Jose Suarez’s difficult rookie season took an even more disheartening turn in the Angels’ 8-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night.
Moments before combusting on the Angel Stadium mound during the third inning, Suarez plunked mercurial star Yasiel Puig for the second time in as many at-bats. Puig, the former Dodger who was traded to the Cincinnati Reds last winter before landing with the playoff-hopeful Indians in late July, took offense. He stood in front of the plate, shaking off his smarting leg and staring down the Angels’ young starter.
A verbal joust followed. Suarez gesticulated so exuberantly that he lost the ball he had just been handed. Cleveland manager Terry Francona emerged from the dugout. Relievers from both teams spilled out of their left-field bullpens, ready for a fight.
Nothing of the sort followed. Angels pitching coach Doug White came out to soothe Suarez while Puig calmly took his base.
“I’ve seen [Puig] in videos,” Suarez said in Spanish. “He always likes to draw attention to himself. That’s how he plays. I can’t judge him on that, because that’s how he likes to play. But he got upset because he thought I hit him on purpose, and that wasn’t it.”
White’s words didn’t help. Suarez walked Jordan Luplow, who had belted a changeup on the inner part of the plate for a two-run homer an inning earlier, to force in a run. Then Franmil Reyes squared up an off-speed pitch of his own. His double cleared the loaded bases.
Frustrated, Suarez watched the scorched ball land in left field before trudging to back up third base.
“I think I just blocked myself after that altercation,” Suarez said. “I put more pressure on myself.”
Suarez (2-6) has spent 711/3 innings in the major leagues trying to prove he belongs. Tuesday’s outing, in which he gave up six runs in three innings while hitting three batters and walking two, didn’t help. After 16 appearances, he has a 6.94 ERA.
This season isn’t what the Angels envisioned for Suarez, who emerged as their second-best pitching prospect after climbing from class-A Inland Empire to triple-A Salt Lake within 10 starts last season. Then again, Suarez’s ascent to the majors was rushed by injuries and disappointing performances by veterans.
The Angels still believe the left-hander possesses the talent to stick in the major leagues long term.
“You can’t lose sight of the fact of how old he is,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “There’s a lot of development to be had. Hopefully this experience ... helps him in the future.”
The only recourse for Suarez is to pitch through the growing pains.
The Angels will not restrict him in the final weeks of the season. They want to stretch him as far as he can go, within reason. A healthy and effective starting pitcher typically throws about 2,800 pitches in a major league season. Suarez has thrown only 1,873 this season, 211 shy of the number he threw in the minor leagues last year.
“I am still confident,” Suarez said. “I know I can pitch here. I just need to make adjustments.”
How things change
The Angels beat the Dodgers on July 24 to sweep the season series against them. They were four games out of playoff positioning,firmly in the American League wild-card race.
Not even 50 days later, the Angels were mathematically eliminated from the postseason picture Tuesday night while the Dodgers celebrated clinching their seventh straight division title. The Angels have lost 14 of 18.