February 2, 2023

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Thrown for a loop: Angels' bullpen struggles continue

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ANAHEIM — After reliever Jimmy Herget retired all six batters he faced on just 17 pitches (including 16 strikes), Angels manager Joe Maddon called on veteran reliever Aaron Loup with one out in the seventh and the Angels clinging to a one-run lead.

Loup has been struggling recently, but Maddon felt it was the perfect time to get him in the game with the bottom of Toronto’s lineup coming up. But Loup scuffled yet again, allowing three straight hits to tie the game before being removed without having recorded an out. Maddon also went to closer Raisel Iglesias in a tie game in the ninth, only to see Iglesias give up the go-ahead run with right fielder Juan Lagares booting a ball that allowed a run to score on an error in a tough 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday night at Angel Stadium.

“They got us at the end,” Maddon said. “And beat some of our better relief pitchers.”

It was a curious decision to bring in Loup in a tight spot, however, as he allowed two runs in his last appearance on Tuesday and three runs in his outing before that on Saturday. Loup, who signed a two-year deal worth $17 million in the offseason, has a strong track record, but hasn’t been effective in his recent appearances.

His latest outing went south quickly, as the Blue Jays brought in Danny Jansen to pinch-hit for the left-handed-hitting Raimel Tapia and he promptly singled to left. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. followed with a hard-hit single of his own to left before Matt Chapman hit a single up the middle that Luis Rengifo couldn’t handle with both runners going on the pitch. It allowed pinch-runner Bradley Zimmer to score the tying run.

“I knew they were going to pinch-hit right there, I talked about it before the game,” Maddon said. “It was the perfect spot for Loup, to get him back out and on his feet again. It was something I had really set up before the game. We just tried to build him back up there. We’re not going anywhere if he doesn’t pitch well, and he will pitch well.”

Loup, who has a 4.50 ERA in 18 innings this year after posting a 0.95 ERA in 56 2/3 innings with the Mets last year, said he can’t exactly put a finger on why he’s been struggling recently. But he planned to look at his mechanics and find a reason why he’s been falling behind in counts and giving up hard contact.

“I feel great,” he said. “I just keep falling behind guys, and then when I do throw the ball over the plate it’s getting hit and getting hit hard. So, I don’t really know what exactly is going on or what to pinpoint. I feel fine but the last three or four times I’ve been falling behind hitters.”

Right-hander Ryan Tepera helped the Angels escape further trouble by striking out George Springer with two runners in scoring position before getting Santiago Espinal to fly out to right. Right-hander Oliver Ortega then impressed with a perfect eighth that saw him strike out Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernández. But after the Angels failed to score in the bottom of the inning, Maddon decided to bring in Iglesias.

That decision also backfired. Iglesias also hasn’t been as sharp as he was last season, and couldn’t keep the game tied. He gave up a leadoff single to Alejandro Kirk on a 2-1 sinker before Kirk was bunted over to second base. Gurriel followed with a single to right but Lagares couldn’t handle it, allowing the slow-running Kirk to score from second to give the Blue Jays the lead.

“It looked like it bounced up on him a little bit,” Maddon said. “But Lagares is a really good outfielder. When the ball was hit to him, I thought there might be a play at the plate or he’s not going to go, whatever. But it didn’t work out.”

Maddon, though, deflected the blame from Loup and Iglesias, as he felt the offense could’ve done a better job even though stars Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon were out of the lineup (Ohtani ended up pinch-hitting in the ninth). Maddon also highlighted the strong efforts by Herget, Tepera and Ortega.

“We had a couple hands tied behind our back,” Maddon said. “We’re not just not hitting to our standards right now. We got some really good pitching performances. I thought Ortega was outstanding. And Herget did a wonderful job getting that right. We just have to get Loupy right. That’s not him.”

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