Sandoval whiffs 9 in best start of young career

Rookie left-hander finds success after making subtle tweak

August 29th, 2019

ANAHEIM -- Sometimes, all it takes is a seemingly small adjustment.

After allowing four runs on eight hits over 3 1/3 innings against the Rangers in his last start, rookie lefty Patrick Sandoval bounced back with the best outing of his young career against Texas on Wednesday. Sandoval threw five scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, while striking out a career-high nine batters in a 3-0 loss in the series finale at Angel Stadium.

Among other changes, Sandoval moved to throwing from the middle of the rubber for the first time since he was a teenager, switching from releasing his pitches from the extreme third-base side in an effort to increase the effectiveness of his breaking pitches.

"It made a big difference for me tonight," Sandoval said. "We were just thinking it would make pitches a little bit easier to throw and a little bit more deceptive. It gave me the ability to throw [my breaking pitches], and I felt way more comfortable throwing them from that side of the rubber."

Sandoval entered with a 6.75 ERA in four career outings and had never allowed fewer than two runs, but he was solid from the start this time, striking out the first two batters he faced to set the tone. It helped him lower his ERA to 5.24 with 27 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings this season.

The lone hit allowed by Sandoval came on a leadoff double from Willie Calhoun in the second on a first-pitch fastball. Sandoval then walked Nick Solak but settled down from there, getting a pair of strikeouts and a flyout to escape the jam.

“He used the breaking balls very well,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “He used the fastball and changeup because those are his two best pitches, but he mixed in the breaking balls, especially to lefties, and got some swings and misses.”

Sandoval’s command was better than in recent outings, but he did walk three and it hurt his efficiency. He was removed after having thrown just 84 pitches, as the Rangers had the top of the order up in the sixth -- the Angels tend to try to avoid the third time through the order penalty as much as possible. The Halos are also looking to limit the 22-year-old’s innings down the stretch, which played into the decision that Ausmus said was not debated.

“We felt he had done his job,” Ausmus said. “We hoped to score some runs in the bottom of the fifth and get him his first win, but it wasn’t to be.”

Of Sandoval's 84 pitches, he set a career best with 20 swinging strikes, including 10 with his changeup, which is his best pitch. But he earned whiffs with all of his pitches, getting five with his fastball, three with his slider and two with his curve.

"It was very important,” Sandoval said. “I actually got some swings and misses. Guys not just taking all of them. Throwing them through the zone a lot, which helped. It goes to show that all the hard work this week really paid off. It's good to see the results."

Middleton makes return from Tommy John

After Sandoval departed, lefty Miguel Del Pozo put two runners on in the sixth, and right-hander was called on with one out to make his first Major League appearance since May 13, 2018, after missing 15 months with Tommy John surgery.

Facing Solak, Middleton threw a slider in the dirt for his first pitch of the season, and then challenged Solak with a 95-mph fastball up in the zone, but the Rangers' second baseman hit it back up the middle for an RBI single. Middleton, though, recovered to get a pair of flyouts to get out of the inning without any further damage.

“I'm an energetic guy, have a lot of emotions,” Middleton said. “I tried, but my emotions definitely got the best of me at some points during the day. But after getting out there, I got more comfortable."