The first pitch of Tuesday night’s game was still three hours away and Keynan Middleton, finally activated after a grueling 15-month rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, was churning with emotion.
“I’m just trying to keep it under control … and right now, I’m failing,” the Angels reliever said. “I’m really excited. It’s been a long time. There’s a lot of stuff going on in my head right now. I’m just ready to pitch, to be back with these guys.”
Middleton had no outlet for that adrenaline Tuesday night in Angel Stadium. His services were not required in a 5-2 victory over the Texas Rangers that featured another superb start by Andrew Heaney and a four-run seventh-inning outburst by a lineup that mustered one single in the first six innings.
Trailing 1-0, the Angels solved Texas left-hander Mike Minor (11-8) in the seventh, which began with Shohei Ohtani’s single and walks to Justin Upton and Albert Pujols.
Andrelton Simmons popped out to second, but Kole Calhoun ripped a two-run double to right-center field and pinch-hitter Brian Goodwin grounded a two-out, two-run single to center for a 4-1 lead.
Mike Trout, mired in a three-for-23 slump, cracked his major league-leading 43rd homer, a solo shot to left field that left his bat at 114 mph and traveled 442 feet, off reliever Rafael Montero in the eighth, as the Angels ended a five-game losing streak.
“Yeah, you kind of always expect it from him,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said of Trout, who has 104 runs, 100 RBIs and 101 walks. “That’s the downside of being Mike Trout. You’re expected to hit the ball 410 feet every time up, and it’s kind of unfair to him.”
Heaney, who racked up a career-high 14 strikeouts in eight innings at Texas on Aug. 21, allowed one unearned run and four hits in six innings, with 10 strikeouts and three walks. He has 24 strikeouts in his last two starts against the Rangers.
“When I’m healthy, I know how good I can be,” said Heaney, who sat out nearly three months because of elbow and shoulder injuries. “That’s the No. 1 thing. Having the confidence to go out there and not worry about your arm flying off is a pretty big thing.”
So is the movement Heaney has been getting on his sinking fastball.
“He has the ability to miss bats with the fastball,” Ausmus said. “Even guys who throw harder than him don’t necessarily have the ability to miss bats with the fastball. When you can miss bats with the fastball, it makes it easier to miss bats with your breaking ball and changeup.”
Texas scored in the third when Delino DeShields singled, took second on Calhoun’s error in right field and scored on Shin-Soo Choo’s two-out single to right. Danny Santana hit a homer off Cam Bedrosian in the eighth.
The return of Middleton, who had a 2.04 ERA and six saves before tearing his elbow ligament in May 2018, will eventually give Ausmus another late-inning option to go with Bedrosian and Hansel Robles, who retired the side in order in the ninth for his 19th save.
Middleton, 25, will be eased into action, ideally in a lower-leverage situation, “but it wouldn’t bother me to put him in a close game,” Ausmus said.
Middleton, slowed by a sore elbow in May and a mild case of ulnar neuritis in his elbow in July, prepped for his return with five triple-A games in which he allowed one earned run and two hits in 41/3 innings, struck out five and walked three, and touched 96 mph with his fastball.
“As I started getting more comfortable my velocity started getting higher,” Middleton said. “I’m getting more comfortable every time out.”
Middleton tried to remain even-keeled throughout the rehab process. When there were setbacks, “I told myself not to look at everything so negative,” he said. Maintaining contact with teammates Tyler Skaggs, who died July 1, and Heaney, both of whom had Tommy John surgery, helped.
“This guy,” Middleton said, pointing at Skaggs’ locker next, “and Heaney were the two guys who checked in with me all the time. They had the same surgery a couple years ago. Heaney’s been there the whole time. He’s been sliding in my [direct messages] and texting me. I thank him for that.”
On the shelf
Griffin Canning did not fight the team’s decision to sideline him for the rest of the season because of elbow inflammation, a condition that sent the rookie right-hander to the injured list twice this month.
“I want to pitch, but we don’t want this to be a recurring thing,” Canning said. “It’s just smarter to take a step back and realize it’s the beginning of my career. I don’t want to jeopardize anything.”
Canning went 5-6 with a 4.58 ERA in 18 games, striking out 96 and walking 30 in 901/3 innings. His elbow flared up after two of his best starts, when he allowed four hits in six scoreless innings against Detroit on July 30 and threw seven innings of one-run, five-hit ball against the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 18.
“I think that’s just a coincidence,” Canning said. “I don’t know what that is.”
Canning has spoken to the training staff about how to prevent such injuries next season.
“I think most of it is probably taking down the intensity a little bit in between starts,” Canning said. “Even if I’m feeling good, I don’t need to be letting it go every single day.”
To make room for Middleton on the roster, struggling reliever Taylor Cole (6.80 ERA in 31 games) was optioned to triple A. … Infielder David Fletcher is the team’s winner of the heart and hustle award, which is presented annually to a player who demonstrates a passion for baseball and values the spirit of the game. … A black Players’ Weekend jersey hung in Skaggs’ locker Tuesday. The name above the No. 45 was “Slick,” the nickname Skaggs chose in spring training. … Jared Walsh logged his second three-homer game of the season for triple-A Salt Lake on Sunday, giving him 34 homers for the year.