ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Orioles' plan to send two of their starting pitchers to the minor leagues to get work over the All-Star break may have seemed unconventional to some.
“I was kidding the guys in the outfield today,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I was saying, ‘OK, you are going to Aberdeen for your work day. You are going to Norfolk for your work day, You are going to Frederick for your work day.’”
On Tuesday, Gonzalez -- who pitched six innings for Triple-A Norfolk on July 17 -- turned in perhaps his most impressive effort of the season. He held the highest scoring lineup in baseball scoreless for his first seven innings, coming one out away from his third straight eight-inning outing in a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels in front of an announced 35,353 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
The Orioles (55-44) improved to a season-high 11 games over .500 while handing the red-hot Angels (59-40) their first home series loss since May 5-7 against the New York Yankees. The Orioles' win snapped Los Angeles' club record 10 straight home series wins.
“It’s huge to win these games,” said Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who hit a pair of RBI doubles Tuesday. “We know how good they are and to start out the series like this is really good.”
If the Orioles win Wednesday, they will hand Los Angeles its first home series sweep since the first series of the season. The Orioles, who have won five of their last six games here in Anaheim, have held an Angels team that leads the majors in runs per game (5.01) to a total of four runs over the first two games of the series.
“They are just good, period,” Showalter said. “We’ve been fortunate the last two nights to have two guys who have pitched well here. They’ve pitched well against us, too. That’s the other reason why I’ll be glad when we are done playing them.”
The Orioles have now won 14 of their last 20 games on the road and are 14-8 against the AL West.
On Tuesday, Gonzalez held the Angels to just three hits as he recorded his first win since June 17, a span of five major league starts. His only blemish came against the final batter he faced in the game as Angels center fielder Mike Trout ended his outing with a two-run homer that just cleared the high fence in right-center field.
“I felt like he was hitting his spots well,” Hardy said about Gonzalez. “He kept them off balance, and he worked quick, so he was fun to play behind tonight.”
The Orioles received all the offense they needed in a three-run sixth inning off Angels reliever Mike Morin that was started by Chris Davis’ two-out, opposite-way infield single against the shift.
Hardy followed by taking an 0-1 pitch into the right-center field gap for an RBI double. While Hardy’s hit rolled all the way to the wall, Davis scored from first base, sliding just ahead of catcher Hank Conger’s sweep tag at home plate.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, moved up in the batting order because Manny Machado was scratched just before the start of the game with lower back stiffness, then crushed a letters-high 0-1 delivery from Morin into the rock fixture beyond the fence in center field.
“Oh, it felt really good,” Schoop said. “We were up 1-0, and it put us up 3-0. It’s all about winning. It feels pretty good to help my teammates and help Gonzalez feel more comfortable with a 3-0 lead.”
Hardy added another RBI double in the eighth to give the Orioles a 4-0 lead.
Angels starter Hector Santiago held the Orioles scoreless for five innings, allowing just two singles, but he was forced from the game after throwing 98 pitches.
Gonzalez has been spectacular over his last three starts, allowing just five runs in 23 innings and pitching to a 1.90 ERA.
“Overall, I’ve been pretty good the last three outings,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been happy with it and just run with it and keep giving our team the chance to win ballgames, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job overall.”
Gonzalez only allowed two singles by No. 8 hitter Efren Navarro before Trout's home run. He also issued four walks, including two to David Freese. He didn’t allow a hit between Navarro’s two-out single in the fifth and Trout's homer in the eighth.
Gonzalez faced runners at first and second bases with no outs in the third inning, but he struck out Conger and got leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun to line into an inning-ending 4-6 double play.
Pitching in Anaheim has always had special meaning to Gonzalez. He grew up nearby and was initially signed by the Angels.
Every time he pitches here in Orange County, which is just a few minutes from his home in the San Fernando Valley, he has his share of family and friends in the stands. He truly feels at home. On Tuesday, his 1-year-old daughter, Leah, who just celebrated her birthday last week, was also in the stands.
“I like pitching here in Anaheim, especially in front of friends and family,” Gonzalez said. “It’s always good to be out here and enjoy the weather. The West Coast is always nice.”
He won his first major league start here in 2012, going seven strong innings while pitching with a glove given to him by former Angels minor league teammate and Western Maryland native Nick Adenhart, who died in a car accident in 2009 at age 22.
In four career starts against the Angels, Gonzalez is 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA.
Following the game, Gonzalez said he benefitted from getting work in the minors over the break.
It seemed to work well for Norris as well. In the first game of the series Monday, Norris -- who threw 98 pitches in a start for Double-A Bowie over the break -- held the Angels to two runs (one earned) over 6 2/3 innings.
“I think it was good to go out there and keep that feeling, that confidence going on that mound and trying to do what do best,” Gonzalez said. “Overall, we’ve been doing our job. … I think it helps to keep doing what we’re doing and not getting that rest, especially with those last two outings I had.”
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