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Reliever Mike Mayers shows improvement and nasty stuff for Angels, who beat Rockies

Angels pitcher Mike Mayers reaches for the ball after giving up a run to the Mariners on Aug. 5, 2020, in Seattle.
Angels reliever Mike Mayers, pictured Aug. 5, pitched for a third straight day Saturday and retired all six batters he faced in lowering his ERA to 2.33.
(Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

In one of the most memorable moments of an otherwise disappointing evening in Denver, Angels reliever Mike Mayers unleashed a 96-mph fastball to a Colorado Rockies hitter and watched the pitch defy gravity.

The heater hurtled toward the upper right corner of the strike zone on a straight line. At the final second, it rose a few inches until it was about level with the shoulders of Colorado’s Tony Wolters.

And Wolters, deceived, swung through the pitch just as catcher Anthony Bemboom popped out of his crouch to safely corral it.

Mayers strolled off the mound with a wide smile, seemingly in disbelief that he’d retired Wolters with a magical aid.

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Asked about the sequence in a videoconference call the next day, Mayers played it off.

The San Diego Padres are good for the first time since 2010, but COVID-19 restrictions prevent fans from watching games in person and celebrating with the team.

“Nothing in Colorado is surprising,” Mayers said before Saturday’s game, which the Angels won 5-2 in 11 innings after first baseman Jared Walsh crushed a three-run moonshot 424 feet to right field. “In any capacity.”

The emergence of Mayers, however, is something of a revelation.

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Joe Maddon raved about Mayers during spring training, when the right-hander held opponents scoreless in four of six outings, and again in the team’s July summer camp. But the 28-year-old had a career major league earned-run average of 7.03 over parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals when the Angels claimed him off waivers in November. Maddon’s enthusiasm didn’t seem warranted.

The Angels’ manager might have had a point. Mayers entered Saturday with a 2.60 ERA and 27 strikeouts over 21 games. His 14.02 strikeouts per nine innings ranked 10th among relievers who had thrown at least 12 1/3 innings.

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Key plays from the Angels’ 5-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies in 11 innings Saturday night.

Mayers was summoned out of the bullpen Saturday to pitch for a third consecutive day and looked no worse for wear. He retired all six batters he faced and lowered his ERA to 2.33.

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The cut fastball Mayers added to his arsenal after an injury-plagued 2019 has been instrumental. He spent the offseason perfecting the pitch after first seeing a demonstration of it on social media. An Instagram post showed Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera teaching pitcher Roy Halladay, who was posthumously inducted into baseball’s Cooperstown, N.Y., institution last summer, to throw his famous cutter. Rivera marked the baseball they used with his grip.

Mayers adopted the technique immediately.

“It was a pretty simple grip,” he said. “And I felt like it really just kind of went with my mentality of just throw it and let the grip do the work.”

Kenley Jansen struggled late as the Astros, making their first Dodger Stadium visit since their 2017 cheating scheme was exposed, beat the Dodgers.

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Opponents are faring poorly against the pitch. Mayers has given up a .182 average on the cutter, which runs slightly away from right-handers but toward left-handers. It has served as a good complement to his fastball, which moves in the opposite direction.

The pitch combination has helped Mayers become a specialist at retiring left-handers, to whom he has given up only three hits over 33 at-bats.

Mayers’ success stands in contrast to the seasons of relievers Ty Buttrey and Hansel Robles. Both started as the Angels’ most reliable late-inning options. Neither has impressed. Robles, who collected 25 saves in 2019, is trying to rehab an 11.20 ERA in low-leverage appearances. Buttrey has blown four of nine save opportunities, including in Friday’s 8-4 loss to the Rockies.

But Mayers is not likely to supplant Buttrey in the ninth inning any time soon. Maddon prefers to use him against a team’s toughest left-handed batters.

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“Part of Mike’s success is that we’re putting him on the right guys, too,” Maddon said. “And I think he’s that kind of guy that if you match him up well, you’re gonna get that kind of performance pretty consistently.”

Short hop

Infielder David Fletcher was reinstated from the injured list Saturday. He was held hitless in his five at-bats but didn’t seem to suffer any lingering effects of the left ankle sprain that sidelined him for almost two weeks. Maddon said Fletcher will be eased back into action, so it’s unlikely the utility man will play on consecutive days with the same frequency as he did before the injury.

The Angels' Jared Walsh watches his three-run home run during the 11th inning.
The Angels’ Jared Walsh watches his three-run home run during the 11th inning Saturday.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Three takeaways on the Angels

1.) Jared Walsh has been on a hot streak since being recalled late last month. He has 13 hits, including five homers, in 31 at-bats in September. His 11th-inning homer Saturday secured his 12th RBI during the stretch.

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2.) Albert Pujols narrowly missed hitting the 660th homer of his career when he banged an RBI double off the top of the left-field wall in the sixth inning. Pujols needs one homer to tie Willie Mays for fifth on the all-time list. He has been stuck at 659 since Aug. 4, a stretch of 90 plate appearances.

3.) Starter Jaime Barria received fist bumps and hugs in the Angels dugout after turning in a strong performance for his fourth outing in a row. The right-hander gave up five hits and two runs but barely gave up any hard contact.

Torres reported from Los Angeles.


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