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Angels stumble against Astros but avoid losing Mike Trout to serious injury

Angels' Mike Trout winces in pain.
The Angels’ Mike Trout was struck in the arm by a pitch from the Houston Astros’ Cristian Javier during the fourth inning on Thursday.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

The Angels were facing a pitcher not exactly known for racking up strikeouts. They were facing a Houston Astros lineup mired in a weeklong slump. They were trying to bounce back from a gut-wrenching defeat the day before.

Instead, they stumbled to their fifth loss in their last seven games.

In an 8-2 defeat at Minute Maid Park, the Angels saw few things go right. They recorded just eight hits and struck out 15 times, including eight through the first three innings against Astros starter Cristian Javier. Their own starter, Alex Cobb, lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his first start in 10 days, surrendering five runs (four earned) with six hits, three walks and four strikeouts.

Worst of all, Mike Trout left the game in the fifth inning with a left elbow contusion after getting hit by a pitch the inning before.

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Luckily for the Angels (9-8), it doesn’t seem as though Trout’s injury is serious. Manager Joe Maddon said he thinks Trout should be able to play Friday, and Trout said his bruised elbow was already getting better.

But there wasn’t much else encouraging about the Angels’ series-opener against the Astros (8-10), starting the weekend flat in a ballpark where they’ve now won only three of their last 18 games.

The Angels can’t hold on to a two-run lead in the eighth inning Wednesday and lose to the Texas Rangers 7-4 at Angel Stadium.

Here are five observations from Thursday.

Trout’s elbow contusion

In a full count in the fourth inning, Javier threw Trout a 93.1-mph fastball up and in. The ball hit Trout, whose arm was extended out from his body, directly on his elbow pad.

“It didn’t feel like it hit any of the pad,” Trout said. “But obviously the pad helped me a lot.”

Trout immediately reeled away in pain, walking slowly to first base. From the dugout, an Angels trainer ran toward the three-time MVP, with Maddon close behind.

Trout stayed in the game to run the bases and played in the field during the bottom of the fourth.

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But in the top of the fifth, Scott Schebler walked out on deck in Trout’s place and took over for him defensively the next half inning.

Though it looked on the slow-motion replay that Trout had moved his elbow into the pitch, he said he wasn’t trying to get hit.

“I thought it was a slider,” he said. “Then at the last second, tried to get out of the way. When I turned my head, my elbow flew out.”

In an exchange captured on the game broadcast, Trout told Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, “If I didn’t have a pad, bro …” and then simply shook his head, seemingly indicating the worst-case scenario had been averted.

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Crooked numbers

The Angels escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first inning — then promptly surrendered three runs apiece in the second and third, allowing an Astros lineup that had averaged fewer than three runs per game during a 1-9 skid to quickly pull away.

Aledmys Díaz and Myles Straw began the second with a double and triple, respectively, before Albert Pujols committed an error trying to field a ball at first. Cobb then hit a batter and walked two others, the latter scoring a run with the bases loaded.

The Astros came right back and added three more in the third.

After Martín Maldonado doubled and Alex Bregman drove him home with a single, Cobb was replaced by left-hander Alex Claudio with two outs.

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Instead of keeping the deficit at four, Claudio gave up a ground-rule double to Michael Brantley and a two-run single to Bregman that made it 6-0.

Cobb shakes off rust

Cobb was making his first start since April 12, after an unplanned 10-day break caused by the postponement of two Angels games last weekend against the Minnesota Twins.

He had thrown several times since then, including in a workout Sunday at Angel Stadium, and largely avoided hard contact against the Astros. But his command was not quite as sharp as it was in his first two starts, nor did he miss as many bats, inducing only eight swing-and-misses. Eventually, all the soft base hits and free passes caught up with him.

“It kinds of just goes that way on days like that,” he said. “You might not have your best stuff and you might be battling a little bit. Then when you do make a pitch, things tend not to go your way. It’s frustrating, but it comes from not making multiple pitches in back-to-back at-bats, or in at-bats, or getting yourself out of jams.”

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Maddon was more upbeat in his evaluation of Cobb, who now has a 6.28 ERA in three games with the Angels.

“From the side, I saw really good stuff,” Maddon said. “Good curveball. Good splitter. Velocity was kind of right where it wanted to be. … I thought he threw the ball well. He may have missed or walked a couple guys, but stuff-wise I was pretty happy.”

More missed opportunities

A common theme during the Angels recent 2-5 skid: spotty hitting.

On Thursday, the Angels went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. They stranded a leadoff double by rookie Jose Rojas — who had two hits in what was his best MLB performance to date — in the third inning and failed to score in the fourth after getting runners on second and third with only one out.

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“We’ve had guys out there, had the right guys up, and it just hasn’t panned out,” Maddon said. “It will, but yeah, we’ve left a little chicken on the bone.”

The Angels’ lone runs scored on a contested call. In the sixth inning, Pujols lined a two-run homer off the outside of the foul pole in right. The play was reviewed, with the Astros contending that the ball had sailed wide and was foul, but it wasn’t overturned. It was Pujols’ 1,350th career extra-base hit, making him only the fifth player in MLB history to reach that plateau.

Injured trio travels

The Angels did have some good news Thursday.

Injured third baseman Anthony Rendon (left groin strain), catcher Max Stassi (left thumb sprain) and outfielder Juan Lagares (left calf strain) remain on the 10-day injured list but made the trip with the team.

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Maddon said Stassi and Lagares could be back as soon as this weekend. Rendon is more likely to return early next week.

The Angels also have a four-man taxi squad on this trip: right-handed pitcher James Hoyt, right-handed pitcher Noé Ramirez, left-handed pitcher Patrick Sandoval and utility man Taylor Ward.

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