Tropeano makes mighty impression as fill-in starter

Tropeano makes mighty impression as fill-in starter

ANAHEIM -- Nick Tropeano's first chance with the Angels was a lot more happenstance than foresight. With Matt Shoemaker headed for the bereavement list and C.J. Wilson nursing soreness in his left elbow, the Angels suddenly needed someone to start Thursday's series finale against the A's. Andrew Heaney had pitched for Triple-A Salt Lake on Monday, but Tropeano's most recent start came three days earlier.

So Tropeano was basically just lucky -- and, as it turns out, so were the Angels.

Thanks to the 24-year-old Tropeano, the Angels split their four-game series with the A's with a 2-0 victory and notched just their second win at home in seven tries. And thanks to Tropeano, the Angels' continuing offensive struggles weren't a factor for one afternoon.

"You couldn't ask much more from Nick," manager Mike Scioscia said, "from all aspects."

Tropeano's strong Angels debut

The Angels got only one hit -- a two-run homer by Kole Calhoun -- and scored fewer than four runs for the 11th time in 16 games, but Tropeano shut out the A's through six-plus innings, scattering five hits, walking one and striking out five.

Tropeano was acquired from the Astros for backup catcher Hank Conger in November and spent the spring battling with Heaney for a spot in the rotation, only to watch the Angels open the season with four starting pitchers.

Drew Butera, who caught a handful of Tropeano's outings in Spring Training, noticed him "more aggressive, a little crisper" in his regular-season debut.

"Maybe some of the pressure of making the team was off him," Butera said. "Spring Training, you have to perform well. There's pressure there. Not that there isn't pressure during the regular season, but I think a little bit of that pressure was off."

Tropeano needed 43 pitches to get through the first two innings but cruised through the next four, retiring 12 of 14 batters and exiting after Josh Reddick singled to lead off the seventh. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander was effective with all four of his pitches -- four-seam fastball, splitter, slider, changeup -- and went 14-for-24 on first-pitch strikes.

"That kind of opened up every other pitch for me," Tropeano said of getting ahead on hitters.

"He kept them off balance," Butera said. "He mixed speeds really well, threw all of his pitches for strikes and he attacked the zone. For me, that's the biggest part."

Tropeano put himself on the Astros' radar with an eye-opening performance in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League last season. He posted a 3.03 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in 124 2/3 innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City, then made four starts as a September callup -- giving up 11 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings -- and switched teams two months later.

One month after that, Heaney -- the No. 25 prospect in baseball, per MLB.com -- was acquired from the Dodgers for Howie Kendrick, and Tropeano quickly became a forgotten addition.

When Heaney initially started Cactus League games, Tropeano came out of the bullpen. As the spring went on and the starters went deeper, Tropeano mostly pitched in Minor League games because there wasn't enough room on the schedule. And now, with Shoemaker expected to rejoin the team in Oakland next week, Tropeano is probably headed back to the Minor Leagues.

He'll leave after making a big impression.

"I'm just going to take it day by day," Tropeano said. "Keep working hard, stay focused."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.