Compared to his previous outing, Rubby De La Rosa showed marked improvement Thursday night in a 2-0 loss to the Angels, the team with the best record in baseball. On Aug. 16 against the Astros — a team with one of baseball’s worst records — he matched his shortest start of the season, four innings, and allowed a season-high nine hits.
Against Los Angeles at Fenway Park, he allowed just two runs over 6⅔ innings on eight hits and three walks with eight strikeouts, matching a career high for the fourth time.
“I tried to do the same,” he said of the adjustments he made since facing Houston. “Tried to throw the ball over home plate, and tried to do my best, and tried to keep the ball down.”
Two of De La Rosa’s last three starts have been against the Angels, and he has allowed just three runs over 13⅔ innings for a 1.98 ERA.
But with Los Angeles starter Matt Shoemaker stifling the Red Sox, no-hitting their paltry lineup until Will Middlebrooks’s two-out double in the seventh, De La Rosa had little room for error.
The pitchers set the tone for this one in the first inning. De La Rosa gave up a leadoff single to Kole Calhoun, who took second on Mike Trout’s ground out before Albert Pujols struck out. Josh Hamilton’s double scored Calhoun, giving the Angels the only run they would need.
In the bottom of the first, Shoemaker hit Brock Holt with a pitch leading off, before striking out Dustin Pedroia, Daniel Nava, and Yoenis Cespedes. Holt would be Boston’s lone base runner until Middlebrooks’s double.
De La Rosa pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the second. After David Freese grounded out to open the frame, Erick Aybar singled, taking second on a wild pitch. Chris Iannetta and No. 9 batter Collin Cowgill walked to load the bases. But De La Rosa struck out Calhoun on a slider and Trout on a 95-mile-per-hour fastball to end the threat.
But the Angels got to De La Rosa in the seventh when Aybar led off with a ground-rule double and stole third. After Iannetta walked, Cowgill struck out looking at a 96-m.p.h. fastball. Calhoun’s sacrifice fly put the Angels ahead, 2-0.
“After the second inning, which he did a very good job pitching out of a bases-loaded jam, I thought he settled in,” said manager John Farrell. “I thought he was really strong early on. Better velocity than we’ve seen . . . Very good changeup, good slider at times. I thought he pitched well enough to win on most nights.”
De La Rosa allowed base runners in five of his frames, but kept the damage to a minimum. Farrell was encouraged by De La Rosa getting out of trouble.
“This has been a number of occasions now where he’s pitched with less than two outs and men in scoring position where he’s induced a double play or gotten a key strikeout,” Farrell said. “It speaks to his overall confidence and comfort on the mound.”
In seven starts at Fenway this season, De La Rosa is 3-2 with a 3.16 ERA, giving up 15 earned runs over 42⅔ innings.
De La Rosa, who could have another five or six starts this season, already has thrown 138 innings, including his work for Triple A Pawtucket, well above his previous career high of 91⅔ in 2013. Right now, though, he feels strong. And he would like to finish the season that way.
“So try to work hard and try to finish strong and stick to what we’re doing,” he said. “Try to stay on the same page [as the team], and do my best.”