Sandoval's 'best outing' gives weary Angels bullpen a breather

July 19th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- The offense hasn’t been the issue for the Angels during their recent rough stretch.

It’s been the pitching, and particularly the starting pitching, that has struggled over the past three weeks. So it was an encouraging sign to see left-hander turn in one of his best outings of the season on Tuesday night against the Yankees.

Sandoval allowed one run over 7 1/3 strong innings to lift the Angels to a 5-1 victory at Angel Stadium.

It marked the first time an Angels starter made it beyond six innings since June 27 and the first time an Angels starter recorded an out in the eighth since May 14. It also gave the Angels consecutive wins for the first time since June 26-27 and their first series victory since June 16-18 against the Royals. And it’s not a coincidence that their win on Monday saw right-hander Griffin Canning strike out 12 over 5 2/3 solid innings.

“This was my best outing,” Sandoval said. “I struggled early with the strike zone, but I did a good job slowing things down and attacking the zone. It was good what Griff did yesterday and to carry it on. Hopefully, it continues tomorrow.”

Sandoval has had an up and down year but has the track record to finish strong, which would be a huge boost for the Angels. They’re back to .500, at 48-48, and after the series finale Wednesday, their next two series are against the Pirates and Tigers, both teams below .500.

The Angels are fighting to stay in contention and avoid being sellers at the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, especially with two-way superstar set to be a free agent after the season.

Ohtani, who ripped his MLB-leading seventh triple of the year to spark a two-run fifth inning, still isn’t expected to be traded, but the team playing well over the next week would help assure that. The Angels are 4 1/2 games back of the Astros for the third AL Wild Card spot and right in the mix with the Red Sox (51-45), Yankees (50-46), Mariners (47-47) and Guardians (47-48).

“The team is hungry to win,” Sandoval said. “You see the way we’ve played since the All-Star break. We’ve been in some really close games, some really hard-fought games. This lineup is not going to roll over for anybody. To be honest, it’s on us starters to go deep into the game and get a lot of outs.”

Sandoval had some control problems early, walking a batter in the first inning and two more in the second, but settled down from there. The lone run he surrendered came on a solo home run from Gleyber Torres in the third on a 0-1 sweeper that was up and in.

Otherwise, Sandoval was impressive, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out seven. He has been pitching better recently, posting a 3.68 ERA over his last five starts -- and that includes giving up seven runs over five innings against the White Sox on June 29.

Sandoval has also allowed two runs over 12 1/3 innings in his last two starts since ditching the PitchCom system, which he said made him overthink things by calling his own pitches.

“He was in the zone,” manager Phil Nevin said. “The first two innings, he was kind of scattered a little bit and your pitch count elevates. But he really settled down after the homer. He was really locked in, and his changeup was the best it’s been all year. To have two starters go that deep two days in a row with our bullpen taxed a little bit is great.”

Sandoval also had the benefit of pitching with a lead after the first inning. smacked a two-run shot in the opening frame. It was part of yet another strong showing at the plate for Moniak, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs.

Moniak, who was acquired at last year’s Trade Deadline from the Phillies for right-hander Noah Syndergaard, has been a revelation this year, posting a slash line of .336/.369/.645 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 43 games. He has a 1.014 OPS and is one of only five players with an OPS above 1.000 this year (minimum 150 plate appearances), joining Aaron Judge (1.078), Ohtani (1.072), Corey Seager (1.031) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (1.005).

“I just wanted to do something to help us get out ahead early,” Moniak said. “Sandoval was lights out. It turns out that's all we needed. To be able to do that in the first inning, it gets some momentum going. It's definitely huge for the club.”