Uncharted territory doesn't faze Shoemaker
Rookie has enjoyed year of firsts, and back from injury, he's set for inaugural playoff start
ANAHEIM -- For Matt Shoemaker, everything is new.
Making the Opening Day roster was new, and so was earning a rotation spot. Winning 16 games was new, and so was becoming the rock of an undermanned Angels rotation.
On Friday, Shoemaker will check off another experience when he makes his first career postseason start in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Royals.
"Even though it is the playoffs, it's on this awesome scale that we're coming into playoffs, which is great," Shoemaker said. "It's still a baseball game."
The undrafted 27-year-old rookie burst onto the scene this season, baffling hitters with his disappearing splitter and turning heads across the league while going 16-4 with a 3.02 ERA. In one season, he transformed from an unknown reliever into a reliable rotation member with above-average command and a dominant out pitch.
Season-ending injuries to Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs could've crippled the Angels' rotation, but Shoemaker stepped in and helped the club to the AL's best record. Manager Mike Scioscia even said that the bearded right-hander saved the team's season.
"It's a blessing to be here every day," Shoemaker said. "It's really difficult to put words to it. It's been a very special season, and more importantly, as a team it's been a very special season. Hopefully we can finish it off with the World Series."
Shoemaker's 16 victories set a new franchise record for wins by a rookie, and they were the most by a rookie this season in the Majors.
The Angels survived the final two weeks of the regular season without Shoemaker, who was sidelined by a mild left oblique strain. Friday's start will be his first one since Sept. 15.
Scioscia said the Angels do not expect Shoemaker's pitch count to be affected by the layoff, and that they'll look for him to get "to a certain point in the game."
"What that is, I don't know," Scioscia said. "But I do know when he was on a roll there, he was pitching routinely into the seventh inning, at times into the eighth inning. If we see that, great."
Shoemaker averaged more than six innings per start this season, and he gave up more than three earned runs just three times. One of those times, though, was against Kansas City in late June.
On June 27, Shoemaker delivered the worst outing of his career, giving up eight runs on 11 hits in just four innings. His command eluded him as he left splitters up in the zone and induced only four groundouts while striking out just two. Of the 24 batters he faced, Shoemaker allowed 17 fly balls.
"I don't think that was really indicative of the way Matt can pitch," Scioscia said. "If he was out there making pitches and hitting his spots and he gives up eight runs, I think you'd probably have a little different view of what was going on. But he was absolutely off that day, and I think we'll see a much better Matt Shoemaker [on Friday]."
Since that start, Shoemaker has been remarkable, limiting hitters to a .216 batting average against while posting a 2.09 ERA and a 5.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In the 12 starts since, Shoemaker didn't allow a run in three of them.
"It was just one of those bounce-back days," Shoemaker said. "It was a rough day; you're going to have those. The best guys in the game have those. So it was just how I came back after that start, which has been really good."
Shoemaker has been so good, in fact, that the Angels pushed him ahead of left-hander C.J. Wilson in the playoff rotation, lining him up for a potential Game 5 start as well, despite a two-week absence.
"I think what you're really concerned with is right now we're looking at Matt to pitch Game 2 and to be available for Game 5," Scioscia said. "That's what you really monitor closely is how he bounces back, since it's been a while since he's going to go out there and throw to whatever it adds up to, 100 pitches."