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Angels’ doubleheader against Astros showed why starting pitching is key

Angels pitcher Julio Teheran throws against the Houston Astros.
Angels pitcher Julio Teheran throws against the Houston Astros during the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader Tuesday in Houston.
(Michael Wyke / Associated Press)

A 6-3 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 1 of a doubleheader Tuesday exposed, again, the Angels’ biggest flaw: starting pitching.

Then veteran starter Julio Teheran reminded the Angels what he’s capable of when given run support and some time to acclimate to pitching after a lengthy layoff. He limited hard contact from a team that scored 17 runs in its previous two games against the Angels and was crucial in a 12-5 Angels victory in Game 2.

Given a 4-0 lead in the first inning, Teheran navigated 1 1/3 trips through the Astros order with ease. The only hitter to reach through four innings was Yuli Gurriel, who swatted a soft hit to left field to lead off the second. Teheran induced a double-play grounder to erase the threat.

Teheran had retired eight in a row when Gurriel pestered again, knocking a high-and-tight fastball into center to start the fifth. An RBI triple by Kyle Tucker followed. Tucker scored on a one-out sacrifice fly, cutting the Angels’ lead to 6-2. Then Abraham Toro scorched Teheran’s 0-and-1 changeup, thrown on the outer edge of the plate, to the opposite field for a homer.

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Teheran departed the game after the solo shot, but not without coaxing from manager Joe Maddon.

“Every time I get the ball, I just want to compete. I just want to give my best and I was doing it,” Teheran said. “I was in control of the whole game, and I didn’t feel like I needed to come out in that situation right there. … I understand there’s nothing that I can do, but obviously when I go out there, it is to win the game, to help the team win. And I’ll do my best to make it happen.”

Just a week removed from being demoted to the bullpen, Teheran was summoned for a spot start when MLB mandated the Angels and Astros play a doubleheader because of the impending arrival of Hurricane Laura in the Houston area.

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Teheran, delayed in the team’s July training camp because of a bout with COVID-19, took advantage of the opportunity. He credited a good dynamic with catcher Anthony Bemboom and improved command of his pitches.

“What I can control is just go out there and compete and get my pitches in the right spot that I want,” he said. “I felt like today was one of those games. That’s the Julio [I know]. That’s the reason that I came over here, was to pitch like I did today. I’m glad that I felt like that and I had all my pitches.

“I’m here to help the team. Obviously I want to start. But if they think I can help them better from the bullpen, that’s nothing I can control.”

It is unclear whether Teheran, 29, will remain in the rotation. But there is an open spot after the demotion of youngster Jose Suarez.

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Suarez, recalled last week for the first time this season, faced 12 batters in one-plus innings of work in Game 1. He gave up five runs, five hits and four walks.

Angels pitcher Jose Suarez throws against the Houston Astros.
Angels pitcher Jose Suarez throws against the Houston Astros during the first inning of the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday in Houston.
(Michael Wyke / Associated Press)

The Astros batted around in the first inning, aided by a couple of defensive breaks. With a runner on second, shortstop David Fletcher dived to keep a ball hit by Carlos Correa from entering the outfield. He flipped the ball to second baseman Tommy La Stella from the seat of his pants. La Stella couldn’t glove it to retire the lead runner. On the next play, Suarez was late getting to a slow roller hit toward third base by Gurriel and then threw the ball past first baseman Albert Pujols.

Suarez continued to pitch poorly after five singles, the throwing error and a non-play at second base. He walked the first two batters of the second inning. When he relinquished the ball to Maddon, Suarez had thrown 40 pitches and induced misses on five of 16 swings by the Astros. Suarez’s fastball velocity reached as high as 95 mph for a second consecutive start, but he labored with the pitch. He received only two strike calls on his four-seam fastball.

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The Angels optioned Suarez, who gave up five runs and five hits in a loss Thursday, to the team’s alternate site after the game. Maddon restated his confidence in the 22-year-old.

“This kid is gonna be really good,” Maddon said. “It hasn’t gone his way so far. I know nobody wants to hear that. But it’s true. He’s very talented. I just told him that the biggest mistake he’s made is throwing that ball to first base. If he just put that in his pocket, then it’s bases loaded and he had a chance to work out of it. Once that occurs, I’m sure his mind began racing some more. That was the one part of that game that I would like for him to have done differently.”

Patrick Sandoval’s start against Houston quickly deteriorated in the Angels’ 11-4 loss Monday. Were the Astros picking up on what he was going to throw?

Suarez’s teammates couldn’t overcome his dreadful outing, but right-hander Jaime Barria gave them a chance. He retired 15 of 18 batters he faced in five innings, including three straight to take Suarez off the hook in the second inning. The one run Barria surrendered scored on a Gurriel hit that reached the warning track on a bounce for a double in the fourth.

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Barria, who served as the team’s extra man for the doubleheader and was returned to the alternate squad, also impressed Maddon in a mop-up situation last week. He gave up two runs and two hits in 4⅓ innings in the Angels’ 8-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants on a day the heat index reached 108 degrees.

Barria is a known commodity to the Angels. He signed with them as a 16-year-old international free agent out of Panama in 2013. It wasn’t until 2017 that he made it to high-A Inland Empire, but he progressed quickly. He was in the majors by 2018.

In his rookie season, he had a 3.41 earned-run average and struck out 98 batters in 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 and the former MLB coaching staff’s philosophy took a toll on Barria.

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He resolved to take his revolving assignments as a challenge — not a threat — this season.

“Whenever I’d do something wrong [last year], I’d put extra pressure on myself,” Barria said in Spanish. “But I think I changed out of that mentality and I’m going back to how I was thinking in 2018, 2017, so I can stay in good form.”

Three takeaways on the Angels

  1. Starter Julio Teheran enjoyed early run support in the Angels’ 12-5 victory in Tuesday’s second game of the doubleheader. He was nearly untouchable through four innings, facing one batter over the minimum. The right-hander ran into trouble in the fifth and was removed after three hits and three runs. He struck out three in his 42/3 innings.
  2. Teheran’s start came as a relief after young Angels left-hander José Suarez gave up five runs in one-plus inning in Tuesday’s first game, a 6-3 loss. Angels starters have combined for a 6.34 ERA, the second-highest mark in the majors.
  3. Mike Trout hit leadoff in the nightcap for the first time since 2018, a move manager Joe Maddon made to give him a boost. Trout was one for four with a walk and ended an 0-for-15 skid. Each Angel reached base more than once.

Torres reported from Los Angeles.


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