ANAHEIM: Matt Shoemaker is providing Exhibit A for the fine line on which all major leaguers must live.
The difference between being awful and awesome is sometimes indescribably small.
After Shoemaker pitched his second consecutive dominant game in a 7-2 victory over the Houston Astros on Friday, he seemed hard-pressed to explain how his season has turned on a dime.
“Just a bunch of little things,” Shoemaker said.
This was a guy, after all, who began this month in Triple-A, where he’d been dispatched because he was pitching so poorly.
Now, he’s allowed two runs in 152/3 innings in his last two outings – and both of them scored after he was gone in the ninth inning Friday. He has struck out 23 and walked none in those games.
“These last two games are as good as you can pitch,” Manager Mike Scioscia said.
Shoemaker was so good Friday that Scioscia let him take a crack at what would have been his first career shutout. He took the mound in the ninth with 104 pitches, just 12 shy of his career high.
Scioscia gave him three batters, and he gave up two hits, then was pulled at 116 pitches.
The runners he left on base both scored with Cam Bedrosian on the mound, which only slightly soiled Shoemaker’s performance.
The last two games have helped Shoemaker reduce his ERA from 8.49 to 5.96, which is about as dramatic a shift as you can possibly make this deep into the season.
To Scioscia, this is what the Angels have been waiting for.
This is the Shoemaker who came out of nowhere – undrafted, not considered a prospect – to be such a feel good story in 2014.
“We always felt that at some point he was going to get back to where he was,” Scioscia said. “None of us felt a couple years ago was a fluke. Hopefully now he’s turned the corner on a few things. We’re not at all surprised with the last two games he’s pitched. We were surprised at the inconsistency last year and some of the games this year.”
Clearly, the tangible change is that Shoemaker is throwing more strikes. He has thrown 73 percent of his pitches for strikes in the last two games, compared with 62 percent in his first seven starts.
That is partly mechanics, and partly a change in mindset. Shoemaker said he’s simply more focused now.
Asked to explain the difference, Shoemaker said that he – like all pitchers – can get caught just going through the motions.
“You are out there just kind of throwing the ball,” he said.
But turn up the focus just a little, Shoemaker said, “and you execute it better. It might be an inch, but that inch is a huge difference between swinging and missing and getting weak contact.”
Shoemaker’s renaissance began last weekend, when he pitched 71/3 shutout innings against the Baltimore Orioles. The Angels couldn’t fully celebrate that one, though, because they ended up losing the game.
This time, the Angels gave Shoemaker plenty of cushion with a six-run third inning, with most of the damage coming from the expected sources in the middle of the order.
Kole Calhoun dropped a single into right to drive in one. Mike Trout then hammered a bases-loaded double off the center field fence to make it 4-0.
Albert Pujols followed with a two-run homer, his 10th of the season and 570th of his career. Pujols moved alone into 12th place on the all-time list, passing Rafael Palmeiro.