The end of this Angels season is serving as a casting call for the future, a chance for aspiring players on the fringes of the roster to earn a role for next season and beyond.
And in the position of most intrigue — the starting rotation — there is one name starting to stand out among the rest.
After throwing his first career complete game last week, Jose Suarez came back with another solid outing Saturday against the host Houston Astros, holding the American League West leaders to one run over 52/3 innings in the Angels’ 4-2 win at Minute Maid Park.
Suarez, 23, has given up only two runs in his last 142/3 innings and has a 3.76 ERA in seven starts since the beginning of August.
Since making his major league debut in 2019, the left-hander never has had a run this impressive, this consistent or this encouraging regarding his potential.
And for an Angels team (70-72) that will likely need to bolster its rotation with internal options and offseason acquisitions going into next year, he is making perhaps the biggest impression of any of the other young pitchers vying for innings down the stretch.
“Him doing all this,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said, “there’s an optimistic approach to watching him play right now.”
Suarez’s start Saturday against the Astros (82-59) wasn’t as clinical as his nine-inning gem his last time out.
After retiring the first 10 batters in a row, he got into a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth, though he escaped surrendering only one run. He issued three walks while battling a high pitch count over his final several innings. And with two outs in the sixth, he was pulled after yielding a double, the first extra-base hit against him all day.
But he still held the Astros’ potent lineup in check, recording a fourth consecutive start of fewer than four runs — something he achieved just three times in his first six starts after joining the rotation in July.
“I felt really great about my outing,” Suarez said through an interpreter. “I came out to compete. … That’s exactly what I did.”
Maddon pointed to Suarez’s improvement with the curveball as a recent key, a pitch he is throwing almost twice as often this year to complement his go-to fastball-changeup combination.
“That totally gives a hitter that one more thing to think about,” Maddon said. “And it’s a good pitch. It’s not just a roller. It’s a real curveball, to go with a real changeup and a plus-fastball.”
Maddon also noted growth in Suarez’s mental approach, citing Saturday’s fourth inning as the latest example.
“He gets upset with himself on certain pitches,” Maddon said, “but then he’s able to just file it and get to the next moment … Good starters learn how to do that.”
Suarez wasn’t the only factor in what was just the Angels’ third win out of nine games in Houston this year.
After he exited, Mike Mayers and Steve Cishek combined for 21/3 scoreless innings before Raisel Iglesias gave up a run in the ninth but stranded the potential tying runners at second and third for his 31st save.
The lineup, meanwhile, scored two runs in the first on RBIs from Jared Walsh and Luis Rengifo and two more in the third on a two-run blast from Rengifo — another of the young players on the roster jockeying for future roles.
But offense hasn’t been the Angels Achilles’ heel in recent seasons. The pitching staff has been.
And while, once again, that group will likely enter the winter with plenty of questions, Suarez is looking more and more like a potential long-term answer — at least as a possible back-of-the-rotation option and, if this keeps, maybe even something more.
Said Maddon: “When you get a young left-hander blossoming into a guy that likes to go more deeply into a game and is able to get a good batting order out the third time through because he’s got a variety of pitches, that’s really promising.”
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