only 10 percentage points below the league average. He has belted a career-high 28 home runs.
“Every day you’re going out there and trying to put a good product on the field,” Calhoun said. “Go out and compete and today the plan went well, I swung the bat well and put the balls in play that should be put in play. I got good results.”
If he carries this level of production through the end of the season, the Angels will have a tough choice to make regarding Calhoun’s future: Pick up the $14-million option on his contract and keep him as their starting right fielder in 2020, or exercise a $1-million buyout and release him. Before this resurgence, the latter seemed like a foregone conclusion.
“I came a long way, that’s for sure,” Calhoun said.
Two other Angels complemented Calhoun’s performance with impressive showings of their own.
Catcher Anthony Bemboom, who is likely to be optioned back to Salt Lake when catcher Kevan Smith is reinstated from the injured list sometime in the next few days, made two clutch throws to catch runners trying to steal second base in the sixth inning.
Rookie Jose Suarez, recalled just days after being demoted to triple A because of Griffin Canning’s season-ending elbow injury, rebounded nicely from a string of disappointing starts that sent his ERA soaring toward 7.00.
Suarez retired six of the first seven batters he faced before allowing three hits in the third, including an RBI single to Jose Altuve. His pitch count continued to rocket in the fourth after Robinson Chirinos’ one-out double. He allowed two more hits and a run before getting out of the inning.
Suarez departed in the fifth inning after throwing 92 pitches. Alex Bregman had just doubled into the left-field corner. Rather than allow the left-handed Suarez a chance to face right-handed Yuli Gurriel, manager Brad Ausmus turned to Noe Ramirez. Gurriel hit a home run for a 4-2 Astros lead.
“He did a nice job pitching in and out,” Ausmus said of Suarez.
“He used all his pitches. The change-up was good. Especially early. I thought it was a good outing, really good.”
The individual accomplishments did not mask an offense that went quiet with runners on base. Albert Pujols’ RBI single in the second was the Angels’ only hit in such opportunities.
Mike Trout had two chances but squandered each. Trout stranded David Fletcher at third base when Astros starter Zack Greinke struck him out in the third inning and made the second out of the seventh with runners on the corners.
The Angels lost their 18th one-run game of the season, and fourth such game of the week.
“Right now we’re playing good enough to just lose,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Three walk-offs in Arlington and then lose by one tonight. We’re playing just good enough to lose.”
Cody Bellinger and Mike Trout comparison
Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers and Mike Trout of the Angels are putting together staggering offensive seasons. They also are close in most statistical categories. Here’s a daily look at their production:
Source: Baseball Reference