CINCINNATI — After several hard-hit fly balls died on the warning track in the first two games here, Great American Ball Park lived up to its reputation as one of baseball's most hitter-friendly stadiums Thursday.
Or maybe Angels pitcher Joe Blanton was simply living up to his.
The veteran right-hander gave up three home runs in his Angels debut, one on his first pitch with his new team, in a 5-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the ninth time in his career Blanton has given up three homers or more in a game.
"Joe missed some spots, and that's an unforgiving lineup," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Those guys squared up some balls."
Blanton, who signed a two-year, $15-million deal in December, is a strike thrower with such good command he did not issue a walk in 19 spring innings. But his combination of an aggressive approach and underwhelming stuff has led to an average of 28 homers allowed in his last three full seasons.
When Shin-Soo Choo smacked his first pitch for an opposite-field shot to left to start the first, Blanton became the first Angels pitcher in 17 years to have his first pitch with the club hit for a homer.
"I got ambushed there," Blanton said. "It was where I wanted it to be, a good pitch, down and away. I started off the game with a quality strike."
Former Angels right-hander Jason Dickson's first big league pitch was hit by Derek Jeter for a homer on Aug. 21, 1996, but Dickson recovered to throw 61/3 scoreless innings for a 7-1 victory that day.
Blanton did not rebound as well, giving up a solo shot to Todd Frazier to open the second and a two-run shot to Chris Heisey that broke a 3-3 tie in the fifth. One came on a hanging slider, one on a sinker — neither of them good pitches, Blanton said.
"Some guys have a walk in their game, and you accept it because they get out of jams; some guys give up the home run, but you look at the bottom line — they're pitching deep into games and giving you a chance to win," Scioscia said.
"Joe is aggressive, and he has the ability to control some good offenses with the way he can change speeds. Hopefully he'll get into that flow."
Scioscia needs his offense to begin flowing a little more freely as well, though the Angels did make some progress Thursday. They banged out 11 hits, including three by Erick Aybar and a clutch two-out, two-run single by Josh Hamilton in the third.
But the Angels struck out nine times, bringing to 36 their number of strikeouts against the Reds, a club record for a three-game series. Their last whiff Thursday came on a 98-mph fastball from closer Aroldis Chapman to Hamilton, who, with Mike Trout on second, swung through it for strike three to end the game.
"There are some strikeouts throughout our lineup, but there's also a boost in power," Scioscia said. "The bottom line is scoring runs. Once we get into our flow, we'll be able to absorb maybe a little higher strikeout total while still being productive."
Hitting in the clutch is important too, and the Angels did not do much of that against the Reds. They went one for nine with runners in scoring position Thursday and two for 22 in the series, including Howie Kendrick's fly to right with runners on second and third to end the seventh with the Angels trailing, 5-4.
"We battled back, got back into the game and had some opportunities," Scioscia said. "One key hit could have swung the game in our favor."