Way too often this season, Angels second-year pitcher Jaime Barria has been summoned into his manager’s office to be told he will remain in the big leagues no longer. That although he demonstrated one season ago he deserved the benefit of the doubt, he needed further seasoning in triple-A.
In rare instances, the decisions to demote Barria seemed warranted. He spent a month playing for Salt Lake after the Kansas City Royals hit him hard for seven runs in 1 2/3 innings in late April. But in June the 23-year-old was also sent back after a successful relief appearance against the Oakland Athletics and again following a three-hit, one-run spot start against the Cincinnati Reds. He proved his mettle in a July 3 start in Texas, holding the Rangers to four runs and two hits while striking out eight batters two days after the death of Tyler Skaggs. He was handed another boarding pass to Utah.
Perhaps the most flummoxing move of all came in the final days of March. Manager Brad Ausmus told Barria, who went 10-9 with a 3.41 earned-run average in 26 starts as a rookie last season, he would be the team’s fifth starter. Thrilled to make his first opening-day roster, Barria alerted his family members in Panama and prepared himself for a season-opening trip to Oakland and Seattle.
Plans changed drastically a short time later. The Angels traded for Chris Stratton, a former first-round pick who showed some promise as a starter in 2018 but has had more success as a reliever now pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ausmus tapped Barria on the shoulder in the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, where the youngster was scheduled to start the final game of the spring-training Freeway Series, and told him he was out.
“You do a lot of work to be here,” Barria said in Spanish, reflecting five months later. “I think I proved last year that I belonged here.”
In an 11-2 loss that extended the Angels’ latest losing streak to five games, Barria did so again. He held the formidable Houston Astros to two runs on three hits in 5 1/3 innings at Minute Maid Park. He also walked three and struck out four. His longest outing since mid-April was the lone bright spot for a team that failed to hit with runners in scoring position and watched its bullpen implode.
Barria, like a few Angels relegated to riding the triple-A shuttle, has been a casualty of roster management this season. He has been recalled from the minor league ranks eight times this year, including last Tuesday, Aug. 20. With just five weeks remaining in the season, Barria should now be up for good.
Especially after dueling Houston starter Framber Valdez into the sixth inning. While Valdez held the Angels to one run on two hits in six innings and retired 12 of the final 14 he faced, Barria confounded one of baseball’s most potent offenses. A heavy dose of sliders — he threw 44 among his 90 pitches — helped him draw three swings-and-misses and receive four strike calls. His changeup allowed him to limit hard contact to Jose Altuve’s leadoff double in the first, Yuli Gurriel’s third-inning hit and Josh Reddick’s run-scoring single in the fourth.
“I think that pitching against a big team, you can judge how you pitch,” he said. “A team like the Dodgers, the Astros, they’re tough to face. I like to pitch against them because it helps me show the team that I belong here.”
Barria held Astros infielder Alex Bregman, who has batted .394 with five homers and 25 RBIs during a 19-game hitting streak, hitless in three at-bats.
“Give Barria a lot of credit,” Bregman said. “He was good.”
And, really, Barria has performed better than the 6.10 ERA he has posted during this hectic season would indicate. He was the only starter who suffered from the Angels’ decision to adopt the opener strategy: In three outings as the so-called primary pitcher, Barria allowed 18 earned runs over 13 2/3 innings. In his other 11 outings, which include two as a standard reliever, he has a 4.18 ERA and has never given up more than five runs.
“The opener is practically the only thing that has not worked for me,” Barria said. “It’s new to me. It’s a different role. It’s not the same routine you keep. But when I do start games, it’s worked out better for me.”
“If you don’t have a strong mind-set, bad things can happen to you. I always try to be positive, to find good things among the bad. That’s what’s helped me this year.”
That has been the case twice in the last 32 days. He pitched five innings of one-run baseball in a July 24 win over the Dodgers. Although he was charged with the loss, he was nearly as effective Sunday.
So one cannot fault Barria for carrying a chip on his shoulder. In a sense, he’s used it as motivation. He has dedicated his starts to proving a point — to himself as much as the organization that employs him — that he is worthy of a bigger role than the one he was assigned.
“I think that’s the base of all this,” he said. “If you don’t have a strong mind-set, bad things can happen to you. I always try to be positive, to find good things among the bad. That’s what’s helped me this year.”
Six straight Astros reached before reliever Taylor Cole retired a batter in the eighth inning. After two outs, Altuve cranked a two-run shot into the left-field seats for an 11-1 Astros lead. The Angels were trailing 4-1 when Cole entered the game. Since combining with Félix Peña to throw a no-hitter July 12, Cole has allowed 22 earned runs in 22 innings. Opponents have hit .348 against him in those 17 games. … Infielder Tommy La Stella took a significant step in his recovery from a leg fracture, taking ground balls and hitting off the tee for the first time since his All-Star campaign was waylaid July 2. The Angels believed at the time of the injury La Stella could be sidelined up to 10 weeks. If that timeline remains accurate, La Stella could rejoin the active roster in early September. … Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a line drive so hard and at such a low angle in the second inning of what was then a 1-0 ballgame that he burst out of the batter’s box on contact, thinking he’d need to hustle for a base hit. But his barrel caught more of the ball than he realized — it soared into the left-field Crawford Boxes for his sixth home run of the year. He almost missed first base on his trot around the bases.