Halos' strikeouts issue reaches tipping point

July 3rd, 2022

HOUSTON -- The Angels have had issues striking out this season, and it came to a head in a walk-off 4-2 loss to the Astros on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, as they struck out 20 times to tie the Major League record for a nine-inning game.

It was just the eighth time in AL or NL history that a club struck out 20 times in a nine-inning game and the first time since the Tigers did so against the White Sox on April 28, 2019. It came after striking out 12 times on Saturday and 16 times on Friday, as the Angels' hitters combined for just eight hits, four runs and 48 strikeouts in the Astros’ three-game sweep. They’ve struck out a Major League-leading 783 times, which is 34 more than any other club.

"Today is one of those days," said hitting coach Jeremy Reed. "Over the last however many days we've been struggling, it's not for a lack of effort. These guys are busting their butt every day. They come in here, they get their work done, they come in positive and with energy. It just hasn't gone our way, but there are some things guys are working on and fighting through. It's just tough when you see so many of them going through it at once."

Reed, who has been the club’s hitting coach since 2019, was asked whether the problem has been approach-based and how they can start turning things around. 

“We’re looking at it every day,” Reed said. “There are different pitchers, different arms. Today was a sinker and a lefty, the last couple days it was more high-ride and up-and-in. We're very well aware. We're talking to guys about what each individual needs to do to be the best version of themselves. And right now, it's not going our way.”

The Angels actually led early by two runs, keyed by a solo homer from Luis Rengifo in the second and an RBI single from Shohei Ohtani in the third. But Astros lefty Framber Valdez recorded 12 straight outs via the strikeout, which set Houston's club record.

Valdez struck out 13 through six innings, while three Astros relievers combined to strike out seven batters over three scoreless frames. Jared Walsh, who entered as a pinch-hitter, was the 20th strikeout victim on a 2-2 slider from closer Ryan Pressly in the ninth. Right-hander Ryan Tepera served up a two-run homer to Jeremy Peña with two outs in the ninth to hand the Angels (37-44) the loss that dropped them 15 1/2 games out of first place in the AL West with 81 games left to play.

“We’re just struggling to put the ball in play and were punched out a lot this weekend,” Walsh said. “We have to have better at-bats, plain and simple. I think we need to get back to the basics. Maybe trim it down and choke and poke and put some pressure on the defense. But I don’t think it’s something where everyone is trying to hit home runs with two strikes or anything.”

Interim manager Phil Nevin, however, downplayed the club’s struggles with strikeouts when asked about it on Saturday. The Braves, for example, have struck out the second-most times in the Majors but have a 46-34 record.

“I don’t get too concerned over the number of strikeouts,” Nevin said. “It’s how we’re making those strikeouts. It’s how we’re making the strikeouts that sometimes will hurt you more than others. If you have guys on, you strike out and it’s only one out, compared to putting it in play with a ground ball [for a double play], it’s two outs."

But the strikeouts have ultimately mattered, especially with a bottom of the lineup that has struggled to produce over the past month. They've tried to shake it up by calling up second baseman Michael Stefanic on Sunday and signing third baseman Jonathan Villar on Saturday, but it remains to be seen how that will shake out. Stefanic struck out three times in his Major League debut in the series finale, while strikeouts have been a problem for Villar throughout his career.

And even superstar Mike Trout wasn’t immune to troubles with putting the ball in play over the weekend, as he went 0-for-11 with nine strikeouts in the series. 

“I played with Trout for a year and a half, and I’ve never seen him strike out that many times -- I was shocked,” said Astros catcher Martín Maldonado. “Mike Trout, every time he swings, you feel he’s going to hit the ball out, so we were lucky. We probably found him in a bad spot coming into this series. We took advantage of it.”