ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — David Freese is starting to pick up his run production, which is something the Los Angeles Angels have been waiting half a season to see.
Freese hit a two-run double, Matt Shoemaker pitched in and out of trouble for six innings, and the Angels beat the Houston Astros 5-2 Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series. Freese has six RBIs in his last five games, two more than he had in the previous 27 games in which he had an at-bat.
“We’ve been talking about David for a while, and we need him,” said manager Mike Scioscia, who has kept Freese in the bottom third of the batting order since June 17. “He’s a guy that potentially deepens the middle of your lineup. He hasn’t gotten off to a good start, and we’re at the halfway point.
“Hopefully he’s finding a comfort level. I think the last 30 or so at-bats he’s been driving the ball a little bit better.”
Shoemaker (6-2) allowed two runs, seven hits and three walks, and worked with runners on base in every inning. The right-hander, who began the season in the bullpen, gave up eight runs and 11 hits in four innings on Friday in a loss at Kansas City. He had been 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his seven previous starts this season.
“It was a successful outing, but a little bit of a struggle,” Shoemaker said. “I had to make some big pitches to get out of some jams, and the defense picked me up huge, making some big plays. It was a positive thing to bounce back from that outing to this one.”
Shoemaker had seven strikeouts against the Astros, giving him 57 through his first 10 big league starts. That broke the franchise record of 56 set by Bo Belinsky in 1962.
“He has it in his game, that’s for sure,” Scioscia said. “If you look at his career in the minor leagues, he has struck out his share of guys. But you never know how a guy’s stuff is going to play in the major leagues until he gets an opportunity.
“Shoe definitely has some out pitches and some pitches that he can get strikeouts with. But the best games he’s going to throw are going to be the ones where he’s in the zone early with good stuff and changing speeds and maybe getting some easier outs. He had to work hard to get through six innings.”
Jason Grilli, obtained from Pittsburgh on Friday, pitched a scoreless eighth in his home debut, and Joe Smith worked a hitless ninth for his 10th save.
The Angels have won seven straight at home, their longest streak since another seven-game stretch in August 2006.
Brett Oberholtzer (2-7) gave up five runs, nine hits and three walks over 6 1-3 innings in his third start since getting recalled from Triple-A on June 28. He was 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA in his first seven starts before back-to-back victories over Seattle and Baltimore.
After the game, he was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Oberholtzer was bailed out by inning-ending double plays in the second and third innings, after giving up Howie Kendrick’s RBI single in the first.
Mike Trout was doubled off second base in the third after rookie left fielder Enrique Hernandez made a diving catch of Albert Pujols’ sinking liner, but the Angels scored four runs in the fourth to grab a 5-2 lead. C.J. Cron tied it with an RBI single, and Freese doubled to right-center, the fourth straight one-out hit. Freese scored on Chris Iannetta’s sac fly.
Houston took a 2-1 lead in the third. Jose Altuve doubled after a leadoff walk to No. 9 hitter Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Castro singled off the glove of first baseman Pujols to drive in the Astros’ first run, and Altuve scored on a grounder by Springer. Shoemaker retired Dominguez on a double-play grounder after a walk to Singleton.
“It’s just tough, not scoring runs when you have situations with men on base early in the game where you can jump on a team,” designated hitter Chris Carter said. “We’re in a little rough patch now, but I think we’ll be better the rest of the series.”
Altuve, who had three hits, leads the AL in batting (.347) and stolen bases (37). The only players who finished a season atop the league in both categories were Ty Cobb (1909, 1911 and 1917), George Sisler (1922), Snuffy Stirnweiss (1945) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001).
“He’s definitely a phenomenal hitter and he’s tough to get out, so you have to mess up his timing and make good pitches,” Shoemaker said.
NOTES: Scioscia earned his 1,281st regular-season victory, tying Whitey Herzog for 34th place on baseball’s career list. Scioscia reached the mark in 57 fewer games. … RHP Josh Fields will be reinstated from the disabled list on Friday to fill Oberholtzer’s roster spot. … It was the 44th anniversary of the first no-hitter at the “Big A,” thrown by Clyde Wright against Oakland. … The Astros are tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the majors’ worst record (36-51). … Houston is 0 for 44 when trailing after eight innings. … The Astros became the final team this season to draw one million spectators on the road.