ANAHEIM -- The Astros, who managed only a solo homer by Michael Brantley on Sunday, left starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. with little margin for error on a hot afternoon at Angel Stadium. That meant every baserunner he allowed and every ball put in play carried with it some magnified importance.
Looking back on the Astros’ 3-1 loss to the Angels, in which McCullers allowed two runs and six hits while striking out eight batters in 5 2/3 innings, the veteran right-hander was pleased with the way he threw the ball and frustrated at being dinged by weak contact for the second start in a row.
“Just one of those games I felt I was throwing the ball really well and sometimes, you have to give the other team credit,” said McCullers, who fell to 7-1 on the road this year. “They fought and scraped together a couple of runs.”
The average exit velocity on balls put in play against McCullers on Sunday was 81.8 mph, which was the second lowest against him this year (81.3 mph in his July 21 start). Shohei Ohtani led off the game with an infield single at 77.7 mph and Justin Upton had a single in the second inning that was 66.5 mph. And there was a sixth-inning bunt single by Brandon Marsh.
Jack Mayfield, Ohtani and Phil Gosselin each had hits that were struck 95 mph or harder, but the only two runs that came across against McCullers were on groundouts -- Mayfield scored on a David Fletcher grounder in the fifth, and Jo Adell ended McCullers’ night after 108 pitches with an RBI fielder’s choice grounder to score Gosselin in the sixth.
“I felt I was in control of the game,” McCullers said. “Even when they scored runs, it was ground balls in the infield and things of that nature. I thought I threw the ball really well. A lot of strikes, a lot of batters [behind in the count]. I felt like the last few starts, it’s been a lot of kind of hits that are finding holes, so [I] just keep grinding. Overall, I thought it was a solid performance. Just keep going.”
The game was tied at 1 in the sixth and the Angels had runners at first and third with one out when McCullers got Adell to hit a grounder up the middle. He couldn't quite field it, but at 66.5 mph off the bat, there was no time for second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa to turn the double play. Gosselin scored the go-ahead run from third.
“It wasn’t hit hard enough,” McCullers said. “That’s kind of the crappy part of it. I got ahead of him and was making really good pitches. … I was definitely trying to get the strikeout there, but I thought the inside half was my best bet for a swing and miss.”
McCullers (9-3) was seen by television cameras trying to plead his case to Baker when he came to the mound to get him with two outs in the sixth, but those are battles the manager always wins.
“I would have loved to have stayed,” McCullers said. “I was kind of joking with Dusty. I said ‘I got one more in me.’ He said, ‘High pitch count,’ but I said, ‘If I would have punched out [Adell], would you have let me stay in? Oh, you would have?’ We were kind of messing. I thought I threw the ball well all game. I think I had one or two three-ball counts, a lot of soft contact. Just some stuff didn’t bounce our way.”