Sandoval stung by former team despite 9 K's

July 3rd, 2022

HOUSTON -- Much like Friday’s loss to the Astros in the series opener, the Angels saw their starting pitcher struggle and the offense scuffle yet again in a 9-1 defeat on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

Left-hander Patrick Sandoval entered with a 2.63 ERA in 12 starts and a 2.49 ERA in four starts in June but had trouble against his former organization. Sandoval was hit hard, allowing five runs on eight hits and two walks over five innings to see his ERA rise to 3.09 in 70 innings this year.

Sandoval, who was acquired from the Astros in a trade for catcher Martín Maldonado in 2018, has had a tough time against his former organization throughout his career and it continued on Saturday. He fell to 0-4 with an 8.02 ERA in seven career outings against Houston, including 0-2 with a 9.18 ERA in five career appearances at Minute Maid Park. He's never lasted deeper than four innings in any start against Houston.

"They're just one of the most prepared teams in the big leagues,” Sandoval said. “It shows. They're at the top of the league every year. It's just something I'm going to have to get better at, facing better opponents. It starts with reps, so I just have to keep going."

Sandoval found himself in trouble right away, giving up a leadoff double to Jose Altuve. Kyle Tucker drove in a run with an RBI single before Sandoval loaded the bases with two outs after walking Yuli Gurriel. Sandoval has pitched his way out of several jams this year but couldn’t get it done in the first, as he gave up a two-run single to Jake Meyers to put the Angels in an early 3-0 hole. 

It wasn’t much better in the second, when he gave up a leadoff homer to Maldonado and another double to Altuve. Altuve later came around to score on a single from Alex Bregman to give the Astros an early five-run lead.

To his credit, though, Sandoval settled down and got through five innings to help the bullpen. He also tied a season high with nine strikeouts, as he didn't have an issue missing bats. He registered 18 swings and misses, including eight with his changeup and seven with his slider. 

"I just made an adjustment five innings too late, but it worked out for the last three innings,” Sandoval said. “They're a good fastball-hitting team. There were some two-strike pitches that caught too much of the plate and were up. So I need to be more [careful] with my two-strike pitches and mix it up before I get to two strikes." 

Acting manager Ray Montgomery said he was impressed by Sandoval turning it around after the second inning, which kept the Angels in the game. But the bullpen let it turn into a blowout, as relievers Andrew Wantz and Aaron Loup each gave up two solo homers.

"I saw [Sandoval] compete,” Montgomery said. “He obviously didn't get off to the start he wanted. I'm sure he's probably a little angry at himself. But he gave us five innings and battled to keep us in the game. We were in the sixth inning, and it’s a one-swing game. I felt good about where we were at but obviously, we couldn’t get it finished."

But just like in Friday’s opener, which saw the Angels record just two hits, they couldn’t get anything going offensively to back their starter. They managed just three hits, as Taylor Ward smacked a solo homer off José Urquidy in the third, Brandon Marsh doubled in the fifth and Luis Rengifo singled in the ninth. 

“We’ve had a little bit too much reliance on the home run,” Montgomery said. “Those are really the only balls we’ve squared up. We punched out 14 guys on the pitching side, so we just need to do a better job putting some balls in play and starting some rallies.”

Superstar Mike Trout has been part of those offensive struggles, as he’s 0-for-7 with seven strikeouts in the series, including going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on 13 pitches on Saturday. Trout has stated in the past he has trouble seeing the ball in Houston but said his recent issues have been more related to his mechanics. 

"I'm just going through a little funk right now,” Trout said. “It's obviously a little frustrating, but we'll get through it. I'm just losing my posture up there. It makes my swing long. I'm just grinding through some stuff with my lower half."