No Mike Trout, David Fletcher or Justin Upton means no win for Angels

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·4 min read
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Houston Astros' Yuli Gurriel (10) celebrates after hitting a two-run home run as Los Angeles Angels catcher Drew Butera.
Houston's Yuli Gurriel celebrates as he crosses the plate in front of Angels catcher Drew Butera after hitting a two-run home run in the first inning Wednesday. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Angels manager Joe Maddon explained the decision early in the day.

After announcing a batting order Wednesday that didn’t include Mike Trout, David Fletcher or Justin Upton — all given a break ahead of the team’s day off Thursday — Maddon argued it could be “beneficial” for his regulars in the big picture, a two-day rest to recharge their batteries in a long season.

“I just wanted to take advantage of [the day off] tomorrow,” Maddon said before the game, adding: “I just thought, let’s get these guys really well rested up.”

In a 9-1 loss to the Houston Astros later in the night, however, their absences made for a bleak scene.

Behind from the start after the Astros scored three runs in the first against Andrew Heaney, the Angels (16-20) didn’t mount much of a response in front of 13,668 at Minute Maid Park.

Shohei Ohtani was bumped up to the leadoff spot but went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, dropping his on-base-plus-slugging percentage to below .900 for the first time since the season’s opening weekend.

José Iglesias returned from a back injury to muster a couple of singles while batting second, but Jared Walsh and Taylor Ward went a combined 0 for 8 in the Nos. 3 and 4 spots behind him.

Jose Rojas recorded the Angels’ only extra-base knock with a second-inning double. Catcher Drew Butera drove in the only run on a sacrifice fly in the eighth. And Jon Jay went two for three.

But the Angels still finished with one more hit (six) than the Astros had home runs (five).

“Good pitching,” Maddon said when asked about his offense’s struggles the last two days, with the team scoring only one run in each game. “They have a great offensive club. I think we do also. We have to pitch better than their pitching to beat them.”

That didn’t happen either on Wednesday.

While the Astros (20-17) overcame an injury to starter José Urquidy, who exited after only 32/3 innings with posterior shoulder discomfort, the Angels gave up their fifth-most runs all season.

Heaney yielded the first five, all via the long ball, in his 51/3-inning start: a leadoff homer from Jose Altuve in the first that hit high up the left-field foul pole, a two-run blast by Yuli Gurriel four batters later, and — after settling down through his middle four innings — a two-run drive to Kyle Tucker in the sixth that found the second deck.

Heaney pointed to a key sequence in the first, when he failed to put Yordan Alvarez away one at-bat before Gurriel’s home run, as a crucial misstep.

He described the home run to Tucker, a first-pitch curveball over the inner half of the plate, as a “backbreaker” mistake.

“That was the deciding blow,” Maddon echoed. “Had we been able to keep it at three, there’s different things we could have done.”

Instead, the Astros poured it on in the eighth, taking reliever Patrick Sandoval deep twice — Yordan Alvarez hit a solo home run before Chas McCormick launched a three-run blast — to make it an eight-run game.

“They’re a good offensive club, they hit really well in this ballpark,” Maddon said. “They beat us up with the long ball.”

Trout, Fletcher and Upton were all available off the bench. But with the game out of hand, they stayed put as the Astros pulled away.

Maddon was asked pregame if he considered spreading out the days off among his regulars, rather than lining them all up at once.

“I just feel like when you want to do this kind of thing, you do it and try not to manipulate it,” he answered. “If you think somebody needs a day, give it to them. Don’t try to put it off and make it fit in another way.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.