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OC Register: Recent success of young pitchers gives Angels reason for optimism


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ANAHEIM — While the Angels have continued to muddle along in mediocrity, another season without the playoffs looking all but certain, they have quietly begun to give their fans a reason for cautious optimism about 2022.

The pitching, which has been the primary reason the Angels have struggled for the past few years, may have turned a corner.

The Angels had a 5.06 ERA on the morning of July 3, which happened to be the exact midpoint of the season. In the 31 games since, their ERA is 3.67. Led almost entirely by young pitchers, the Angels rotation has a 3.36 ERA over that span, which ranks sixth in the majors.

Unfortunately for the Angels, the improved pitching has coincided with an offensive slump for the injury-riddled lineup, so they are just 16-15 in that stretch.

Still, if they want to look at the bigger picture, it’s easy to assume that the offense will be better in the long run with a healthy Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, so the question is whether this improved pitching is a fluke or an encouraging sign for the future.

Shohei Ohtani, 27, is actually the grizzled veteran of the group, in his fourth big league season. However this is really only his second season as a pitcher. He’s still started only 28 games in his career. Ohtani has been good all season, but he’s turned it up a notch over the past month, posting a 1.38 ERA with 23 strikeouts and one walk in four starts.

Patrick Sandoval, 24, has started six times in the past 31 games, with a 2.82 ERA that included a game in which he carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning.

Jaime Barria, 25, has only started three times, but he’s got a 2.29 ERA.

The Angels have also seen encouraging signs — albeit in smaller samples or more sporadically — from José Suarez (23), Chris Rodriguez (23) and Reid Detmers (22).

General manager Perry Minasian said he’s not surprised at what’s happened.

“I think we were more optimistic about that group than some other people,” Minasian said. “We felt like that group has talent. Going into spring training  I was excited to see all those arms. That’s a large group of guys who can make an impact on this team. Now they’re getting an opportunity, and they’re seizing that moment. They’ve done a nice job.”

Each in the aforementioned group of six has given the the Angels reason to believe he could be an average or better big league starter as soon as next year.

That doesn’t even include Griffin Canning (25), who had shown signs over the previous three seasons of reaching that level, but this season he slumped before getting sent back to Triple-A. He’s currently out with a back injury.

Besides Rodriguez and Detmers, the others have all had a big enough sample of middling results in big league games for there to be skepticism that what they’ve done lately is sustainable improvement, and not just a brief upswing on the rollercoaster.

To Manager Joe Maddon the change for Sandoval, Barria and Suarez is mostly mental.

“Internally, they’ve changed,” Maddon said. “They’re not as uptight. They’re not as much worried about making mistakes. They’re getting the sense or feeling that they belong here. And with that you are seeing what everybody else saw in the minor leagues.

“Some guys are just not ready to show you (in the majors), and you have to be patient. And then when they finally believe that they belong here, and internally, they can relax and breathe, then the game slows down. And then you see it.”

Pitching coach Matt Wise, who worked with all three in the minors before joining the big league coaching staff last year, also sees some tangible differences, though.

Sandoval has improved his fastball command, which obviously helps him get ahead in the count and use his put-away pitches better.

Suarez is now throwing a better breaking ball, and doing so early in counts. Suarez also no longer pitches out of the windup, and he has slowed down his tempo — perhaps too much — to maintain his focus pitch to pitch.

Barria is actually throwing harder. His four-seam fastball velocity has averaged 93.2 mph this season, touching 95. In his breakthrough season in 2018, he averaged 91.3 mph.

“It’s a credit to these guys,” Wise said. “They’re coming up here in a situation where they’re getting plenty of opportunity and quite frankly, up to this point, most of them have grabbed the opportunity and really made an impression.”

Minasian agreed that the current crop of young pitchers has done things “to take that next step,” but he’s cautious about getting carried away with one month of results.

“What they’ve done this month might not be what they do next month,” Minasian said. “You factor in injuries. Performance risks. When the season ends we’ll sit down with the coaching staff, the baseball operations department and go through what we have, what we need, and so forth.”

Canning is certainly Exhibit A that a pitcher who looks promising can go the other way quickly. He had a 3.99 ERA last season, but instead of taking the next step this year, he regressed.

That’s why Minasian can’t count on what he’s seen over the past month continuing into next season or beyond.

He will still be looking to supplement that group in the winter. The Angels obviously will also need bullpen help, although it’s possible that one or more of the current young starters could be provide some relief help.

“As long as I’m here, I will always say we need pitching,” Minasian said. “I think every organization is saying we need pitching. There are teams that are in first place that make transactions daily, trying to add as many arms as they can.”

UP NEXT

Angels (RHP Chris Rodriguez, 2-1, 3.86 and LHP José Suarez, 5-4, 3.60 ) vs. Blue Jays (LHP Steven Matz, 9-6, 4.30 and RHP Ross Stripling, 5-6, 4.43), Tuesday, 3:07 p.m. and 7:07 p.m., Bally Sports West, 830 AM.

 

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48 minutes ago, Angel Oracle said:

It’s important to keep the mentor of the staff, Alex Cobb, himself having a solid season.

Definitely need a staff leader and Cobb is a great fit.  But if only one SP Is acquired I would likely be considering someone better than Cobb (Gausman!).  But say Marsh or Adell are traded, perhaps with other prospects, for a young TOR type, still need a staff leader.  Cobb would be perfect.  Or maybe there isn’t much FA money for SP?  Same deal, Cobb may not be out of reach.

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18 minutes ago, Revad said:

Definitely need a staff leader and Cobb is a great fit.  But if only one SP Is acquired I would likely be considering someone better than Cobb (Gausman!).  But say Marsh or Adell are traded, perhaps with other prospects, for a young TOR type, still need a staff leader.  Cobb would be perfect.  Or maybe there isn’t much FA money for SP?  Same deal, Cobb may not be out of reach.

Giants do have a $159 million payroll going into this season, and have 4 key FAs (Gausman, Belt, Crawford, and DeSclafani) plus the acquired Bryant is a FA, plus Posey and Cueto both have a $22 million team option year for 2022.

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I like what Cobb has done this year and I appreciate that he says he wants to re-sign. HOWEVER, Cobb shouldn't be a staff leader. If the Angels want to turn the corner toward the playoffs, we need at least one 15-game winner and probably another pitcher who's a consistent winner. I don't mind if Cobb stays, but he shouldn't be more than a number 4 starter. 

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21 minutes ago, Torridd said:

I like what Cobb has done this year and I appreciate that he says he wants to re-sign. HOWEVER, Cobb shouldn't be a staff leader. If the Angels want to turn the corner toward the playoffs, we need at least one 15-game winner and probably another pitcher who's a consistent winner. I don't mind if Cobb stays, but he shouldn't be more than a number 4 starter. 

I’m not saying he’s an ace, but with all the young pitchers a veteran presence makes sense.  So more a leader in that way.  We do need a 15 game winner or someone that pitches that well.

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21 hours ago, Angel Oracle said:

It’s important to keep the mentor of the staff, Alex Cobb, himself having a solid season.

He has only pitched in 15 games. Bundy, even demoted to the bullpen for a while, has 16 starts. Ohtani only pitching once every 6 games, or 9 depending on the weather, travel schedule, Maddon's jock itch acting up, has 16 starts.

The only starters with fewer games is Sandoval that wandered in mid June with 13 and seems not to need any advice, Canning that wandered out about the same time with 13 probably took too much advice, Quit-Tana that was demoted after 9 games. Who is he mentoring? Oh, yeah, the perrenial All Star (in Storm's head) Jaime Barria. 

By the way, the pitcher with the most starts was delt to New York. 

Cobb has not had a solid season. He has had some down time and some up and down games. Yes, he is a veteran and probably would compliment an entire pitching staff that still has pimples to pop, not counting Ohtani that has perfect skin along with his fastball. The point is the Angels need a pitching coach more than a mentor to say, hey guys, arrange your locker first in is last out so your'e not digging through hair gel and toothpaste looking for the condoms. 

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