The LA Angels Class A Advanced MiLB affiliate, the Inland Empire 66ers, celebrated Opening Day last night (4/4/19) by hosting the Lake Elsinore Storm.
The 66ers looked good all throughout the contest, the pitching from prospects Luis Madero and Aaron Hernandez stifled the Storm all throughout; but it was a rehab appearance from LA Angels Taylor Cole, who was ready to be a huge asset in the bullpen this year, that put a damper on what should have been an Opening Night victory.
Taylor Cole, the Angels 29-year-old reliever who pitched to a 2.75 ERA in his first season with the Angels in 2018, had a rough appearance out of the bullpen in a game that the 66ers led 2-0 up until the 5th inning. Luis Madero had stymied the Storm across 4 innings of work while allowing only 2 hits and 2 walks with 4 K’s on the night.
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The 21-year-old prospect commanded a fastball that sat around 89-91 while topping out at 92 alongside a strong slider. He featured a change-up in his arsenal as well, but it wasn’t quite where it needed to be as it flashed inconsistency through his start.
The 66ers came up big in the 2nd inning when Kevin Williams Jr. shot off a big bomb to left field that probably left the stadium in all likeliness. It wasn’t just a wall scraper of a home run, this ball scraped the atmosphere with how hard it shot off the bat. For all those who will be following the 66ers this year you may want to keep a close eye on Williams Jr. The 23-year-old is in his first season in Class A Advanced after spending last year with Burlington.
The 2-0 lead was spoiled mid-way through the game when big leaguer Taylor Cole came into the game and looked less than his usual self. He started his outing by allowing three straight hits en route to 3 total runs allowed. He also walked a batter in this outing.
Cole is rehabbing from right shoulder injury and when asked about the status of his shoulder he told us “The shoulder feels fine, no pain at all. Felt good throughout the appearance.”
On his less than stellar outing he had this to say, “It was my first time out there in a few weeks, I was a little rusty. A lot rusty I think, but I just need to take the good with the good and leave the bad,”
Taylor Cole came to the Angels in 2018 after being released by the Blue Jays one game into his career in Toronto, a game which saw him allow 4 runs on 6 hits in just one inning pitched. However, after being picked up by the Angels as a free agent Cole soared with a 2.75 ERA and 39 K’s in 36 IP. His Spring this year was just as encouraging as he pitched 5 innings and allowed 2 hits and no runs while striking out 6 and walking just one.
We asked Cole about the transition to the Angels from Toronto and how it brought him the success he found in 2018.
"“I started getting back out to the bullpen. The previous year  was my first time in the bullpen and I had a lot of success in Triple A [3.97 ERA, 77 IP] and then I had that one inning [1 IP, 4 ER, 6 H in MLB], that debut that didn’t go to well. That was the only inning I got that year and then I broke my toe. I just carried all that over, had some growing pains in Triple A last year  but I just tried to trust my stuff, something I didn’t do tonight.”"
He continued this statement into taking his experiences from 2018 and creating a success 2019 season with the Angels, “[taking into 2019] all the principles I worked on last year that made me successful. Just making sure I throw my pitch that I feel is important and I’m committed too. I know a couple of times tonight I didn’t, I wasn’t committed to a couple of pitches and I still threw them, so that’s on me. That’s something that can’t happen so I gotta make that correction next time.”
In other 66ers related news, Angels prospect Aaron Hernandez, drafted in the 3rd round of 2018, made his professional debut in last nights contest. Hernandez pitched 3.1 innings and struck out one while allowing 2 hits and 2 walks while commanding a fastball that run up to speeds of 95mph while flashing a good slider in the low 80’s. Brett Hanewich finished the 9th inning with 1 walk in 0.2 IP.
The 66ers will return to contest against the Lake Elsinore Storm tonight at 7:05 with Kyle Bradish taking the mound for the 66ers.