The Angels overcame a shaky first inning from Shohei Ohtani. They almost overcame a rash of injuries that robbed them of three of their better hitters, and another that forced reliever Chris Rodriguez out of the game after six pitches.
When Junior Guerra took the mound in the seventh inning on Wednesday night, he made a mistake the Angels could not overcome in a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
After walking the first batter he faced and allowing a single to the next, Guerra served up a three-run home run to Brandon Lowe. Just like that, Tampa Bay had all it needed to send the Angels to their fourth consecutive loss before an announced crowd of 9,169 at Angel Stadium.
Rodriguez, the hard-throwing rookie who has excelled in a set-up role, got out of a critical bases-loaded jam by inducing a double-play groundout to end the sixth inning. But he felt irritation in his right shoulder and was promptly removed from the game.
Manager Joe Maddon said he was planning to use Guerra against the bottom of the Rays’ lineup. When Rodriguez reported an injury after retiring the Rays’ No. 7 hitter, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Maddon called Guerra’s number.
“That was his spot,” Maddon said, “and it just did not work out.”
On Thursday night, the Rays (17-15) will go for a four-game sweep of the Angels (13-16), who are three games below .500 for the first time this season.
The Angels scored their only run in the third inning. After a double by Jose Rojas and a single by David Fletcher, Ryan Yarbrough intentionally walked Mike Trout to load the bases. He then issued an unintentional four-pitch walk to Jared Walsh.
Yarbrough (2-3) came back to strike out Jose Iglesias and retire Phil Gosselin on a forceout to end the inning. The Angels went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.
On a short-handed day for the Angels’ lineup, Rojas got a rare start at third base and had two of the team’s seven hits.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon was placed on the 10-day injured list with a knee contusion prior to the game. Left fielder Justin Upton and catcher Max Stassi were given the day off due to minor injuries.
That forced Taylor Ward, recalled from Triple-A earlier in the day, into the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Iglesias batted fifth for the second consecutive day. Gosselin batted sixth. At times, their inexperience in clutch situations showed.
In the eighth inning, Walsh led off with a single and Iglesias was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second base with none out. Gosselin failed to lay down a bunt before grounding into a double play. A groundout by Juan Lagares, who was recalled from Triple-A earlier in the day, ended the inning.
“We’ve been working good at-bats, failing to get the big hit, but I know that’s coming,” Maddon said.
Ohtani offered a familiar performance in his fourth pitching appearance of the season.
The first inning was an adventure. The right-hander demonstrated the ability to locate his fastball to either side of the batter’s box, interspersed with occasional command of the strike zone. Ohtani issued two four-pitch walks but ultimately got out of the inning without allowing a run.
The rest of Ohtani’s outing was a relative breeze. He did not allow a runner past first base until the sixth inning, which he kicked off by walking Yandy Diaz and Joey Wendle on nine pitches.
The first inning has given Ohtani trouble before.
“I think I’m just trying to rush everything,” he said through his interpreter. “I’m trying to get out of the inning as quickly as I can. My body is out of sync. I need to slow down and take my time.”
Ohtani racked up seven strikeouts, allowed one hit, and even caught a 94-mph line drive off Austin Meadows’ bat that bounced out of his glove and into his bare hand.
Ohtani’s earned-run average fell to 2.41. He is now limiting opponents to a .113 batting average while hitting .264 himself. He did not bat for himself Wednesday, as Maddon opted to use a designated hitter with only one healthy player (Albert Pujols) on his bench.
Neither the “hot spot” that threatened to become a blister or the sore elbow that forced Ohtani to postpone his latest start by two days, were an issue Wednesday. Ohtani said he expected to return to the Angels’ lineup Thursday, then return to an every-sixth-game pitching schedule.
It was the only good injury news the Angels could muster.