The Angels again asked a lot of their bullpen Friday, and their relievers didn't quite melt down in a 9-6 loss to the Houston Astros.
But Angels hitters, who went three for 18 with runners in scoring position, might not have had such a hard time attempting to come back from an early 4-0 deficit if the bullpen had shut down the Astros in what turned out to be the longest nine-inning home game in team history (4 hours 21 minutes).
Through a month of spring training and once again in summer camp, manager Joe Maddon praised the talent general manager Billy Eppler had assembled in the Angels' bullpen. He viewed the relief corps as the team's second-biggest strength, behind their potent lineup. Newcomers Mike Mayers, Jacob Barnes and Ryan Buchter intrigued him. So did returning relievers Keynan Middleton, Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey.
Perhaps Maddon was too optimistic about the bullpen's potential. Angels relievers had allowed 61% of inherited runners (11 of 18) to score, the second-highest mark in baseball, before Friday's game. They also owned the eighth-worst ERA (5.34).
They hardly had a chance to improve those numbers after coming to the rescue of starter Matt Andriese in the second inning Friday.
Not a week ago, Andriese assembled a promising line in the aftermath of Shohei Ohtani's disastrous return to the mound. The Redlands native held the Oakland Athletics to three hits and one walk over 52/3 innings Sunday. He struck out five of 19 batters.
"The whole (training camp) he's been like that," Maddon said afterward. "I've seen it before. I've seen him from afar. ... Oftentimes I would watch a game on TV after my game was done, and he popped in there and he's like that. He's got stuff for both sides of the plate."
Andriese couldn't replicate the stuff Maddon so enjoyed this time. He threw 34 pitches to nine batters in a dreadful second inning. His changeup, which he leaned on to draw six swings-and-misses and get five strike calls in his last outing, was ineffective. The Astros put three of his changeups into play, none of them for an out.
Andriese walked three, hit a batter and gave up four hits. Four Astros had scored by the time Maddon beckoned Cam Bedrosian out of the bullpen.
Bedrosian and the other seven pitchers who followed kept the game within reach but they were not always efficient. Middleton gave up three hits and a run in the fifth after recording the final two outs of the fourth inning. Mayers loaded the bases in the seventh. Hoby Milner let two runs score on a Kyle Tucker hit that found a hole on the right side of the infield, then walked the next hitter. Maddon still needed to use Kyle Keller and Barnes to get through the game.