ANAHEIM ― Since July 24, Angels starting pitchers have produced a 2.68 earned-run average, the lowest in the American League during that span. Considering all that’s gone wrong this season, there is a genuine reason for optimism that the rotation could be a strength rather than a weakness as the Angels’ front office looks to 2023. No healthy starters are eligible for free agency after this season.
The usual suspects (Shohei Ohtani and Patrick Sandoval) have done their part. Some unusual suspects (Reid Detmers and Jose Suarez) have righted their formerly unsteady ships. The last two spots in the Angels’ six-man rotation, however, are less certain.
Rookie Tucker Davidson, one of two pitchers acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Raisel Iglesias trade, will make his second start since the trade Sunday against the Minnesota Twins. Davidson’s performance between now and the end of the season amount to an audition for the Angels’ 2023 rotation.
One change could be integral to his quest.
Davidson said he is working to reintegrate a changeup into his arsenal ― just not the one he threw exactly twice this season, in separate May games with the Braves.
“I changed back to the grip I used through the minor leagues,” Davidson said. “Now it’s, let’s throw it and see what happens.”
Davidson did not throw the changeup in his first start with the Angels, in which he allowed six runs over four innings in a loss to the Seattle Mariners. He’d spent the previous two months in the minor leagues; the Angels promoted Davidson and immediately inserted him into the rotation after the trade.
The Angels’ scouts had done their homework. They knew the changeup Davidson was throwing this season was not the pitch he’d thrown in the past. The subject of changing his grip was broached immediately by the team’s front office and pitching coaches. Davidson was an easy sell.
“I moved my finger off the seams to see if I could get some different gyro spin on it, but it didn’t have the same metrics as the old (changeup) I had,” he said. “I had more feel with this one, I believe.”
Davidson pitched so well coming up through the Braves’ system, he needed only four games at the Triple-A level before earning his first big league promotion in 2020 ― a year in which there were no affiliated minor league games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
From there, Davidson’s trajectory stalled. He’s spent more time at Triple-A this season than the majors. In 19 1/3 innings for the Braves and Angels, he has a 1-3 record and a 7.91 ERA. Davidson’s ability to execute the changeup might have as much bearing on where he’s starting next week as next year.
The 26-year-old left-hander has room to improve the command of his fastball, slider and curveball too. He walked five batters last Sunday in Seattle.
On the day before his next start, Davidson was grinning ear to ear, still happy to merely be on a major league roster.
“You can’t be really mad up here,” he said. “Even when you’re playing bad, you’re still in the big leagues. In Triple-A it was kind of, you have to take every day what it is. End of the day, the goal is to be back in the big leagues. I just want to keep going and make a run with it.”
David Fletcher has a hit in all but one of the 12 games he’s started since returning from the injured list in July, including each of the last seven. He’s seen his batting average rise from .171 to .250.
Fletcher didn’t exactly predict his recent streak, but one conversation with Phil Nevin shortly after his return stuck with the Angels’ interim manager.
“There was one day I thought he wasn’t looking right, and he goes, ‘Nev I’ve got about three or four more days and I’ll be perfect.’ Alright. You’re playing all these days.
“Sure enough. Two, three, four more days. He really looks like a different guy since he first came back.”
Mike Trout took batting practice on the field Saturday for the first time since he was diagnosed with a costovertebral dysfunction in July. Nevin said Trout will continue to take BP until he’s cleared to face live pitching.
Minnesota (RHP Chris Archer, 2-5, 4.02 ERA) at Angels (LHP Tucker Davidson, 1-3, 7.91 ERA), Saturday, 1 p.m., Bally Sports West, 830 AM