ARLINGTON -- After losing more than five months to a vexing right forearm injury, Matthew Shoemaker returned the mound Monday night and took a significant step toward putting his health issues behind him, firing five scoreless innings in the Angels' 3-1 win over the Rangers at Globe Life Park.
"Exciting," Shoemaker said. "It's good to be back. I felt really good."
Shoemaker allowed only two hits -- none after the first inning -- while walking one, striking out three and throwing 62 pitches in his first start for the Angels since March 31.
"Matty looked like he didn't skip a beat from what we saw when he was pitching well throughout his career," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "The stamina is not quite there, but he maintained his stuff, maintained his velocity. He was pitch efficient, effective and that's a great five innings against at a team that, obviously, if you're missing spots, they're going to let you know."
Rookie third baseman Taylor Ward made sure Shoemaker's effort didn't go to waste, crushing a two-run home run off reliever Zac Curtis to break a scoreless tie in the seventh inning. David Fletcher added an insurance run with a two-out RBI single later in the seventh.
Shoemaker didn't pitch after June 14 last year because of a right forearm strain that ultimately led to season-ending surgery to release the radial nerve. He arrived at Spring Training healthy and opened the season as the Angels' No. 3 starter, giving up three runs over 5 2/3 innings in his 2018 debut against the A's.
Three days later, Shoemaker landed back on the disabled list after the discomfort in his forearm resurfaced. For two months, the Angels struggled to identify the source of Shoemaker's discomfort, as a battery of tests and MRIs came back clean. On May 29, Shoemaker underwent a second surgery to decompress a nerve in his right forearm, leading to the discovery of a split pronator teres tendon.
Angels doctors repaired the damaged tendon -- which didn't show up on images -- during the procedure, allowing Shoemaker to finally rehab his right arm without setbacks. After throwing four hitless innings in a rehab start with Class A Advanced Inland Empire, Shoemaker was finally cleared to return to the Angels' rotation.
Facing the Rangers for the first time since April 30, 2016, Shoemaker opened his outing by giving up a leadoff single to Shin-Soo Choo. After striking out Rougned Odor, Shoemaker yielded an infield single to Elvis Andrus to put runners on first and second. Choo then advanced to third on a flyout by Nomar Mazara, but Shoemaker struck out Adrian Beltre looking to leave him stranded.
It proved to be the Rangers' best opportunity of the night against Shoemaker, who went on to retire 13 of the final 14 batters he faced. He issued a one-out walk to Choo in the third, but promptly induced a 6-3 double play from Odor to end the inning.
"I still want to clean up a few things," Shoemaker said. "Obviously, as players, we always want to be perfect, but we're not going to be. There are always some more things I want to clean up and get better at, but overall, I felt great. I thought we executed the game plan really well."
A flood of text messages from well-wishers awaited Shoemaker at his locker following the game, adding an extra level of satisfaction to his successful comeback.
"There's quite a few," Shoemaker said. "Not as many as your debut, but once the game was over, I checked my phone and there was a lot. That's what gets you through this adversity."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Angels strike for three:Jeffrey Springs and Ariel Jurado combined to blank the Angels through the first six innings, but they finally got on the board in the seventh against Curtis. After Jose Fernandez reached on a leadoff single, Ward hammered a first-pitch slider to left-center field for his third home run of the season. Curtis then struck out Jose Briceno for the second out, but the ball got away from catcher Robinson Chirinos for a wild pitch, allowing Briceno to reach first. Rangers manager Jeff Banister replaced Curtis with Connor Sadzeck, who retired Eric Young on a groundout before issuing a two-out walk to Kole Calhoun. Fletcher followed with a single to left field, scoring Briceno from second and giving the Angels a 3-0 lead.
Anderson escapes jam: The Rangers came back to threaten in the bottom of the seventh after Andrus singled and Mazara walked to put runners on first and second with no outs. Texas pulled within two on Joey Gallo's two-out RBI double off left-hander Jose Alvarez, prompting Scioscia to summon Justin Anderson to face Chirinos. Anderson walked Chirinos to load the bases, but he rebounded by striking out pinch-hitter Ronald Guzman on a slider to end the inning and preserve the Angels' lead.
"The 'pen did a great job," Scioscia said. "Jose Alvarez came in and got a big strikeout on Profar, and Gallo hit a missile. Luckily for us, that ball fell about three, four feet from going out. And then a big out from Justin Anderson to strike out Guzman pinch-hitting."
The Angels improved to 24-23 all-time on Labor Day. They have won six of their last seven games on the holiday.
HE SAID IT
"It's an important first step. Hopefully, he blew through one of those ceilings. Now we're just going to see how he comes back from it, how he responds and how he feels ready to make his next start. You couldn't ask for more from Matty tonight." -- Scioscia, on Shoemaker's encouraging results
Left-handers Andrew Heaney (8-8, 4.09 ERA) and Mike Minor (10-7, 4.33 ERA) will face off on Tuesday night as the Angels play the second of three games against the Rangers at 5:05 p.m. PT at Globe Life Park. Heaney tossed six scoreless innings in his last start on Thursday against the Astros to pick up his first road win since Sept. 2, 2015. He is 1-2 with a 7.88 ERA in five career starts against the Rangers.