For all of Anthony Rendon’s struggles to make consistent contact in his first 12 games, Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon saw one reason for encouragement that his new third baseman was on the verge of breaking out of an early season funk.
While Rendon’s average fell to a dismal .103 after Sunday’s loss at Texas, his on-base percentage stood at .364 thanks to the 14 walks - tied for the second most in the major leagues - he had drawn.
“It tells me one thing, that for the most part, he’s not expanding the strike zone,” Maddon said. “But the bad part is that he’s been missing his pitch. There’s been a lot of foul balls straight back.
“For me, it’s just a matter of time with this guy. It will be a rhythm thing or a feel thing, and once he gets ignited, once he gets toasty, man ... it’s not going to go away.”
Rendon, a former Washington Nationals star who signed a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Angels in December, might not fit Maddon’s definition of “toasty” just yet, but he’s definitely getting warmed up. Rendon sparked a five-run, fourth-inning rally with a leadoff homer to left field Tuesday night, snapping a scoreless tie with his second homer in as many games to jump-start a 6-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium.
Jason Castro followed singles by Shohei Ohtani and Albert Pujols with a three-run homer to center, and Brian Goodwin hit a solo shot to right in the fourth to propel the Angels toward their second consecutive win over a team that arrived in Anaheim with a nine-game winning streak.
Rendon also hit a two-run homer, walked twice, singled and scored three runs in Monday night’s win. He singled in the first inning on Tuesday and walked in the eighth, raising his batting average from .103 to .174 in two games. He has a .415 on-base percentage and 17 walks on the season.
“If you look at the definition of toasty, it’s at least three well-struck baseballs on a nightly basis, even if they’re not hits,” Maddon said. “What you’re seeing with Anthony is when he gets his pitch, it’s not being taken and it’s not being fouled off. When it comes into his area, it’s going fair and hard, and that’s all you can ask for. So, I think he’s on the cusp of being toasty.”
David Fletcher’s 355-foot solo shot to left in the seventh gave the Angels at least four home runs in consecutive games for the fifth time in franchise history and the first time at home. That was more than enough offence to back the superb pitching of Dylan Bundy, who has emerged as the staff ace after December’s trade from Baltimore. Bundy threw seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits, striking out 10 and walking one to improve to 3-1 with a 1.57 earned-run average in his first four starts.
The burly right-hander, who threw 107 pitches in a complete-game, one-run, four-hit, 10-strikeout win over Seattle on Thursday, wasn’t quite as efficient against the A’s, needing 103 pitches, 68 of them strikes, to complete seven innings. But he dominated the A’s with a four-pitch mix that featured an 81-mph slider, an 83-mph changeup, a 91-mph fastball and a 74-mph curve, with six of his strikeouts coming on sliders and three on changeups.
Bundy has 35 strikeouts and three walks in 28 2/3 innings this season.
“Even from the side at field level, it’s the real deal. His pitches are that sharp,” Maddon said of Bundy. “The swings are not good. The takes are bad. When you see that kind of performance, with his competitive nature, everything he’s doing right now, it’s just really interesting to watch. He has set the bar very high.”
Bundy threw much harder in his younger days with Baltimore, but he has reinvented himself in recent years, relying more on his slider, changeup and curve than his fastball.
“Over the years, my velocity kept creeping down, and I started throwing more off-speed pitches and learning how to locate them or bury them off the plate for strikeouts or weaker contact,” Bundy said. “It just kind of happened over four or five years.”
Los Angeles Angels infielder Anthony Rendon hits a two-run home run against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, USA. (USA TODAY Sports)