Angels' Patrick Sandoval reflects on challenging season cut short by injury

Angels starting pitcher Patrick Sandoval throws against the Rangers on Monday.

Angels pitcher Patrick Sandoval said his side started bothering him during his final five pitches of the third inning Monday against the Texas Rangers. By the next inning, he needed to come out of the game.

“I thought it was just cramping or something getting tight,” Sandoval said after the Angels' 5-1 loss. “Got a little bit of work done in-between innings. I felt good enough to go back out and then it just progressively came back a little bit worse and worse.

“And then that last pitch, it kind of just grabbed a little bit more than I was comfortable with.”

Immediately after Sandoval threw a 94-mph sinker to walk Mitch Garver, he stepped off the mound, yelled and took off his glove. Angels third baseman Mike Moustakas waved to the dugout for help. Manager Phil Nevin and a trainer sprinted to the mound.

Sandoval’s season officially came to an end Tuesday, the Angels announced, because of a right oblique strain. Though a disappointing end, the injury capped a season of growth beyond what his numbers depict.

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“Definitely a big learning year for me,” Sandoval said. “Just navigating the ups and downs of this game. A lot of downs this year and personally and as a team, we didn't really accomplish what we set out to accomplish.”

In 28 starts and 144⅔ innings pitched, Sandoval went 7-13 with a 4.11 earned run average, a .256 opponent batting average, 128 strikeouts and 74 walks. Those numbers were a regression from last season, when he went 6-9 with a 2.91 ERA in 27 starts and 148 ⅔ innings to go with a .246 opponent average, 151 strikeouts and 60 walks.

Still, Nevin has supported Sandoval, including after Monday's game, in which he ended up pitching three scoreless innings despite giving up two hits and five walks.

“At the end of the day he's kept us in some games. It’s learning moments for him too,” Nevin said.

Sandoval struggled with his pitches, whether with accuracy or execution, completing just eight quality starts compared to 11 last season.

He said this month he had some ideas as to what was affecting his season. Though he did not specify what they were, he said his primary focus was finding more balance.

“It’s just tough," Sandoval said. "It’s been inconsistent all year. And that’s the biggest thing for me, is trying to find something that’s consistent and works for me.”

Sandoval was not the only Angels pitcher who showed improvement last season but did not carry it over. Even Shohei Ohtani, before he tore his UCL, had his share of struggles on the mound.

For Sandoval, who turns 27 in October, this season was just his second as a fixture in the Angels’ rotation. Nevin saw some upside amid the struggles.

“For a disappointing season,” Nevin said, “to finish on a [4.11 ERA], I mean, I think we're looking at somebody that's got a really good future in front of them still.

“He’s a valuable piece for us.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.