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Opener strategy helps Halos snap losing streak

Robles tosses scoreless first, then Barria fans three in five strong frames
@RhettBollinger
April 21, 2019

ANAHEIM -- The Angels employed the opener strategy for the first time this season and it helped them end a six-game losing streak. Hansel Robles opened with a scoreless first before handing it over to Jaime Barria, who threw five strong innings in an 8-6 win over the Mariners on

ANAHEIM -- The Angels employed the opener strategy for the first time this season and it helped them end a six-game losing streak. Hansel Robles opened with a scoreless first before handing it over to Jaime Barria, who threw five strong innings in an 8-6 win over the Mariners on Sunday afternoon at Angel Stadium.

Angels manager Brad Ausmus explained before the game that the club finds it to be a viable approach, as it allows a reliever to face the top of the order, which allows the primary pitcher to come in and face the middle or the bottom of the order, which can help with number of times a pitcher has to work through the order.

“It worked today,” Ausmus said. “But you can't do it on a daily basis. But I'm sure when there are opportunities to do it, we'll do it to help us win games."

With Seattle using three right-handed bats atop its lineup, Robles made his first career start and retired Mitch Haniger, Domingo Santana and Edwin Encarnacion in order. Barria then came in for the second inning to face Daniel Vogelbach, the Mariners’ No. 4 hitter, and proceeded to turn in his best outing of the season.

"Hansel did exactly what we hoped. He got the top of the order out,” Ausmus said. “It allowed Barria to start in the middle of the order as opposed to the top. He got through the order a couple times and we went from there.”

Robles said he tried not to change anything despite pitching in the first inning. He trotted in from the bullpen instead of the dugout to keep his routine the same. He also said that he’d love to get the chance to serve as an opener again.

"It was the first inning, that was the only difference,” Robles said through an interpreter. “But everything was normal."

Barria gave up one run on four hits, with the lone run coming on an RBI single from Santana to score Haniger in the third, which was Barria’s first time facing the top of the order. Barria was removed to start the seventh after throwing 71 pitches and with Vogelbach coming up.

“I didn't really change anything,” Barria said through an interpreter. “I did my normal routine, my long toss. I had to wait a little while in the bullpen to warm up there and then come into the game. That's all.”

Reliever Ty Buttrey found himself in some trouble by loading the bases with two outs, but he got out of the jam by getting nine-hole hitter Mallex Smith to ground out despite falling behind in the count, 3-0. Noe Ramirez served up two homers in the ninth and Cody Allen gave up another, but Luis Garcia came in for the final out and they were able to hold on for the win. It was Allen’s third straight rough outing, but Ausmus said that he’s not concerned yet.

“He'll be fine,” Ausmus said. “I don't worry about him."

Homers propel offense

All four of the Halos’ runs off veteran right-hander Mike Leake came via homers, as Kevan Smith smacked a two-run blast in the second, Tommy La Stella connected on a solo shot in the fourth and Brian Goodwin walloped a solo homer in the sixth.

The Angels put the game away with two runs in the seventh off reliever Shawn Armstrong, with Justin Bour dropping in an RBI single and Andrelton Simmons staying hot with an RBI ground-rule double. La Stella then added his second homer of the game off reliever R.J. Alaniz in the eighth, giving him his second multihomer game of the year and a career-high six blasts on the year.

"Obviously, I didn’t necessarily expect this, but you’d like to think that putting in the time in the cage and the reps is eventually going to pay off,” La Stella said. “For me, it’s kind of swinging a little easier. I don’t have to put such an aggressive swing on it. Just take the barrel to the ball."

Trout, Simmons help defensively

Mike Trout, who went 2-for-3 with two doubles, recorded his second outfield assist of the season in the sixth, when he threw out Santana as he tried to advance to second on a single off Barria.

"Trout's an incredible player,” said Barria, who clapped his hand into his glove after the play. “He always gives it 100 percent, and he was able to get the out."

Simmons, who made an impressive tag after receiving Trout’s throw, also helped out Buttrey with a strong defensive play in the seventh. Vogelbach hit a scorcher off the bat at 105.1 mph, per Statcast, but Simmons was able to knock it down and make an off-balance throw to get Vogelbach for the first out.

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.