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Angels takeaways: Joe Maddon isn’t worried about Shohei Ohtani, others at the plate

Angels' Brandon Marsh is congratulated by Shohei Ohtani and Max Stassi after hitting a three-run home run.
Angels’ Brandon Marsh, left, is congratulated by Shohei Ohtani, right, and Max Stassi after hitting a three-run home run against the Miami Marlins during the first inning on Monday at Angel Stadium.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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The first week of the regular season revealed reasons for both optimism and concern for the Angels, who lost three of four games to the Houston Astros before salvaging a six-game homestand with two wins over the Miami Marlins.

As the Angels hit the road for a seven-game trip to Texas for games against the Rangers and Astros, here are five takeaways from their 3-3 start:

Starting blocks

Angels pitcher Noah Syndergaard throws during the first inning against the Houston Astros.
Angels pitcher Noah Syndergaard throws during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium on Saturday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

It was Mike Scioscia’s mantra for two decades in Anaheim: “The heartbeat of a championship-caliber club,” the former manager often said, “is starting pitching.”

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One turn through a six-man rotation does not a season make, but the early results are encouraging, Shohei Ohtani, Reid Detmers, Noah Syndergaard, Jose Suarez, Michael Lorenzen and Patrick Sandoval combining to go 2-2 with a 1.91 ERA, giving up 16 hits, striking out 28 and walking 12 in 28 1/3 innings.

The two big winter acquisitions were particularly effective, Syndergaard throwing 5 1/3 scoreless, two-hit innings in Saturday night’s 2-0 win over the Astros and Lorenzen giving up one run and two hits, striking out seven and walking none, in six innings of Monday night’s 6-2 win over the Marlins.

“Nice, right?” manager Joe Maddon said of the rotation. “It looks very good. They look strong. Syndergaard and Lorenzen were really sharp. The three lefties showed you what their promise looks like. I thought they were really good, and they’re going to continue to get better.”

Mixed bag

Angels catcher Max Stassi and relief pitcher Raisel Iglesias congratulate each other.
Angels catcher Max Stassi, left, and relief pitcher Raisel Iglesias congratulate each other after the Angels defeated the Miami Marlins 6-2 on Monday at Angel Stadium.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

A rebuilt bullpen was dinged for 18 earned runs and 23 hits, including eight homers, in 25 2/3 innings for a 6.31 ERA, though much of the damage was done in Friday night’s 13-6 loss to Houston.

The late-inning arms the Angels are relying on most — closer Raisel Iglesias, left-hander Aaron Loup and right-hander Ryan Tepera — looked dominant with the exception of Tepera’s tepid Angels debut.

Iglesias notched two saves in three games and gave up a meaningless solo homer Monday night. Loup struck out three and walked none in three innings of three games and retired nine of 10 batters, one reaching on an error.

Pinch-runner Tyler Wade slid home when Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas bobbled Max Stassi’s grounder, and the Angels beat the Miami Marlins 4-3.

Two of Tepera’s first four pitches were hit for solo homers in Thursday night’s season opener, but he retired five straight batters in Saturday night’s win and struck out the side — all with nasty sliders — in the eighth inning Monday night.

The back of the bullpen looks stout, but for the depth to improve, middle relievers such as Archie Bradley (9.00 ERA in two games), Mike Mayers (67.50 ERA in two games) and Jimmy Herget (13.50 ERA in three games) will have to pitch better.

Growing pains

Angels' Jo Adell reacts after striking out.
Angels’ Jo Adell reacts after striking out during a game against the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium on Friday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

It’s been a season of extremes already for outfielder Jo Adell, who struck out in seven of his first nine at-bats, looking helpless against sweeping breaking balls, before crushing a 430-foot solo homer and an RBI double Monday night.

Adell also bookended a nice home run-robbing catch of a Niko Goodrum drive Sunday with shaky plays on Thursday, when he misplayed a double in left field and made an errant throw home, and Tuesday, when a routine single skipped by him for an error in right field that resulted in a run scored.

The Angels would gladly take something in between from Adell — reliable, if not spectacular, defense on the corners and more consistent contact at the plate.

“He’s an extremely strong, powerful athlete who can hit a lot of home runs, and he has a very good technical swing,” Maddon said. “He’s just young. He’s learning how to lay off certain pitches and how not to miss the one that he likes.”

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Angels center fielder Mike Trout walks on the field to warm up before a game.
Angels center fielder Mike Trout walks on the field to warm up before a game against the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium on Friday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Maddon designed his lineup so Ohtani would have maximum protection, batting the reigning American League most valuable player in the leadoff spot, with three-time AL MVP Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon behind him.

So far, not so good. Ohtani, who hit .257 with 46 homers and 100 RBIs in 2021, went four for 25 (.160) with no homers, one double, eight strikeouts and no walks in the first six games and could be seen in the dugout performing CPR — proper two-hand compressions and all — on the barrel of his bat Monday night.

Trout, slowed by a stomach bug, went three for 15 (.200) with a homer and a double, and Rendon went two for 17 (.118) with a homer and no doubles. The trio combined to hit .158 (nine for 57) with two homers, two doubles and three RBI.

“He looks fine to me,” Maddon said of Rendon. “He looks like really good. Again, I watch things like his balance and the bat speed, and he’ll start squaring them up. He’s gonna get really hot. We’ve seen it before. Mikey’s real close too. And Ohtani, I’m not worried about at all.”

Injuries mount

The biggest concern among teams entering a lockout-shortened, 3 ½-week spring training in early March was that a condensed camp and a quicker ramp-up to the season would leave both pitchers and position players more susceptible to injuries.

The Angels have done little to dispel those fears. Outfielder Taylor Ward opened the season on the 10-day injured list because of a left groin strain but is expected to be activated for Saturday’s game against the Rangers.

The Angels defeated the Miami Marlins 6-2 in O.C. native Michael Lorenzen’s debut for the Halos on the mound on Monday at Angel Stadium.

Reliever Jose Quijada (right oblique strain) went on the IL on Saturday and was joined by shortstop David Fletcher (left hip strain) on Tuesday.

Griffin Canning, who was expected to contend for a rotation spot, is on the 60-day IL because of a stress reaction in his lower back. The right-hander is expected to begin throwing off a mound this week but can’t be activated until early June.

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