Patrick Sandoval walked off the mound at Angel Stadium on Friday night with a grin plastered to his face in spite of the slim deficit reflected on the scoreboard behind him.
The Angels rookie left-hander had just held the Houston Astros to one run on two hits over 31/3 innings in his final start of the season. Angels hitters were held to three hits in a shutout, so Sandoval took the loss in a 4-0 defeat.
Although he later admitted he was disappointed in throwing only 10 of his 27 fastballs for strikes, the loss was perhaps the least-deserved of Sandoval’s barely 2-month-old major-league career.
Limited by pitch-count restrictions for a fifth consecutive start, Sandoval was removed in the fourth inning after allowing only five of the 14 batters he faced to reach base. But Sandoval, who will have to wait until 2020 to earn his first career victory, could rest easy knowing he made a strong impression during his first foray into the major leagues.
“I saw someone who despite the young age and experience, competes extremely well,” manager Brad Ausmus said of the 22-year-old who didn’t even get innings in split-squad games during spring training.
“He had a very good change-up and tonight the slider was the better pitch, so he’s got the prospect of having multiple weapons. I think he probably impressed quite a few people here.”
Sandoval has now pitched against division rivals in back-to-back starts twice since debuting Aug. 5. He came back stronger the second time out in each.
One week after allowing four runs on eight hits in his ugliest MLB outing of the year, Sandoval faced the Texas Rangers again and held them to one hit and three walks over five innings Aug. 28. He credited the improvement to a move to the center of the mound rubber. The new position, suggested by pitching coach Doug White, allowed Sandoval to throw with increased deception.
The adjustment served Sandoval well the final weeks of the season. While surrendering nine earned runs over 22 innings, he held hitters to a .173 average. Four home runs in that span were practically the only things to hurt his line.
Such was the case Friday. Sandoval threw MVP candidate Alex Bregman a 1-and-1 curveball over the outer edge of the plate. Bregman lifted the pitch over the center-field wall for his 41st home run, giving the Astros a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
Sandoval, whose poise Ausmus has praised, allowed little else the rest of the way.
“I thought I did a good job of settling in the second time around and it showed,” Sandoval said. “I didn’t let the home run get out of hand. Just one run and got out of it.”
Traditional statistics, such as his 5.03 earned-run average, will not paint a favorable picture of Sandoval’s rookie campaign. But in a two-month span, Sandoval did enough to merit serious consideration for an opening day roster spot next spring.
“My stuff plays up here,” Sandoval said. “I gotta keep that confidence rolling into spring training next year and fight for a spot on this team.”
Outfielder Brian Goodwin, whose back spasmed on a head-first slide in Thursday’s game, might be available for the final two games of the season. … In his first game since fouling a ball off his right shin and fracturing his tibia July 2, All-Star Tommy La Stella was held hitless in four at-bats. The results didn’t matter as much resetting his mind-set after nearly three months of rehab. “The goal is just to get out there, get some game reps and get the visual of being on the field and seeing the pitcher. Let that be something I can take into the offseason.”