Four Angels relievers took the mound at Oakland Coliseum on Thursday, beckoned one after the other when a fellow pitcher failed to stymie an Oakland Athletics comeback. But the brunt of the blame for the Angels’ implosion rested mostly on struggling rookie Ty Buttrey, who walked three of the four batters he faced without recording an out in the seventh inning. All four eventually scored, dooming the Angels to a 10-6 loss as they were swept out of town.
Buttrey was one of the Angels’ most reliable relievers in the first half. Despite a heavy workload, he had a 2.57 ERA after his first 41 games.
His ERA has ballooned to 4.12 in his last 22 outings, during which he has surrendered 17 earned runs in 21 1/3 innings.
Buttrey, a former starter, has never indicated being tired or hurt. He has traced his inconsistency in the second half, instead, to a steep learning curve. On Thursday, it was more a matter of having trouble locating his slider.
“I’ve been working on a lot of things, trying to honestly put some work in now so next year things are ironed out,” Buttrey said. “I feel like whenever you start tinkering and changing stuff, you go through a bit of a rough patch, but they’re things that are necessary for the future. At the end of the day I can’t come in there and walk three guys and give up a base hit like that.”
Buttrey’s performance — coupled with the bases-loaded walk issued by Miguel del Pozo, the run-scoring groundout allowed by Luis Garcia and the two-run triple surrendered by Adalberto Mejia — cost the Angels a chance to win for only the fourth time since Aug. 19.
After entering the game with a 2-1 lead in the second, Angels rookie Jose Suarez began his 15th MLB appearance with five scoreless innings. He had never kept an opponent off the board for more than three innings.
He had no such troubles Thursday. Before seven consecutive Oakland batters reached in the seventh inning and the Athletics pushed across seven runs to erase the Angels’ 6-1 lead, Suarez was cruising. He had retired 15 of 20 batters in five innings, throwing 46 of his 72 pitches for strikes.
The only pitch decision that put a blemish on Suarez’s outing was an inside fastball to Josh Phegley. The Oakland catcher drove it over the left-field fence for a two-run homer to cut the Angels’ lead to 6-3.
Buttrey came in after that, starting a bullpen meltdown that overshadowed the Angels’ early offensive outburst and rendered Mike Trout’s 45th home run of the season — a towering, 455-foot shot to left-center field that landed in the third-deck seats — all but useless.
Trout’s two-run blast in the third inning survived as the Angels’ best highlight. So sure was the impact Trout made that Athletics starter Brett Anderson appeared to melt on the mound. He squatted in frustration as the first-pitch fastball he had tried to slip by Trout caught the edge of the plate and was sent out of the park.
Trout is slugging .682 (133 total bases in 195 ABs) on outside pitches this season, the best mark in MLB and nearly 280 percentage points better than league average, according to Inside Edge Scout.
Trout is again tied with New York Mets rookie Pete Alonso for the major league lead in home runs. He has a five-homer lead in the American League over Kansas City’s Jorge Soler.
“He threw all fastballs my first at-bat, so I went up there after [David Fletcher’s bunt] hit and I thought he was going to try to throw me a fastball to try to get a ground ball,” said Trout, who became the first AL center fielder to homer at least 45 times in a season since Ken Griffey Jr. hit 48 in 1999. “I just got a good pitch to hit and hit it out.”
A catcher in the outfield
It turns out Taylor Ward’s best position might be one he briefly played in college but never played in the lower levels of the minor leagues or even in his 40-game major league stint last season. It’s in the outfield, where he made 76 starts for triple-A Salt Lake this year.
Ward, a catcher before he was moved to third base in March 2018, began playing the outfield after making two errors at third base during a brief stint with the Angels in mid-April. The directive was initially meant as a way to increase Ward’s versatility while other players, like Kaleb Cowart and Matt Thaiss, got their repetitions in the infield.
But the more he played in left, the more proficient Ward became. His athleticism came through early, when he made a sliding play to rob a hit in a late April game. He made a few errors but made quick adjustments to clean up his game. He became a Pacific Coast League All-Star at the position.
Ward performed well enough the Angels decided to have him play the outfield almost exclusively through mid-August. He will get a chance to test his outfield abilities in the major leagues this month.
Ward made it to the majors last August on the strength of his bat. Ward continued to put up strong numbers in triple A this year. He led the PCL with 80 walks, scored the second-most runs (102) and ranked fourth in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.011).
But his shaky defense at third base forced the Angels to keep him down in the minors at the start of the season. Now Ward, the Angels’ first-round pick of the 2015 draft, may have finally found a way to make himself into a viable major league option.
“The time I spent out there, I really liked it,” Ward said. “I enjoyed running fly balls down and been able to throw runners out again. Whatever they decide and whatever direction I go, I’m pretty happy just playing baseball. Wherever that is, it’s all good.”
Prospect Jeremiah Jackson was named Pioneer League player of the month for August. He batted .338 with 21 RBIs while leading the advanced rookie league in total bases (58), homers (nine), slugging (.784) and OPS (1.203) in 17 games. Jackson, selected in the second round of the 2018 draft, played 21 games in the Arizona rookie league before being promoted Aug. 2. … Tommy La Stella faced pitchers in a simulated situation at Angel Stadium on Thursday. It was his first time seeing full-speed pitches since sustaining a tibia fracture in July. The Angels are in no rush to bring him back, so it seems unlikely the infielder will be reinstated from the injured list before next week.