Matt Shoemaker has been a pleasant surprise for the Angels this season, solidifying the club's rotation with command and consistency. But he may have to be even better now that the Halos could be without Garrett Richards for the rest of the season.
Thursday, Shoemaker will face Rubby De La Rosa and the Red Sox in the finale of a four-game set at Fenway Park one night after Richards suffered a serious leg injury. The Angels, who have a 1 1/2 game lead in the American League West, will be going for the series sweep.
Richards injured his left knee while covering first base in the second inning of Wednesday night's game. His cleat got caught in the dirt and his knee buckled under him before he reached the bag. The righty was taken off on a stretcher after trainers attempted to stabilize his knee for nearly 10 minutes and the team announced he had a left knee patellar injury.
The 26-year-old Richards was having a career year for the Angels, posting a 2.53 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and a 3.28 K/BB ratio in 25 starts. According to Fangraphs, his 4.4 wins above replacement ranked eighth among pitchers in the Majors. Far and away, he was the staff's ace.
Shoemaker, meanwhile, has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 12 of his 14 starts. Most impressive, the righty has struck out 93 batters and walked just 18 over 96 innings this season. Los Angeles is 10-4 in games Shoemaker starts.
The 27-year-old rookie wasn't expected to be in the Angels' rotation at all this season. But after Richards left Wednesday's game, his continued success will be even more critical to the Halos down the stretch.
"You want to try to turn the page as much as possible, but it's going to be on your mind throughout the course of the season," Jered Weaver said. "It's huge for us. It's going to take everybody stepping up a little more, as far as starting pitchers. The bullpen has been doing a tremendous job already. Offensively and defensively, it's going to take a little more to have people step up and try to get through this."
De La Rosa has a 3.25 ERA and 1.30 WHIP at home this season. On the road, those numbers are 4.33 and 1.50. But last Saturday against the Astros, the 25-year-old Dominican allowed six runs on nine hits and four walks over just four innings at Fenway.
Those four walks tied a season-high and De La Rosa said he wasn't able to get in rhythm all night.
"I made a couple missing pitches and it cost me the game," De La Rosa said. "Not the game, but my routine, you know."
Red Sox: Ross activated, starts at catcher
Catcher David Ross returned to the Red Sox lineup Wednesday and went 1-for-4 with two RBIs.
Ross hit a two-run single in the second off Richards to give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. He lined out softly twice and popped out to first in his next three at-bats.
Ross had been on the disabled list since Aug. 2 with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Dan Butler, who signed with the Red Sox as an undrafted free agent in 2009, backed up rookie Christian Vazquez for the last two weeks before being optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket upon Ross's return to the club Wednesday.
Vazquez and Ross had split time about 50-50, but Vazquez will likely play a little more in the coming days while Ross gets back to full strength.
"Well, we had mapped it out all along as David was going through his rehab and getting back to us, he would get right back in the mix when he was activated," manager John Farrell said. "The number of games to be played per week will be dependent upon how he comes out of tonight. And likely he'll get Saturday as well, just to see how the foot responds. He's gone through all the necessary steps to get back in the game tonight."
Angels: Freese moves up to sixth in order
The Angels had higher hopes for David Freese when they signed him last winter, but since the end of July, he's been a little closer to those expectations, hitting .350/.379/.483 over his last 18 games.
So Wednesday, manager Mike Scioscia moved Freese up to No. 6 in the order, ahead of the struggling Erick Aybar. Freese batted fifth and cleanup often during the first two months of the season, but has since dropped back toward the bottom of the order, mostly hitting seventh and eighth. In 21 of his last 25 games, Freese has hit seventh, eighth or ninth. He's hit sixth the other four games.
Wednesday, Freese went 1-for-4 and John McDonald came on in the eighth to play third base in his place.
"David is a guy who's hit in the middle of championship lineups before and done well. And he has that experience," Scioscia said. "And he's a guy at a point that if things started to stall and you had to redesign some things, you could do it with David. We're still considering some things. If one of them is moving David closer to the middle, it'll be fine. That means he's doing what we need."
• Mike Trout was the Angels' designated hitter Wednesday, but will be back in center field Thursday. Scioscia said he wanted to give Trout a break and sent Josh Hamilton to center in Trout's place.
• The Red Sox held first baseman Mike Napoli out of the lineup Wednesday because of back spasms. Will Middlebrooks left Tuesday's game with a tight right hamstring, as well.
Short on position players, Boston recalled first baseman/outfielder Alex Hassan from Triple-A Pawtucket and optioned knuckleballer Steven Wright on Wednesday.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.