ANAHEIM ― The Angels kicked off their “Country Weekend” theme on a high note Friday.
Saturday, they found themselves in a low enough place to make friends with Garth Brooks.
The Angels went 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position and left eight runners on base, losing 6-2 to the Minnesota Twins before an announced crowd of 35,688 at Angel Stadium.
Shohei Ohtani homered, but a troubling start by Patrick Sandoval (3-3) combined with a punchless offense made for a long evening.
Sandoval struggled mightily in his ninth start of the season. His fastball, which normally averages 94 mph, was sitting at 89 mph in the first inning. Not coincidentally, the Twins were able to send seven batters to the plate and score three runs before the Angels came to bat.
The left-hander recovered well enough to last 4⅔ innings, but he did not get enough help from his offense to overcome the shaky start.
Sandoval said he had been battling an illness after his last outing, in which he threw a season-high 7⅔ innings in Cleveland on May 14 but came up on the short end of a 4-3 loss.
“You’ve got to play with what you have,” Sandoval said. “I did what I could.”
Donovan Solano began the evening by sending a screaming line-drive single into left field. Sandoval fell behind Carlos Correa 3-and-0 before ultimately walking him to end an eight-pitch at-bat. With one out, back-to-back singles by Kyle Farmer and Kyle Garlick drove in both runners. Farmer then scampered 90 feet to score on a Willi Castro bunt.
The Angels were entrenched in a 3-0 hole from which they could not recover.
On the other side, Minnesota Twins starter Louie Varland did most of the heavy lifting. The right-hander didn’t allow a runner past first base until the fourth inning, when Hunter Renfroe singled and went to third base on a double by Chris Drury – a ball that landed a few feet shy of a home run off the right field fence.
Jared Walsh, playing his first major league game since August of last year, grounded out to score Renfroe with the Angels’ first run. But the Angels could do nothing with a runner on third base and one out, as Gio Urshela grounded out and Matt Thaiss popped out to end the inning.
Sandoval pitched into the fifth inning, when he eclipsed the 100-pitch mark. His velocity had ticked up to 92 mph by then but it was too little, too late. At 4⅔ innings, the outing was Sandoval’s shortest since a four-inning start against the Yankees on April 20.
All three runs on Sandoval’s ledger were earned. He saw his ERA rise to 3.47. It would have been worse had Weiss not retired Willi Castro on a 108 mph lineout to right field to end the inning.
Sandoval does not believe his velocity will be an issue again.
“I should be good to go for the rest of the season,” he said.
A home run by Joey Gallo extended Minnesota’s lead to 4-1 in the sixth inning. Ohtani answered with his 11th home run of the season in the bottom of the sixth, a moonbeam to right field that narrowed the deficit to 4-2.
The Angels got no closer. After Ohtani’s homer, Renfroe singled and Brandon Drury was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second with none out. Left-hander Jovani Moran relieved Varland with a left-handed hitter, Walsh, in the batter’s box.
In a surprise, Walsh tried to bunt the runners over. He lined out softly to third base instead.
“It’s a tough assignment to have to bunt right there, but he’s a good bunter,” Nevin said of Walsh. “He’s done that in the past. I asked him as he came back to the dugout. … He told me he’d been working on it still. To me, you get the runners in scoring position, Gio coming up, then whatever we do with (Matt Thaiss) there.”
With one out, Urshela grounded out. Rengifo (a switch hitter) pinch hit for Thaiss, another left-handed hitter, and struck out. It was a sequence ripe for second-guessing.
“We still have four innings of offense to work with, when at the time there’s nobody out,” Nevin said. “There’s still a lot of game left. Not saying I’m not going to use my players at that point. I’m going to try to win a game at that point, and I felt like that was the best chance.”
The game only slipped further away. With Andrew Wantz on the mound in the seventh inning, Farmer singled, then scored on a triple by Trevor Larnach. When the relay throw from Drury, the Angels’ second baseman, overshot third base, Larnach was able to score the Twins’ sixth and final run.
Walsh said the decision to have him bunt against Moran was a “great call” by Nevin, considering it was his first game back after dealing with unsettling neurological symptoms since last year. He had practiced bunting daily against a machine – seven to 10 times a day “with pretty significant velocity,” he said. Saturday, the human element might have thrown him off.
In any event, Walsh was more encouraged by his final swing, a 96 mph flyout to center field to end the eighth inning.
“I want to build off that, keep barreling balls and hope they find a hole,” he said.
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