If the Angels are to shake their sluggish start and make a playoff push, they’ll have to find a more effective run-prevention formula than the one that has blown up in their faces in the first seven weeks of the season. This combination of worst ERA and most errors in baseball is not going to cut it.
A pair of miscues by infielder-turned-outfielder Jose Rojas in the first three innings Saturday night were costly, and three relievers gave up home runs in a 6-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics in Angel Stadium. The Angels (19-27) have lost nine of 12 games to fall 8½ games behind the A’s in the American League West.
“It’s frustrating, no question it is,” manager Joe Maddon said of the recent skid. “But I’ve been around it before. To me, these guys need to see and feel my support. They need to see my consistency in order for us to come out the other side, and that’s my overarching game plan when I walk in the door every day.
“I can’t fault their work and their energy. I’m watching it. I see it.”
Patrick Sandoval gave the Angels a chance with five solid innings in which the left-hander gave up two runs and four hits, struck out three and walked two.
But Matt Olson hit a solo homer to right field off Alex Claudio in the sixth, Aramis Garcia added a solo shot to left-center off Hunter Strickland in the seventh, and Seth Brown crushed a two-run shot to right off Junior Guerra in the eighth to push a 2-0 lead to 6-0 and the Angels’ major league-worst ERA to 5.28.
A’s right-hander Chris Bassitt blanked the Angels on two hits through seven innings before giving up two runs and three hits, including Shohei Ohtani’s RBI triple to center, in the eighth. He improved to 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA with his 7 2/3-inning, two-run, five-hit, eight-strikeout effort.
“He has a little bit of funk to him,” Maddon said of Bassitt. “There’s a little bit of [Max] Scherzer in him regarding how he looks delivering the ball — he has a really long arm and he seems to hide the ball behind him. He has pitchability too, a cutter, slider, slow hook when he wants it and he elevates.
“He has a lot of different ways to get you out. I thought he was very good tonight, and I think a lot of our frustration at the plate was due to how good a stuff he had and his command of it overall.”
Mark Canha opened the game with a drive to the gap in right-center. Rojas, who had two outfield assists in right field Friday night, took an awkward route on the catchable ball, which dropped in front of the wall for a triple. Matt Chapman followed with a sacrifice fly to right for a 1-0 lead.
Canha opened the third with another drive toward the right-center-field gap. Rojas closed quickly but over-ran the ball, and when he reached back, the ball nicked off his glove for a play that was generously ruled a double.
Chapman walked, Ramon Laureano reached on an infield single, and Olson grounded into a double play for a 2-0 lead.
Maddon said Canha’s first hit was “perfectly placed,” and that center fielder Juan Lagares’ misplay of the hop off the wall allowed Canha to take third. The second Canha hit, Rojas lost in the lights.
“He was running to it, losing it, he thought it was in a certain spot and it wasn’t when it came back out,” Maddon said.
Rojas was not charged with any errors, but shortstop Jose Iglesias was when he bobbled a second-inning grounder for his 10th error — second most in baseball behind the 11 made by San Diego shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. It was the team’s major league-leading 38th error of the season.
“A couple of them have been throwing and a couple have been … I don’t know if it’s flat-footedness or not playing through the ball like he normally does,” Maddon said of Iglesias. “It just hasn’t been cleanly in his glove like I’ve seen, like I know he’s capable of and like I know he’s gonna do again.
“He’s one of the best infielders I’ve seen in recent years as an opponent, in Cincinnati, in Detroit, so we’ll just stay with it, keep encouraging him. He’s doing the work, but he’s definitely better than what he’s shown to this point.”
Iglesias is hardly the only culprit on defense. The Angels have made a major league-high 38 errors.
“Leaving camp, I thought we would be very good on defense,” Maddon said. “It’s hard to explain. These guys cannot work harder on that part of their craft, and that’s the part of baseball … when you have a good defender, to me, you should be a good defender pretty much every day all year. So when we’re not playing up to our levels, it is very difficult.”
Ohtani’s next pitching start is tentatively scheduled for Friday night at Oakland, giving the two-way star eight days of rest after Wednesday’s game against Cleveland, when the velocity of his fastball dropped from an average of 96.6 mph to 91.3 mph.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.