The jaw of Patrick Sandoval appeared clenched tightly after walking in a run with two outs in the third. He knew his night would be done if he could not retire Marcus Semien. But he also could not throw a strike.
Sandoval always wears his emotions on his sleeve. And he looked to be doing everything in his power to hold them in as he walked off the mound.
Then he watched alone from the dugout bench as a run was added to his ledger on a Griffin Canning wild pitch. The Los Angeles Angels lost 12-0 to the Texas Rangers. Manager Phil Nevin called out the team’s focus. It was a futile effort as the Angels season drifts to irrelevance.
Starting pitching was supposed to be a strength of this team. Particularly the young starters. Instead, it’s been at the root of their failures as any shred of hope for a postseason run evaporates.
“I just pitched like s—,” Sandoval said. “I didn’t fill the zone up. Didn’t pick up my teammates. … Just a tough loss.”
The Athletic requested to speak with Angels pitching coach Matt Wise last week about, well, the pitchers. However, under a revised policy, the team only allows coaches to speak to the media on a case-by-case basis.
The team did not permit Wise to speak to The Athletic about this topic because the potential line of questioning was deemed too negative. The team said it prefers Nevin, who has no background in pitching, to handle such questions.
Wise, though unable to discuss these issues, has overseen a steep regression from the pitching staff in 2023. It has a 4.56 ERA, which ranks 23rd in the majors. It ranks in the bottom 10 in WHIP (1.38), home runs (151), walks (459) and quality starts (37). Just a year after it ranked in or near the top 10 in those same categories.
The Angels banked on their young starters’ taking a step forward. Instead, they’ve gone a step back. They assumed Tyler Anderson — an All-Star in 2022 — would be solid again this season. That hasn’t been the case. Even Shohei Ohtani, who should shoulder no blame, has been less dominant on the mound in 2023.
“It’s pitch selection. It’s understanding when a good time to throw balls are,” Nevin said of his staff Aug. 5. “Where to throw on the plate. That’s everything we talk about each day, and try to get them better at. Obviously, we struggled with that lately.”
Reid Detmers has a 5.27 ERA and a 1.412 WHIP. He allowed 29 runs over his last 25 2/3 innings. The lefty has coughed up four more homers this year and nine more earned runs and that’s with 21 1/3 fewer innings pitched. Walks, wild pitches, hit-by-pitches — all up.
Detmers’ fastball is getting hit a lot harder in 2023, with a .295 batting average against, compared with .232 last season. The average exit velocity is up by 1.2 miles per hour, which is not insignificant.
He has made some other sequencing changes — mostly abandoning his changeup and using his slider more. Detmers has said this season that he’s tinkered in-game with his mechanics, specifically with grip and wrist placement. And that it’s been hard for him to find something that consistently works.
Angels pitching coach Matt Wise, left, catcher Chad Wallach and starting pitcher Tyler Anderson head to the dugout before a baseball game against the White Sox early this season. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)
Nevin said Wise has worked with Detmers on pitching to contact more, and not trying to strike everyone out. It’s unclear how his penchant for striking guys out, however, is at the root of his failures on the mound.
“He’s got to throw more of his pitches and more consistently for strikes,” Nevin said. “That’s basically it. Pitch to contact, not try to strike everybody out. I think he’s kind of got into that rut.”
Sandoval has a 4.09 ERA after posting a 2.91 ERA last year, despite a recent run of success entering Monday’s disaster. Overall, he has nearly matched his walk total from last season, despite throwing 35 1/3 fewer innings.
The lefty is still a slightly above-average MLB starter, based on his ERA+. But the expectation was that he would take another step closer to becoming an ace.
His whiff numbers have dipped to 28.2 percent, as he’s now just about league average on generating swings-and-misses in the zone. He previously was well above average in that respect.
Sandoval’s velocity is down slightly across the board. He relies on his very strong slider and changeup to play against an otherwise weaker fastball. However, the batting average against his slider is up to .263, compared with .201 last year.
“Just all of them honestly,” Sandoval said when asked whether he struggled Monday with a particular pitch. “I probably threw more balls than strikes. I threw a ton of pitches in 2 2/3 and it’s not a recipe for success.”
Among the other starters, Anderson has seen his walks explode this year. He has 47 in 109 innings after posting just 34 in 178 2/3 innings with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has a 5.28 ERA. It’s been a bad year.
Ohtani’s walks are also up quite a bit. He has 10 more in 2023 than in 2022 but in 35 1/3 fewer innings.
There was hope José Suarez would become a rotation mainstay. Instead, he allowed nine homers and 15 walks in 24 1/3 innings. He was the worst starter in baseball for the first month before being shelved on the injured list with a shoulder injury.
There have been some success stories on the Angels pitching staff. Carlos Estévez is one of the best closers in baseball. Chase Silseth has been elite in his last four starts since being recalled from Triple A. Matt Moore has been dependable. And Canning, despite some hiccups, has regained the form of a major-league starter, albeit an inconsistent one.
But those stories have been greatly overshadowed by regressions across the staff, and even among the bullpen.
It’s unfair to place all the blame on Wise because he has not been enabled by the organization to speak to these issues. He deserves his say.
The results, however, are the results. And results always speak for themselves.
(Top photo of Patrick Sandoval: Ron Jenkins / Getty Images)