One night after watching some of their most inexperienced pitchers string together their strongest performances of the year, the Angels saw the most veteran member of their starting rotation again fall victim to the long ball.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney was charged six runs in five-plus innings at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night. Three scored on one swing from D.J. LeMahieu, one of the league’s top hitters, in the second inning. Brett Gardner’s solo home run added a fourth.
The Angels had spoiled the New York Yankees’ chances of clinching the American League East title not 24 hours earlier. They could not delay the inevitable a second day. They lost 9-1, yielding to the Yankees’ first division championship since 2012.
It was the third time in four outings that Heaney had given up at least two home runs, a problem that has tainted otherwise fine performances. On Thursday in particular, his fastball generated 12 swings-and-misses and 10 called strikes and helped him collect eight strikeouts. The 12 swings-and-misses on his heater matched his season high from May 26, when he also struck out eight in his season debut.
“Same thing burned me,” said Heaney, who surrendered six runs and three homers in a loss on Friday. “I’ve always said, solo homers don’t beat you, but three-run homers are gonna do it.”
LeMahieu’s was particularly egregious. The Yankees’ leadoff hitter, who owns an American League-best .392 batting average with runners in scoring position and a similarly gaudy .381 average with two outs in such situations, came to the plate with two outs and two runners on in the second inning of what was then a scoreless game. Heaney started him with a curveball inside, then tried to go down-and-away with a changeup. The pitch stayed in the middle of the zone. LeMahieu launched it 387 feet to right-center field for his 25th home run.
Heaney, 28, gave up six runs in back-to-back starts for the first time in his career. But he remains confident that the mistakes aren’t an indictment of his abilities.
“You don’t shy away from throwing strikes,” he said. “I don’t shy away from pounding the strike zone. Those kinds of things are going to bite you sometimes.”
The Angels, meanwhile, mustered a mere four hits during Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka’s seven innings. Three distinct fastballs and an 85-mph slider limited hard contact.
“He did what he always does,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “He doesn’t give in. … He takes advantage of hitters’ aggressiveness. You gotta wait him out offensively, but it’s hard to do. He takes advantage of that.”
Only outfielder Kole Calhoun, who rediscovered his power stroke this season, put a dent in the right-hander’s line. Calhoun slugged his 32nd home run of the season, a solo shot to right field that extended his career high.
The Angels packed up for Houston, where they could witness another celebration this weekend. The Astros, who on Wednesday became the first AL team to reach 100 wins and the sixth team ever to reach the century mark in victories in three consecutive seasons, have a magic number of two to secure their third consecutive AL West crown.
Rodriguez rides changeup to success
The relatively unknown Jose Rodriguez arrived at Angel Stadium two months ago, called up in the aftermath of a 16-inning game July 25 that forced the Angels to use starter Griffin Canning the night before he was scheduled to pitch. Rodriguez retired the five batters he faced in 1 2/3 innings of his big league debut July 27 and was sent back to triple-A Salt Lake the next day. He was shuttled back and forth in August, then was among the first wave of September call-ups.
Rodriguez, who was 17 years old when the Angels signed him out of Venezuela in 2012, will start Sunday in Houston. The 24-year-old will throw no more than 50 pitches before handing off to fellow rookie Jose Suarez, Ausmus said.
Rodriguez has given up only three earned runs in 14 2/3 innings as a reliever. He turned in his most impressive outing Tuesday, striking out two Yankees while working around three walks in three scoreless innings. His changeup — a deceiving, mid-80s pitch with spin — was key.
Suarez, 21, has a 7.40 ERA in 74 innings over 17 games in the major leagues.
“Rodriguez had pitched pretty well, for one, and we’re gonna give a little bit less of a workload for Suarez in this next outing,” Ausmus said. “He’s working on some stuff.”
Infielder Luis Rengifo said he expects to undergo surgery to remove the fractured hamate bone in his left hand Monday in Southern California. … Injured outfielders Mike Trout and Justin Upton returned to Anaheim on Thursday to prepare for season-ending procedures. Trout will have surgery to address the Morton’s neuroma in his right foot that hampered him for a month. Upton, who missed 72 games because of a severe toe sprain, will receive a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right knee in an effort to heal patellar tendinitis that cropped up in recent weeks. Both players are expected to recover in time to be ready for spring training.