Angels starter Jerome Williams pitches against the Houston Astros at Angel… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
If Jerome Williams is the odd man out when Manager Mike Scioscia trims his six-man rotation to five starters later this week — and there is a good chance he will be — that will seem very odd to those who follow the Angels.
Williams has done everything he can to retain the rotation spot he assumed in early May, continuing a brilliant five-game run with a seven-inning, two-run, three-hit, six-strikeout effort against the Houston Astros on Saturday night.
But the right-hander had the misfortune of matching up against Houston ace Bud Norris, who gave up four hits in six shutout innings to lead the Astros to a 2-0 victory at Angel Stadium. Norris, who struck out six and walked three, has surrendered one earned run in 21 innings of three wins over the Angels this season.
“Any time he’s in a tough jam, he gets the ground ball he needs or they make a nice play for him,” Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick said of Norris. “He’s pitched well against us every time. We’ve hit some balls hard, but he’s gotten outs. He knows how to pitch. He competes.”
Norris (5-4) became the first player ever to go at least six innings in each of his first three starts against the Angels and give up a total of one run, and the first to give up one run in his first three starts of the season against the Angels since Roger Clemens in 1992.
“Every time he pitches against us he has his 'A' stuff,” Angels center fielder Mike Trout said. “He hits his spots early and locates his secondary pitches really well.”
He also locates his fastball to second base really well. Trout hit a one-out double to left in the sixth inning but strayed too far from teh base and was picked off by Norris.
“I didn’t know he had that good of a move,” Trout said. “I was taking an extra step toward third. Perfect timing got me.”
The Angels’ only real threat against Norris came in the sixth, after Trout was picked off. Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo walked, and Josh Hamilton dribbled a ball toward third for an infield single to load the bases.
But Kendrick, who has been the Angels’ most consistent hitter this season — he has a .294 average, seven homers, eight doubles and 29 runs batted in — struck out on a nasty slider to end the inning.
Jose Cisnero threw a scoreless seventh and eighth, and Jose Veras got Trout to ground out with runners on first and third to close the ninth for his 10th save, sending the Angels to their sixth shutout loss of the season.
The Astros have the worst record (19-37) in the American League, but they’re 5-3 against the Angels and have won the first two games of a four-game series.
“As soon as you start worrying about two games in the grand scheme of things, that’s when things go south,” Kendrick said of the Angels, who have still won 10 of their last 14 games. “We’re fine.”
So is Williams, who is 3-1 with a 2.14 earned-run average in his last five starts, allowing eight runs in 33 2/3 innings, and who made only one mistake Saturday night, a grooved first-pitch fastball to Chris Carter in the seventh.
It was costly. Carter drove the ball over the wall in left for his 11th homer, a two-out, two-run shot that snapped a scoreless tie and scored Jose Altuve, who had singled.
“Everything was working for me — I pitched well,” Williams said. “That one pitch to Carter, I just left it up. It was the only mistake I had, and he hit it.”
The battle for the Angels’ final rotation spot appears to be between Williams and Joe Blanton, who is 1-8 with a 5.94 ERA.
Williams has pitched better, but Blanton is a nine-year veteran who has only nine relief appearances in 248 career games, and his stuff — he leads the major leagues with 100 hits allowed — doesn’t look like it would play well out of the bullpen.
Blanton is also signed to a two-year, $15-million deal and pitched well in his last two starts, giving up five earned runs in 13 1/3 innings against Kansas City and the Dodgers.
Williams, who is on a one-year, $2-million deal, has extensive relief experience and has had success out of the bullpen, with a 1.69 ERA in eight relief appearances this season. He’s also a team player who probably wouldn’t grumble about a demotion to the bullpen — it’s just not his nature.
“Of course it would be a little bit of a letdown if I went back to the bullpen, but all I can control is what I do on the field,” Williams said. “It’s his decision. I can’t do anything about it. All that matters is that I get the ball, whether it’s in the bullpen or the rotation. I just want to pitch. I want to perform.”
If Scioscia has made up his mind about his rotation, he wasn’t ready to tip his hand Saturday night.
“Jerome is throwing the ball well right now,” Scioscia said. “It’s kind of a unique situation because we have six guys who are getting into their game, and that’s a nice issue to have. Jerome has certainly held up his end of the bargain, no doubt about that.”