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Angels blank A’s behind Calhoun’s two-run blast

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    Los Angeles Angels' Albert Pujols, center, is greeted by teammates after he scored on a single hit by David Freese during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, in Anaheim, Calif.
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ANAHEIM, Calif. >> The Angels’ offense exploded in the third inning on Thursday. Their lineup, which includes four MVP awards and which scored 14 runs on the Athletics two games ago, went off for the biggest inning of the game.

They recorded one hit.

Normally, that is not a formula for a win, especially with a freshly called-up pitcher on the mound. But “obviously,” the pitcher, Nick Tropeano, explained, “the one hit was a big one.”

Kole Calhoun provided the two-run homer, the margin in the Angels’ 2-0 win over the Athletics.

The difference, though, was Tropeano, who made his first start with the Angels and just the fifth start of his career.

Even if he is unlikely to throw six shutout innings each start, the Angels are betting that Tropeano and a new reserve of extra starting pitchers can provide them with the depth they lacked last season.

The early return was strong.

“You couldn’t have pitched any better,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.

Last year, major league teams on average used 9.6 starters throughout the season. The Angels used eight, in part because they didn’t have many options. The pitching depth just wasn’t there.

During the last two months of the season, when Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker were hurt, Scioscia used a medley of relievers to plug the rotation’s holes. That worked well enough to win the AL West, but ideally, the club would have more viable starting options. In a typical year, two of every five starting pitchers make at least one trip to the disabled list, according to FanGraphs.com.

“It’s not just the five at the big league level,” Scioscia said. “It’s Nos. 6, 7 and 8, wherever they are.”

In the off-season, General Manager Jerry Dipoto made moves to bolster the starting depth. He acquired Andrew Heaney from the Dodgers in return for second baseman Howie Kendrick. Heaney had a chance to win a rotation spot but was sent to the minor leagues after giving up 19 runs in 24 1/3 innings in spring training.

The off-season deal for Tropeano, meanwhile, cost the Angels backup catcher Hank Conger. It was a bet that the extra arm would help more than the defensively troubled catcher.

On Thursday, Tropeano became the first of the newly acquired depth to make a major league start this season. And it has already given Scioscia a stronger contingency plan.

Left-hander C.J. Wilson, who was slated to start on Thursday, experienced stiffness in his elbow after his most recent start against the Astros. When Shoemaker’s move to the bereavement list opened a roster spot, Tropeano was called into the manager’s office after a 12-inning game on Tuesday. He was to take Wilson’s place in the rotation to give him extra rest.

Tropeano struck out five hitters and walked one in six innings. He battled out of a jam in the second inning and challenged hitters as he worked briskly through the lineup.

Tropeano represents the first wave of what the Angels hope is a farm system newly rejuvenated with arms. In 2013, 10 of the team’s first 11 draft picks were pitchers. Last year, that number was nine of the first 15. And before last season, the team traded Mark Trumbo for pitchers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago.

Scioscia called the cache of arms “critical to us.”

“It definitely is something you’re going to need to tap into through the course of the season,” he said.

Scioscia said nothing had been decided, but Tropeano could be sent back to the minors when Shoemaker returns. He had already performed the role the Angels acquired him for.

Even if he allowed a whopping five hits.

———

Angels 2, Oakland 0

KEY MOMENT: Kole Calhoun lifted a two-run home run over the right-field wall in the third inning for the only scoring of the game.

AT THE PLATE: Despite facing Jesse Chavez, who had worked out of the bullpen this season, the Angels were hitless in seven of their eight innings. They have now been without a hit in 13 of their last 17 innings in the last two games. Two starters, Mike Trout and Johnny Giavotella, are hitting above .300. But four regulars, Erick Aybar, Albert Pujols, Matt Joyce and Chris Iannetta, are below .200.

UNUSUAL: The one-hit win was a feat rarer than a no-hitter. It has happened 65 other times in baseball history, according to baseball-reference.com. (Five more teams have won with no hits.) “I’ve seen us lose on a no-hitter,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “So winning on a one-hitter feels a lot better.”

ON THE MOUND: After surrendering eight runs in three innings Wednesday, the bullpen recovered well. Fernando Salas killed a budding rally in the seventh inning, and Joe Smith and Huston Street held off the A’s in the eighth and ninth, with Street getting his fifth save.

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