Matt Shoemaker, Ace By Default

At the start of the season, I wrote about the Angels great young triumvirate of starting pitchers, which then included Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Hecto Santiago. Not on that list, but next in line, were Nick Tropeano, who only needed an opportunity, and Tyler Skaggs, not yet ready to to pitch as his lengthy recovery from Tommy John surgery continued.

Matt Shoemaker was merely an afterthought due to injuries to veteran starter C.J. Wilson


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and Skaggs, thought of as little more that a space filler at the bottom of a rotation that included the above three plus declining former ace Jered Weaver. As the runner up in the 2014 Rookie of the year balloting. Shoemaker had fallen far, from rookie stats that included a 16-4 won lost record and 3.04 ERA, to last season's 7-10 and 4.46.

Shoemaker began the season with a string of mostly horrid appearances, and on May 11 his record stood at 1-5 with an amazingly bad ERA of
9.12, even despite the six shutout innings he threw on April 13 against the Oakland A’s. More injuries, terrible injuries, to the starting staff, injuries to Richards and Heaney and then to the key replacement Tropeano, kept him in the rotation, and then, amazingly, something happened.

As described by CBSsports.com’s Max Axia, it would seem that Shoemaker discarded reliance on his fastball an made a decision to throw the splitter more than half the time. The results have been amazing, and, for now at least, with Skaggs not yet ready, with Wilson, Richards, Heaney, Tropeano all out indefinitely, most likely for most of them, until some time last next year, and with Santiago apparently healthy but getting clobbered, the anchor, if not the ace, is now Shoemaker. And, just like every Angels’ ace before him, he gets little if any support, from either the club’s up and down offense or from its equally inconsistent bullpen.

Over his last six games, Shoemaker is only 2-2 despite a 2.28 ERA and 53 strikeouts against only three walks in 43-1/3 innings pitched and a 0.92 WHIP. Opponents batted .336 against him over his first six starts, .226 since. Last Saturday night sort of epitomized things for Shoemaker. Pitching one of the best games of his career, he left after throwing eight shutout innings against Cleveland, allowing only three hits and one walk, while striking out 11. He also left with a 3-0 lead. For the ninth inning, in came star closer Huston Street, making only his fourth appearance after his own lengthy stint on the disabled list. The usually reliable Street, who since his return had allowed three hits and nary a run over 3-1/3 innings, was pelted for three game-tying runs in the top of the ninth. Thanks to Yunel Escobar, the Angels did score a run in the bottom of the ninth, making


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Fernando Salas the winner.

That game saw a very notable streak end for Shoemaker. In the seventh inning, he walked Carlos Santana, ending a streak of striking out 49 batters in between walks.

On a staff that has recently included, in addition to Weaver and Santiago, the likes of Jhoulys Chacin (1-2, 4.42) and David Huff (0-2, 11.81 and since sent packing), Shoemaker has clearly been the best
since early May. The club will hopefully get a big boost this weekend with the arrival of Tim Lincecum, two-time Cy Young winner who has battled his own ups an downs, and injuries, since. At $18 M, the club is taking a big gamble, but what choice do they have? In a division with a bad Oakland team, a Seattle squad that clearly has played over its collective heads, a disappointing Houston team that shows little signs of gaining much consistency, especially with their own starting staff, and with a first place Texas team that had so looked forward to the return of their own ace, Yu Darish, but that has now suffered the unexpected blow of seeing him return to the DL, the Angels are far from being out of contention.

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