Coming off the best start of his young career, left-hander Patrick Sandoval was approached sometime in the last week by Angels officials and told that his remaining opportunities in the Angels’ rotation might not be long ones. The 22-year-old from Mission Viejo had never pitched far into September. He understood their reasoning.
So when manager Brad Ausmus strode to the mound at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday night, with the Angels trailing the Oakland Athletics by one run with one out in the fourth inning, Sandoval did not pout. He watched calmly from the dugout, satisfied with the work he had been able to accomplish under a pitch limit. The 10 breaking balls he threw were effective, receiving four called strikes and drawing one swinging strike. His mid-80s changeup played well and limited damage.
With an abbreviated outing of 52 pitches, effectiveness was all Sandoval could point to after the Angels’ 4-0 loss.
Jurickson Profar lined a 94-mph fastball on the outer part of the plate to right field for a home run, giving the A’s a 1-0 lead in the second inning. It was the only hard-hit ball Sandoval yielded in 31/3 innings.
“I felt good,” said Sandoval, who is already at 106 innings this year, just 161/3 shy of the career high he set in the minor leagues last year. “I felt like I executed a lot better. Profar just beat me on a fastball. Nothing I can do about that.”
Ausmus replaced Sandoval, who retired the last five batters he faced, with September call-up Jake Jewell. The Athletics tagged the prospect for three runs, coming on a solo homer by Sean Murphy and a two-run shot by Marcus Semien in the fifth inning.
“It’s better to have him to continue to do work through the length of the season, rather than have him do a lot and then shut him down before the end of the season,” Ausmus said of Sandoval. “It keeps him on a regular work schedule but at a lower [workload].”
As the calendar flips toward the end of a disappointing season, the list of things the Angels have left to look forward to has been whittled down to essentially two. There is Mike Trout’s chase of the home run title and a possible third MVP award. And there is the performance of their young players.
The Angels’ monitoring of pitch limits might seem like it runs counterproductive to evaluating the youngsters, but it is a strategy the team must employ to ensure their young pitchers remain healthy.
“I mean, it’s not that big of a deal,” said Sandoval, who made his debut Aug. 5. “You just go out there and compete as long as you can until he tells me I’m done. I know it’s for my own good. It’s to keep me healthy. I’m on board.”
Struggling Ohtani slips in lineup
Shohei Ohtani has struggled to tap into his power during the second half of the season, so Ausmus dropped his designated hitter to the fifth spot in the batting order for Wednesday’s game. The move didn’t produce immediate results: Ohtani struck out three times and reached on a catcher’s inference.
But Ausmus’ objective wasn’t necessarily to spark Ohtani’s bat. It was to take the burden off the 2018 American League rookie of the year, who had only four hits and driven in one run in 34 at-bats since logging a three-hit game Aug. 20.
After going one for four with a bloop double and two strikeouts in Tuesday’s loss, Ohtani talked with hitting coaches Jeremy Reed and Shawn Wooten about tweaks he could make to rectify his bat path. They started working on it Wednesday afternoon. Ausmus did not want to force Ohtani to prove he could replicate that in the No. 3 position in the lineup, which Ohtani had hit out of since returning from Tommy John surgery May 7.
“I just think with the work that they’re doing today, it takes a bit of pressure off,” Ausmus said after losing a third straight game.
Brian Goodwin, hitting .307 with a 1.035 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the second half, batted third and went one for four.