By Chad Stewart
While the Angels as a whole played well this week, going 4-3 (with a tie) and finishing the week on a 3-game win streak, most of their success was do to their blossoming offense and solid relief pitching, and not their struggling starting pitching staff.
On Monday, the Angels played a pair of split-squad games; one against the Cincinnati Reds and the other against the Chicago White Sox. Matt Shoemaker started against the Reds, and saying he didn’t do well would be putting it lightly. Shoemaker got shelled, allowing seven runs on 10 hits — three of which were home runs — in just three innings. For a pitcher fighting for a spot in the rotation, this start was a crucial setback for him. Fortunately for him, he made another start on Sunday and was much more successful. He labored through the first inning, issuing three walks, but he was able to regain control and finish strong. Shoemaker allowed two hits, one run on a solo home run, struck out four, and walked four in four innings.
Hector Santiago started the other split-squad game against the White Sox on Monday, and was effective, but not impressive. Santiago allowed two runs on four hits, struck out five, and walked one in three innings. In his next start on Saturday against San Francisco, he was only able to make through 2 2/3 innings, as he had difficulty controlling his pitches, elevating his pitch count rather quickly. He was able to battle through the outing, however, and allowed three runs, only one of which was earned.
Angels ace Garrett Richards started Tuesday against Arizona’s split squad and struggled once again, allowing three runs on four hits in 2 2/3 innings. He did show some positive signs, however, by striking out four batters and walking just one. His fastball even touched triple digits on the radar gun.
Jered Weaver turned in the most concerning performance of the week when he gave up five runs on six hits (three home runs) in 2 2/3 innings. Weaver’s fastball topped out at 81 mph and averaged just 79 mph. He has managed to find success with his diminished fastball velocity in the past, but he might be getting to the point where it’s just not going to be possible to do so consistently anymore. Following his start, he underwent an MRI on his neck, and was diagnosed with “mild degenerative changes in his cervical spine.” If Weaver is forced to spend any time on the disabled list, the Halos’ starting pitching depth will be tested early, as lefties C.J. Wilson and Tyler Skaggs are already slated to start the season on the DL.
The lone scoreless appearance among Angels starting pitchers came from Andrew Heaney, making his first start of the Spring on Thursday against Arizona. The lefty was strong in his Spring debut, tossing two shutout innings and allowing two hits, while striking out one batter and walking another.
Last week, Nick Tropeano was very impressive. The same cannot be said about his start this week. The right-hander made it through just 2 2/3 innings (Is there a pattern here?) while allowing three runs on four hits against the Dodgers on Friday afternoon.
Even with all of these struggles from their starting pitchers, the Angels were still able to win four games and tie another. This was due in part to their relief pitching. Mike Morin continued his impressive Spring Training with another scoreless inning this week. Cory Rasmus has now thrown five shutout innings and struck out five batters. Javy Guerra has provided another four scoreless innings this Spring. And closer Huston Street made his Spring Training debut this week with a scoreless appearance. Many others also contributed, and, overall, the Angels’ relief core has been solid this Spring, providing many options for manager Mike Sciosscia to choose from come Opening Day.
The Angels offense that struggled so mightily to find consistency a year ago was outstanding this week, averaging 6.75 runs per game. Leadoff man Yunel Escobar is now 7-for-21 with three walks. Daniel Nava, now 10-for-17 with four walks, continued his torrid pace at the top of the order. Catcher Geovany Soto hit two home runs this week. Spark plug Johnny Giavotella topped off a solid week, both offensively and defensively, with a three-run blast on Sunday afternoon. And the Halos’ middle of the order bats — Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Kole Calhoun — all continued performing well.
While the starting pitching was worrisome this week, a booming offense, paired with solid relief pitching helped ease some of that concern.