ANAHEIM — Not many visiting pitchers are as familiar with the Angel Stadium mound as Cole Irvin is. The Anaheim native, who worked on the grounds crew while in high school, returned from the injured list Sunday afternoon to start against the Angels. The 28-year-old noted that it was good to be on any Major League mound again after his injury.
Irvin delivered a quality start — going six innings while allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits and two walks — on a day when the A’s bats fell silent in a 4-1 loss.
“I’m glad to be back here. And I’m glad to be back with the big league team,” he said.
Irvin was on the A’s Opening Day roster and began the season 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA in five starts before being sidelined since his April 30 outing against Cleveland with left shoulder tendinitis. He rejoined the rotation after a one-game rehab assignment with Single-A Stockton.
“I thought he did a great job managing that lineup,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “Getting through six innings was huge for us. The bullpen needed it after yesterday. He gave us a chance to win.”
Last summer, on July 31, Irvin took the Angel Stadium mound for the first time as a Major Leaguer, allowing one run and striking out six in 6 1/3 innings. Like Sunday, he had many friends and family in attendance. And also like Sunday, he wasn’t given much support from the lineup in the A’s 1-0 loss.
Irvin dealt with early trouble — and hard contact — against the Angels’ duo of MVPs. The second of his 90 pitches, a hanging slider, was hammered by Shohei Ohtani onto the hitters’ background in straightaway center field, 443 feet away. The fifth pitch was laced by Mike Trout to left field and bounded over the short fence for a ground-rule double. The two well-struck balls each came off the bats at over 108 mph.
Although the Angels added to their lead, Irvin kept his team close and showed good command. The left-hander mixed five pitches, mostly relying on the four-seam fastball, sinker and changeup.
“I looked at the scoreboard a couple times and realized [my velocity] was down a bit,” he said. “The effort level was the same every pitch, so maybe I’m mixing speed with my fastball, which is nice.”
The defense also backed him well. Irvin mishandled a Tyler Wade bunt in the second, putting two on with none out. A single by Andrew Velazquez loaded the bases for Ohtani, who lined out to right field. A heads-up throw by Chad Pinder caught Wade trying to retreat to second for a double play.
The most spectacular highlight came from Cristian Pache. The center fielder saved at least a run when, with a runner on first, he raced to the warning track and made a leaping catch of a Kurt Suzuki drive at the top of the wall to end the third inning.
“Nothing shocks me, what he does out there,” Kotsay said of Pache.
Trout prevented Irvin from escaping the second inning unscathed with an RBI hit to the right side of the field — this one with a 55.7 mph exit velocity. Later, Brandon Marsh looped a single that fell just in front of Pache to give Los Angeles a 3-0 lead in the fifth.
“I just want to get back into a rhythm,” said Irvin, who went at least five innings and allowed one run or fewer in each of his previous three outings. “I can’t make the mistakes I made this afternoon. I was throwing better out of the stretch and felt good overall.”
Oakland has now dropped six of its last eight. In that span, the offense has managed just 20 runs. The A’s have the lowest batting average (.205), lowest on-base percentage (.272), and the worst slugging percentage (.313) in MLB.
They did nothing to improve on those numbers and Angels starter Patrick Sandoval was unwilling to help.
“He pounded the strike zone with all of his pitches,” Kotsay said of Sandoval. “He mixed in a changeup today, which he really hasn’t had great command of.”
Sandoval held Oakland hitless for 4 1/3 innings and shut them out completely until the A’s got a break in the eighth.
Right fielder Wade lost Kevin Smith’s fly ball in the sun. It landed untouched and Smith wound up at second with a gift double. He advanced to third on a groundout and scored on Pache’s bloop single.
The A’s managed to bring the tying run to the plate with one out, but Los Angeles reliever Ryan Tepera recorded successive strikeouts of Sheldon Neuse and pinch-hitter Seth Brown — two of the 12 strikeouts from Oakland hitters.
By dropping the rubber game in Anaheim, the A’s have lost five of the first seven games in the season series with the Angels.