Henderson Alvarez was the latest in a long line of pitchers who have thoroughly confused and frustrated the Los Angeles Angels’ lineup.
Alvarez pitched his first major league shutout with a six-hitter, Jose Bautista homered and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Angels 4-0 on Friday night.
Alvarez (2-2) threw just 97 pitches, striking out three and walking one. The 22-year-old right-hander, whose only other appearance at Angel Stadium was in the 2010 All-Star Futures Game, has won back-to-back starts after going winless in his previous nine.
”Right from the first pitch of the game through the 97th one, he stayed in his delivery well and didn’t overthrow the baseball,” Toronto manager John Farrell said. ”And with that sinker, he could neutralize their power and keep the ball on the ground. He’s got confidence. Even if he’s got two men on base, he’s always a pitch away from slowing down any damage with a groundball. We saw his overall composure last year in the 10 starts he made for us, and it continues right now.”
Toronto handed Ervin Santana (0-6) his sixth loss in as many starts this season and kept slumping Albert Pujols homerless in a game that took just 2 hours, 10 minutes.
It was the first time in six outings this season that Alvarez did not allow a home run, and batterymate Jeff Mathis had something to do with that. Mathis spent his first seven big league seasons with the Angels before he was traded to Toronto in December.
”I’ve been with those guys a long time, so I’ve got a decent feel for them,” Mathis said. ”But Henderson did a good job executing the plan that we talked about and we were pretty much on the same page. He threw the ball well and mixed his changeup and his slider when he needed to. His sinker was good – he got a lot of early-count groundballs, and that’s what kept his pitch count down.”
After three consecutive nights of complete-game shutouts at Angel Stadium — a three-hitter by Angels righty Jerome Williams, a no-hitter by teammate Jered Weaver and a series-opening three-hitter by Toronto’s Brandon Morrow — Alvarez kept the string alive as he lowered his ERA from 3.62 to 2.83. The complete game was his first in 16 big league starts.
”He knows how to pitch, obviously,” Pujols said. ”He was mixing his pitches pretty well and had a pretty good idea of what he was doing out there. He was taking some velocity off his fastball. He wasn’t just throwing 95, 96 (mph). And he kept the ball down pretty well. We didn’t hit too many balls hard.”
It was the first time the Blue Jays have had consecutive complete-game shutouts since 1993, when Jack Morris and Al Lighter turned the trick — and the first time it’s happened on the road in the franchise’s 36-year history.
Pujols’ career-worst home run drought reached 33 games and 137 at-bats after he went 0 for 4, dropping his average below the Mendoza line at .194. The three-time NL MVP, who signed a 10-year, $240 million contract in December as a free agent, has just five RBIs in 108 at-bats — and he even heard boos from some of the Angels fans for the first time.
”I’m fine. I mean, this is baseball. It’s a long year,” Pujols said. ”I’ve been in this situation before, so I need to have faith and stay strong, knowing this bad time will pass. If it’s meant to be like this the whole year, I’ll deal with it. But I’m a great hitter and I know I can hit.
”I’ve been making some adjustments, and before you know it, I’ll be swinging the bat the way I know how to swing the bat. But I can’t get myself down, because that’s not who I am. I’m a leader in this clubhouse, just like I was in St. Louis. And when you’re struggling around this time of the year, this is when the ballclub really needs their leader to step up. Just because I’m struggling the way I am, it’s nobody’s fault. I just need to stick with the same attitude.”
Santana allowed three runs and three hits over eight innings with 10 strikeouts, the eighth double-digit strikeout game of his career. But the Angels have been shut out in each of the beleaguered right-hander’s last five outings.
Toronto grabbed a 3-0 lead in the third on Yunel Escobar’s two-out RBI single and Bautista’s homer to left-center on the next pitch. Those were the Blue Jays’ only hits until Escobar’s two-out double in the eighth.
”I’m trying to have good at-bats, but I’m not seeing too many pitches over the heart of the plate,” Bautista said. ”I’m seeing strikes, but they’re good pitches on the corners and they’re not making many mistakes on me. Tonight they made one and I was able to attack it. A lot of bad breaks have been going my way, and I just hope the tide turns soon.”
NOTES: All five games on this Angels homestand have been completed in less than 2 1/2 hours, including one that took 2:11 and two that lasted 2:10. … Bautista, who outhomered Pujols 97-79 over the previous two seasons, has five in his first 27 games. … The Angels optioned RHP Kevin Jepsen to Triple-A Salt Lake to clear a roster spot for RHP Ernesto Frieri, acquired Thursday in a trade with San Diego.