ANAHEIM — Griffin Canning had a simple explanation for what happened after he had been so effective for the first three innings on Wednesday.
“Baseball happened,” the Angels’ right-hander said after a collection of soft hits and defensive mistakes, along with a few of his own bad pitches, led to a four-run inning in the Angels’ 5-4 loss to the Houston Astros.
A lot of “baseball” has happened to Canning, and the Angels as a whole, so far this season.
Manager Phil Nevin has talked regularly through the first quarter of the season about how Angels pitchers have been burned, either by soft contact or poor defense.
“We pitched well enough to win more games in this homestand than we did,” Nevin said after the Angels lost for the fourth time in six games against the Astros and Texas Rangers.
Canning, who threw the seven hardest pitches of his career on Wednesday, had little trouble through the first three innings. The only run he had allowed was on a 96.9 mph fastball above the strike zone that Yordan Alvarez hit over the right field fence. Canning then sailed through the next nine hitters without issue.
“As crappy as it feels, I feel like I’m still getting better each outing,” said Canning, who has a 6.38 ERA after four starts. “I’m trying to stay positive and keep going.”
All of the “baseball” that ruined Canning’s day happened in the fourth inning.
Kyle Tucker lined a one-out single into right. Corey Julks then hit a roller to the left side. Third baseman Anthony Rendon cut in front of shortstop Zach Neto and the ball got past both of them, for an infield hit. Because neither player could get a glove on it, Tucker went to third, and he was able to score on a sacrifice fly.
“It’s a tough play,” Nevin said. “I know that Tony will probably tell you that he wants to make it, but at the end of the day, it’s still a tough play.”
Canning tried to pick off Julks, but the throw got past first baseman Gio Urshela and Julks went all the way to third.
Canning then walked No. 7 hitter David Hensley on five pitches. Speedy Jake Meyers hit a bouncer and Rendon’s throw to first was just late, allowing another run to score. Canning then hit Martin Maldonado with a pitch, ending his day.
Right-hander Jimmy Herget, making his first appearance since returning from Triple-A, threw an 0-and-2 slider out of the strike zone and Jeremy Peña reached out and flicked it into right field for a two-run single, turning a 3-2 lead into a 5-2 lead.
“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the pitch,” Nevin said. “He got him to chase two big sliders and went with the harder one a little off the plate. … He stuck his bat out and got a hit. That’s baseball.”
The two runs that scored on that blooper ended up being the difference in the game.
The Angels managed just two runs in six innings against Cristian Javier, both on Hunter Renfroe’s team-leading 10th homer of the season in the second inning. After that, they had only one more hit against Javier, who struck out 11. He whiffed Mike Trout in all three of their matchups.
Nevin said Javier is tough because his fastball “has so much ride on it” and he can consistently throw it up in the zone or above the zone, which is “a tough pitch to get to.”
The Angels finally mounted a rally in the ninth, when Trout reached on an infield hit and then Shohei Ohtani hit a two-run homer to cut the deficit to one. Rendon and Renfroe each singled, putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Brandon Drury struck out, Matt Thaiss popped out and Gio Urshela grounded out, leaving the Angels just short in their bid to win the series.
When it was over, as Nevin was asked about the defensive issues that led to the Astros’ winning rally, he turned his attention back to the offense.
“We gotta score more runs,” Nevin said. “We just do. Four isn’t going to be enough.”
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