In a pinch, Tropeano comes up big for Halos

In a pinch, Tropeano comes up big for Halos

OAKLAND -- When Angels starter Nick Tropeano took the mound to face the A's at the Oakland Coliseum on Monday night, it marked his first regular-season start and his first time pitching in any sort of game in nine days.

It was hard to notice.

The changeup, first baseman Albert Pujols said, "was pretty amazing." The slider, catcher Carlos Perez noted, was as good as ever. He mixed that in with a 92- to 93-mph fastball and a splitter that darts down and away to opposing left-handed hitters. And he used it all to keep the A's off the board through the first five innings of the Angels' eventual 4-1 victory.

"He had command of everything," Perez, who also caught Tropeano when they were in the Astros' system together, said in Spanish. "I think his aggressiveness was great, too."

Tropeano, filling the rotation spot of an injured Andrew Heaney, scattered six hits, walked two and struck out six. He put two runners on in the second, third and fifth, but didn't let anyone score. Tropeano was noticeably tiring by the fifth, to be expected for someone who didn't pitch past four innings in Spring Training, but that's when he did his best work.

With one out and Coco Crisp at third base after a triple, Tropeano used back-to-back sliders to get Chris Coghlan to hit a shallow popup that wasn't deep enough to score the speedy center fielder. After walking the left-handed-hitting Josh Reddick, he used another slider, tailing outside the strike zone, to induce an inning-ending groundout off the bat of a right-handed-hitting Danny Valencia.

Tropeano has now allowed only one run in 17 2/3 career innings against the A's.

"My expectation was going in there and throwing a complete game," said Tropeano, who exited with 92 pitches, after a leadoff walk in the sixth. "Every time you go out there, you want to contribute to the win, help your team win. I only went five today, but I thought I did that."

Tropeano, acquired alongside Perez in the November 2014 trade that sent Hank Conger to Houston, lost out to Matt Shoemaker for the fifth spot of the Angels' rotation in Spring Training. He left Arizona having given up 11 runs in 12 2/3 innings.

But then he took the mound against the Dodgers in the Freeway Series finale in Southern California and his stuff looked sharper, helping him give up just one run in four innings and end his spring on a high note.

"I think it was just getting into that routine, that night-game routine, getting a feel," Tropeano said. "That was big for me."

Heaney is feeling good about his recovery from a tight left forearm, but he still isn't playing catch. C.J. Wilson just started to play catch in Arizona on Monday, and Tyler Skaggs is still only pitching three innings at a time in Triple-A. The Angels will rely on Tropeano for a while, and that may not be such a bad thing.

"To me, he's a great starter," Perez said. "I've known him for a while. I know he's a competitor. He always tries to be aggressive. He can be a great pitcher."

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