Jhonathan Diaz makes most of the chance, helps Angels record second shutout in a row


Angels starter Jhonathan Diaz pitched five scoreless innings Friday night, giving up three hits and surviving four walks. The first-place Angels won 3-0 over the Washington Nationals. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Jhonathan Diaz, a 25-year-old left-hander with three big league appearances to his name, was called up by the Angels to start against the Washington Nationals on Friday night, a chance for the native Venezuela to seize a rotation spot that slipped through the hands of Jose Suarez last week.

“When a kid comes up like that, and there’s a crack in the door, go ahead and put your best foot forward and force us to do something,” manager Joe Maddon said before the game. “I always want players to do that.”

Diaz might not have kicked that door down in a 3-0 victory over the Nationals before 41,923 at Angel Stadium, but it should remain open for at least another start or two.

Diaz survived some control problems that led to four walks and pitched through some heavy traffic to throw five shutout innings, giving up three hits and striking out four, to help the first-place Angels improve to 18-10 and extend their winning streak to three .

Shohei Ohtani drove in a run with a groundout in the first inning, and Mike Trout pounced on an 0-and-2 fastball from Nationals starter Joan Adon in the fifth inning, lining a bases-loaded double over the head of center fielder Victor Robles for two runs and a 3-0 lead.

The Angels'  Mike Trout runs out of the batter's box on a two-run double to center field during the fifth inning May 6, 2022.

The Angels’ Mike Trout runs out of the batter’s box on a two-run double to center field during the fifth inning. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Oliver Ortega, a hard-throwing right-hander who is carving out more of a high-leverage role in the bullpen, gave up one hit in a scoreless sixth inning, Ryan Tepera retired the side in order in the seventh, and left-hander Aaron Loup threw a one-two-three eighth that included a whiff of Juan Soto.

Closer Raisel Iglesias then retired the side in order with a strikeout in the ninth for his seventh save, as the Angels recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time since July 15-16, 2016, against the Chicago White Sox at home.

The game did not start very well for Diaz, whose first pitch, a 93-mph fastball, was smacked off the left-field wall for a double by Cesar Hernandez.

A one-out walk to Josh Bell put two on, but Diaz got Nelson Cruz to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

Alcides Escobar tripled with one out in the third, but Diaz struck out Hernandez with an 83-mph changeup and, after walking Soto, got Bell to fly to right. Washington put two on with two outs in the fourth, but Diaz got Robles to pop out to first to end the inning.

Diaz, who went 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA in four starts for triple-A Salt Lake in April, was hardly overpowering, his four-seam fastball averaging 91.4 mph and topping out at 92.6 mph.

But he kept the Nationals off-balance with an effective five-pitch mix that included an 89-mph sinking fastball, an 81-mph changeup, an 81-mph slider that he often threw to the back foot of right-handed hitters, and 74-mph curve.

Diaz had two epic battles with Soto, one of the most dangerous young sluggers in the game.

In the third inning, Diaz, thinking he had struck out Soto with a full-count fastball for the third out, hopped off the mound and toward the third base dugout.

Umpire Chad Whitson called it outside for ball four, and Soto, who was brushed back by a high-and-tight fastball earlier in the at-bat, stared down Diaz before heading to first base.

In the fifth inning, Diaz struck out Soto with an 82-mph sweeping slider, a pitch that so frustrated the Nationals right fielder that he slammed his bat into the ground, shattering it into pieces.

Short hops

Utility man Jose Rojas was sent to triple A to clear a roster spot for Diaz. … Third base coach Phil Nevin returned to the team after missing the trip because of an illness. … Right-hander Sam Bachman, the ninth overall pick in last June’s draft who was sidelined for more than a month because of back spasms, made his 2022 debut for double-A Rocket City on Friday night, giving up one hit, striking out one and walking one in three scoreless innings against Chattanooga.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.



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