Four spots in the Angels rotation were claimed before the team reported to spring training, leaving one spot for four pitchers to win.
Right-hander Jaime Barría on Sunday became the first of the group to throw, giving up one hit in two scoreless innings in the Angels’ 7-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
A focus on throwing first-pitch strikes was key. Barría, who was touted for his ability to get early-count outs as a minor leaguer, threw in line with new pitching coach Mickey Callaway’s philosophy and didn’t walk anyone.
“I think that’s my forte, is throwing strikes,” Barría said in Spanish. “I want to control all the corners, in and out, against the batters. All my pitches were in the zone and I was able to dominate.”
Barría, 23, is in a strange spot. In 2018, his rookie season, he had a 3.41 earned-run average and struck out 98 batters over 129 1/3 innings over 26 starts. But he spent 2019 being shuttled to and from triple A. He ended the season with a combined 7.63 ERA over 131 innings.
The instability affected Barría. So did the former coaching staff’s insistence that he throw fewer two-seam fastballs and more sliders, which was his most effective pitch as a rookie.
The Angels tossed that formula. Barría was encouraged to throw his sinking fastball again. He was also reminded that four-seam fastballs are effective in certain situations, such as when facing left-handed hitters. So on Sunday, he threw only two sinkers.
“I think because it’s straight sometimes pitchers underestimate the four-seam fastball,” manager Joe Maddon said this month. “It looks straight, but they don’t understand that the hitter has a hard time catching up with that.”
The Angels rotation will include veterans Andrew Heaney, Julio Teherán and Dylan Bundy, and second-year pitcher Griffin Canning. Another spot will eventually go to two-way player Shohei Ohtani, once he is cleared to pitch in his first major league game since 2018. The other opening in the rotation is up for grabs. Barría, Félix Peña and Matt Andriese are in contention, and left-handers Patrick Sandoval and José Suárez are also under consideration, but they were emergency call-ups last season.
Barría was supposed to be on the Angels’ opening-day roster last year for the first time. Being cut at the last minute stung.
He leaned on that feeling in the offseason. He shed 14 pounds to put himself back in position to succeed.
“I am the Barría from 2017 and 2018,” the 6-foot-1 native of Panamá said. “I feel more aggressive, I feel more flexible and I think that’s going to help me.”
Anthony Rendon rejoined the Angels after Thursday’s birth of his second child. “Mama and baby doing well. Except for my oldest daughter, she’s a little pissed,” he said. “She’ll get over it eventually.” … Ohtani had a light bullpen session for the first time this spring. He will begin to ramp up the intensity of his throwing program in a few weeks so that he is ready to start in the major leagues in mid-May.