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Angels acquire reliever Hunter Strickland, but skid continues with loss to Red Sox

The Angels did well to bolster their bullpen by acquiring veteran right-hander Hunter Strickland from Tampa Bay on Saturday, but at this point, will the addition of a decent high-leverage reliever even matter?

A team many predicted to win the American League West is a mess right now, Saturday’s 9-0 thrashing at the hands of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park sending the Angels to their fourth straight loss and 10th in 13 games. At 16-22, they’re in last place, 6½ games behind first-place Oakland.

Dylan Bundy, the team’s “ace” entering the season, was rocked for seven runs and eight hits in four innings, including Alex Verdugo’s first-inning solo homer and Xander Bogaerts’ 446-foot three-run shot in the fourth, to fall to 0-5 with a 6.02 earned-run average in eight starts.

Mike Trout, the three-time AL most valuable player, is mired in a three-for-27 slump. Leadoff man David Fletcher, who hit .319 with a .376 on-base-percentage in 2020, is struggling so badly — he’s zero for 17 in four games and batting .250 with a .271 OBP — that he was dropped to the ninth spot Saturday.

A lineup that thins out considerably after Shohei Ohtani, Trout, Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh has scored 12 runs and hit .183 with 11 extra-base hits, 59 strikeouts and 18 walks in the last six games.

The rotation has a major league-worst 5.36 ERA. The bullpen ranks 27th with a 5.29 ERA and has converted eight of 16 save opportunities. The defense has made a major league-worst 33 errors.

Apparently, Albert Pujols wasn’t the problem.

“We’re just going through a rough stretch right now, but it’s a long season,” Trout said. “We’ll turn it around.”

The Red Sox’s Rafael Devers celebrates his seventh-inning solo home run with Christian Vazquez (7) as Angels catcher Kurt Suzuki looks on Saturday. Boston hit three homers.

(Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

Saturday’s game started well when Taylor Ward walked and Ohtani sliced an opposite-field grounder down the left-field line. Ward took an aggressive turn around second but stopped as Boston left fielder Franchy Cordero fielded the ball and slammed into the wall in foul territory.

Ohtani, thinking Ward would take third, was nearly at second before realizing Ward had stopped. Ohtani retreated toward first and was thrown out in a rundown, snuffing out what turned out to be the team’s best scoring chance.

Should Ward have gone to third or Ohtani have stopped at first?

“It’s like a car wreck,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You’re always responsible if you hit someone from behind. You don’t want to make the first out at third. Shohei might have gotten a little over-exuberant.”

Maddon said he still “believes in this group,” but if the Angels don’t right themselves soon, they might dig a hole too deep to climb out of.

“It’s nobody’s fault but ours,” Maddon said. “Culturally, we have not pushed it to the right side yet. You have to keep pushing until the culture sets, and that’s when you expect to win, you expect things to go your way. That happens over time. Battleships are not turned on a dime, and neither are cultures.”

Strickland, acquired from the Rays for a player to be named or cash, could bring an edge to the bullpen. He had a 1.69 ERA in 13 games this season, striking out 16 and walking six in 16 innings, and gave up one earned run in 9 1/3 innings over his last eight games.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Strickland, who mixes a 95-mph fastball with an 85-mph slider and 89-mph changeup, was a closer for parts of 2018, when he went 3-5 with a 3.97 ERA and 14 saves in 49 games for San Francisco.

Hunter Strickland pitches for the Tampa Bay Rays on May 13, 2021.

The Angels on Saturday acquired reliever Hunter Strickland, pictured Thursday, from the Tampa Bay Rays for a player to be named or cash.

(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)

“He pitched twice against us [in Anaheim in early May], and the ball was exploding out of his hand,” said Angels reliever Tony Watson, a Giants teammate of Strickland’s in 2018. “He’s an intense competitor with some back-end experience. He’ll be a nice addition.”

The Rays’ surplus of quality arms made Strickland expendable.

“Yeah, it is unusual,” Maddon said of the low-cost acquisition. “But then, he’s coming from the Rays, where they just keep printing them like counterfeit bills. They have all that pitching down there. That’s why he’s available.”



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