ARLINGTON, Texas — When everyone else flipped their calendars from July to August, the Angels flipped theirs from 2021 to 2022.
The Angels gave the ball to their top two pitching prospects – neither of whom had ever started a big-league game before – on the first two days of August.
Chris Rodriguez, who had been up earlier this season as a reliever, pitched into the seventh inning in the Angels’ 4-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday.
Rodriguez gave up four runs – three earned runs, two of which scored after he was out of the game – a day after top prospect Reid Detmers also took the loss in his big-league debut.
The moves with Rodriguez and Detmers were accompanied by the promotion of former top prospect Jo Adell, who didn’t play on Monday.
Before the game, Angels manager Joe Maddon straddled the line between the future and the present when explaining the philosophy behind the promotions.
“We’re at that point, organizationally, right now (when) it’s the right time to give opportunity to young players like this,” Maddon said. “It’s very important for us going in the offseason to know exactly what we have, and what we need to do to move forward for next year. Having said that, that does not mean conceding anything at all.”
Maddon certainly isn’t going to publicly say this season is over, not with two months to play. But their playoff chances are slim, and they currently have no idea when center fielder Mike Trout and third baseman Anthony Rendon will be back, further muddying the situation.
Few would question the decision to begin building toward 2022 by getting a look at some of the players who might or might not be key pieces, most notably the starters.
Rodriguez, 23, had shown the Angels impressive stuff in spring training, so much that they opened the season with him in the bullpen despite his lack of experience. A back injury in 2018 and 2019 and the pandemic in 2020 had limited him to three games in the previous three seasons.
He had a 3.66 ERA in 13 games in relief, sandwiched around a month with a shoulder injury. The Angels eventually decided they wanted to try him as a starter, because he could be more valuable and also because it was difficult to manage around him in the bullpen when they wanted to build in so many days off for him.
Rodriguez had a 4.87 ERA in just 20-1/3 minor league innings, but he apparently showed enough to warrant a return to the big leagues.
And in his first game back he clearly showed the potential to be a reliable major-league starter.
“I feel like it was a quality start,” Rodriguez said. “Things can always be better. I like the way I competed, and I got out of some jams. But then again, there are some situations where I can be better and I can avoid those runs. That being said, I’ve got to build off this one and keep it going.”
Rodriguez retired the Rangers in order in four of his six full innings. One of the runs he allowed was on a passed ball, and the second was on a double-steal. With runners at the corners and two outs in the fifth, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa broke from first and catcher Max Stassi’s throw to second was in the dirt. Shortstop José Iglesias’ return throw to the plate was too late to get Brock Holt.
Maddon said the Angels “got messed up” on the double-steal defense they had intended on that play.
The last two runs charged to Rodriguez scored after he was pulled in the seventh inning.
Rodriguez threw 86 pitches, including 58 two-seam fastballs. He averaged 94.7 mph and hit 96 mph with his two-seamer. Rodriguez got called strikes or whiffs with 38 percent of his pitches, which is well above average.
“He kept getting better,” Maddon said. “That sinker came alive. He seemed to get more confidence in it. He got more relaxed on the mound.”
Rodriguez said he was happy to get the opportunity to start: “When I am a starter I feel like I’m in control of the game. I feel like the team is on my back and I like that feeling. That, to me, is important. I want to be in charge of the winning and losing. It’s such a blessing I was able to come up and start a game in the big leagues.”
Rodriguez certainly gave the Angels a chance to win, but their depleted lineup couldn’t support him. The Angels scored just one run in five innings against Dane Dunning, and then nothing against the Texas bullpen.
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