The Angels again asked a lot of their bullpen Friday, and their relievers didn’t quite melt down in a 9-6 loss to the Houston Astros.
But Angels hitters, who went three for 18 with runners in scoring position, might not have had such a hard time attempting to come back from an early 4-0 deficit if the bullpen had shut down the Astros in what turned out to be the longest nine-inning home game in team history (4 hours 21 minutes).
Through a month of spring training and once again in summer camp, manager Joe Maddon praised the talent general manager Billy Eppler had assembled in the Angels’ bullpen. He viewed the relief corps as the team’s second-biggest strength, behind their potent lineup. Newcomers Mike Mayers, Jacob Barnes and Ryan Buchter intrigued him. So did returning relievers Keynan Middleton, Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey.
Perhaps Maddon was too optimistic about the bullpen’s potential. Angels relievers had allowed 61% of inherited runners (11 of 18) to score, the second-highest mark in baseball, before Friday’s game. They also owned the eighth-worst ERA (5.34).
They hardly had a chance to improve those numbers after coming to the rescue of starter Matt Andriese in the second inning Friday.
Not a week ago, Andriese assembled a promising line in the aftermath of Shohei Ohtani’s disastrous return to the mound. The Redlands native held the Oakland Athletics to three hits and one walk over 5 2/3 innings Sunday. He struck out five of 19 batters.
Andriese couldn’t match that performance at home. He threw 34 pitches to nine batters in a dreadful second inning. His changeup, which he leaned on to draw six swings-and-misses and get five strike calls in his last outing, was ineffective. The Astros put three of his changeups into play, none of them for an out.
Andriese walked three, hit a batter and gave up four hits. Four Astros had scored by the time Maddon beckoned Cam Bedrosian out of the bullpen.
“I just wasn’t able to find that one pitch to get out of the inning,” Andriese said.
Bedrosian and the other seven pitchers who followed kept the game within reach but they were not always efficient. Middleton gave up three hits and a run in the fifth after recording the final two outs of the fourth inning. Mayers loaded the bases in the seventh. Hoby Milner let two runs score on a Kyle Tucker hit that found a hole on the right side of the infield, then walked the next hitter. Maddon still needed to use Kyle Keller and Barnes to get through the game.
“I don’t like to do that,” Maddon said. “It’s hard to piece together that many guys and hold the other team in check.”
During the 4-hours, 21-minutes slog, the Angels defense also contributed to the pitching woes. Luis Rengifo failed to cleanly field a ground ball with one out in the seventh, allowing Michael Brantley to reach. David Fletcher, who had just moved to right field after starting the game at shortstop, then struggled to capture a fly ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Gurriel reached on a single. Tucker drove them both in.
The Angels committed two errors. They had only committed two in the previous seven games.
“These guys really aren't in midseason form, even though it's August,” Maddon said. “It's almost like the latter days of a regular spring training right now.”
The philosophy also applies to the pitching staff. Andriese noted that the 60-game season doesn’t enable pitchers to work through issues as they normally would.
“You really just gotta hit it hard from the get-go and try to treat it like it’s midseason,” Andriese said. “But command-wise, I think all of us are struggling just a tad bit because you’ve got the competitive juices flowing. Little things are just slightly off.”
It’s why Maddon has overexerted the bullpen. Angels starters have thrown only 32 ⅔ innings. Angels relievers, meanwhile, have thrown 37 ⅓ innings in eight games.
Most times, Maddon has had good reason to turn the game over to his relievers.
Now he is in need of a lifeline. Julio Teheran, a veteran starter signed to a $9-million contract in the offseason, might be in position to toss him one soon. He threw three innings with poor results in a game at the Angels’ alternate site Thursday, Maddon said, and could use at least one more outing to ensure he’s stretched out enough to take on a five-inning start.
But Teheran’s return to the team might just be expedited after the Angels fell to 2-6.
“We do need to pitch better,” Maddon said. “It’s not complicated.
Three observations on the Angels
— Brian Goodwin’s second homer of the season was the 12th home run hit by the Angels, now tied for second-most homers in MLB.
— Matt Andriese and Noé Ramirez hit an Astro with a pitch, but neither incident drew warnings or reactions. Andriese, wild in his brief start, barely brushed Alex Bregman with his final pitch of the night. Ramirez threw a changeup that hit José Altuve in the elbow guard.
— Ryan Buchter kept the game close when he stranded two runners left by Keynan Middleton in the fifth inning. Buchter has given up one hit in eight at-bats over four games.