If two games are an indication of how teams will fare in 2016, then it’s going to be a long season in Anaheim.
In matchups against the Chicago Cubs, the Angels have been outscored 15-1, with the pitching staff allowing 21 hits in both losses combined. Granted, the run support hasn’t been there – Mike Trout is 0-for-8 to begin the year – but the Cubbies have unloaded on opposing pitchers, hitting three home runs Tuesday night.
Los Angeles started Garrett Richards in Game 1, Monday, and Andrew Heaney to follow in the rotation. Richards won a team-best 15 games a season ago, while Heaney held the lowest ERA (3.49). However, adjustments have been apparent already this season, some for better, some worse.
Richards has now eclipsed a number from last year. In his five innings against the Cubs, the right-hander threw nine changeups. In 207.1 innings last season, he tossed one, as FanGraphs pointed out. With the exception of a single up the middle by Anthony Rizzo, an overpowering change which was clocked at 93 mph, Richards looked comfortable throwing it. All nine were thrown to left-handed hitters, forcing three whiffs and two foul balls.
After Rizzo singled off him earlier in the contest, Richards countered with this offspeed pitch, a 90 mph change which ran down and away.
Richards’ seven strikeouts in the game were overshadowed by three earned runs and his counterpart Jake Arrieta, who stole the show. However, Richards had his slider dialed in midseason form, striking out six of seven batters with it. Despite an Opening Day defeat, Richards is primed for a solid year statistically, just not in the win column, as the team’s ace.
On the other hand, Heaney may have over-adjusted his pitch selection heading into 2016, and should have mirrored his teammate Richards with doses of sliders against the free-swinging Cubs.
In 18 starts with the Angels last season, Heaney was a balanced pitcher, throwing the same number of changeups and sliders (303 of each). Opposing batters hit .274 against the change, while his breaking pitch was electric, holding hitters to a .137 clip and no home runs. Remember that.
But versus Chicago, Tuesday, Heaney was more-reliant on the change to mix with his patented sinker, instead throwing the slide piece just 15 times over six innings. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but when his sinker simply isn’t working – like this series – it has to be his out pitch. A 25 pitch third inning was his downfall, recording just 14 strikes in the frame which allowed Chicago to score four runs.
Speaking of Heaney’s sinker, the trend continues as pitchers have consistently missed spots to begin the year.
Thankfully, we’re only days into the season. Kinks still need to be worked out. But as members of an uninspiring rotation, Heaney, and certainly Richards, have to be satisfactory. If not, the Angels could finish as the worst team in the American League.