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BASEBALL : ANGELS 11 HOUSTON 1

Hot-hitting Trout earns a danger sign

After he crushes a home run in first, he draws walk with bases loaded, even with Pujols on deck. The Angels cruise to their first win of the season.

April 05, 2014|Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels teammates Erick Aybar, left, and Mike Trout celebrate the team's 11-1 road victory over the Houston Astros on Friday.
Angels teammates Erick Aybar, left, and Mike Trout celebrate the team's… (Eric Christian Smith / Associated…)

HOUSTON — Maybe Lucas Harrell's four-pitch walk of Mike Trout with the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning Friday was simply a byproduct of the control problems the Houston Astros right-hander had throughout his shaky three-inning start against the Angels.

Surely, the Astros wouldn't pitch around Trout -- and concede a run -- so early in the game to face one of the baseball's most vaunted sluggers, Albert Pujols, the three-time National League most valuable player who has hit more home runs against Houston (48) than any player in baseball history.

Or would they?

Trout crushed a first-inning homer that seemed to put a dent in an advertising sign above the left-field wall, so loud was the sound that echoed through Minute Maid Park upon impact. The solo shot jump-started the Angels toward an 11-1 win and eased the sting of their 0-3 start.

When Trout, who is batting .429 with two homers, a triple and a double in four games, came up in the second, Houston Manager Bo Porter didn't give the star center fielder the Barry Bonds or Josh Hamilton treatment and order a bases-loaded intentional walk.

But it seemed as if Harrell wanted nothing to do with Trout, throwing three low-and-away breaking balls in the dirt and an inside fastball to force in a run for a 2-0 Angels lead.

"I don't know," Trout said with an impish grin, when asked whether he thought Harrell was pitching around him. "I was looking for a good pitch to hit, and the first three pitches didn't reach the plate. I don't know what to tell you."

Harrell threw 76 pitches in the game -- 38 balls and 38 strikes -- so it was clear he was struggling with his command. But the sequence to Trout could also be a reflection of how dangerous a hitter Trout has become and how Pujols' threat level seems to have gone from red (severe) to something between blue (guarded) and yellow (elevated).

Pujols followed the walk to Trout by grounding out to third. Pujols also grounded to third in his next two at-bats and finished with an infield single in five at-bats, his average standing at .176. He hit a hard line drive for an out in his last at-bat.

When Pujols signed his 10-year, $240-million contract before 2012, one of the big questions was how the Angels would best protect him in the lineup. Two years later, the question has become: Who will protect Trout?

"They're always going to pitch carefully to Mike -- he walked 110 times last year," Scioscia said. "Protecting Mike is important, but I think these guys behind Mike are going to give him plenty of pitches to see.... Albert hit a rocket in his last at-bat, so hopefully he's getting there."

Hamilton, who as the cleanup batter is also connected to Trout, seems to be getting there. After going three for six with two walks in the first two games against Seattle, Hamilton struck out four times Wednesday night.

But he bounced back Friday, hitting singles in the third and fourth innings and breaking the game open with a three-run homer to right in the sixth that gave the Angels an 8-1 lead.

Hamilton, the former Texas Rangers star, loves playing against the Astros, and with his three-hit, one-walk game Friday, he is batting .346 (63 for 182) with 15 homers, eight doubles, six triples and 39 runs batted in in 51 games against them.

Hamilton also has the highest slugging percentage (.703) of any player with at least 200 plate appearances against Houston.

"I ended the season last year feeling pretty good, but not like I feel now," said Hamilton, who hit .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 2013. "The biggest thing for me is staying calm, understanding I have enough time. I don't have to rush anything. Try to slow the game down as much as possible.

"Trout is good at that. He slows the game down. He takes pitches."

Just not too many, the Angels hope.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Angels 11, Astros 1

KEY MOMENT: Angels starter Garrett Richards wobbled in the fifth when he walked Jose Altuve with the bases loaded and two outs, trimming the Angels' lead to 5-1. Richards caught a huge break when a hanging 0-and-2 curve was lined a few feet foul by cleanup batter Mark Krauss. Richards then struck out Krauss looking at a curve to end a grueling 10-pitch at-bat.

AT THE PLATE: The Angels had 17 hits in their first three games against Seattle. They had 15 Friday night, including Mike Trout's solo homer, Josh Hamilton's three-run homer and Kole Calhoun's two-run homer. Chris Iannetta doubled twice, and Howie Kendrick, hitless in his first 10 at-bats, had an RBI double and a single.

ON THE MOUND: Richards struggled with his command but had a superb curve for most of a five-inning outing in which he allowed one run and three hits, struck out seven and walked five. Reliever Fernando Salas, hit hard in his first two appearances, got himself into -- and out of -- a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the sixth, striking out Marwin Gonzalez and getting Alex Presley to ground out.

IN THE FIELD: Center fielder Mike Trout, who did not have an outfield assist in 2013, preserved a 2-0 lead in the second when he charged Jesus Guzman's single and air-mailed a throw to the plate to nail Krauss. "It's just another way he contributes," Manager Mike Scioscia said.

EXTRA BASES: Hitting coach Don Baylor, who underwent surgery Tuesday for a fractured right femur, was discharged from UCI Medical Center on Friday. ... The wife of utility infielder John McDonald, who played six games for the Boston Red Sox in September, was presented with his World Series ring Friday in Fenway Park.

UP NEXT: Left-hander Tyler Skaggs (2-3, 5.12 ERA for Arizona in 2013) will make his Angels debut against Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel (6-10, 5.15 ERA in 2013) at Minute Maid Park Saturday at 4 p.m. PDT. On the air: TV: Fox Sports West. Radio: 830.

--Mike DiGiovanna

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