Commentary

Angels able to battle in win

Despite fighting for runs and pitching, the L.A. cruises to a win over the Indians

Updated: April 27, 2010, 2:27 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Maybe it says something about where the Los Angeles Angels are as a team that one of their ugliest games of the season turned out to be a relative cakewalk.

The Angels beat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 Monday night when ace Jered Weaver had his B-game, the middle relief was a mess and the offense kept slipping in the clutch.

"I guess there are pluses and minuses to this game," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "but I think it's a little disappointing how many pitchers we had to use to close this out."

Imagine how strapped the Angels would have been for pitching if Weaver hadn't fought his way through six innings despite an arsenal of pitches that weren't working right. Weaver (3-0) had to contend with base runners every inning he was out there aside from the first.

His fastball wasn't as explosive and his breaking ball not as sharp, but Weaver continued to give the Angels one -- and only one -- reliable starting pitcher. All five of Weaver's outings this year have been quality starts. Monday's might have been the most grueling.

"It was a battle," Weaver said. "I looked up in the fourth inning and thought it was the eighth."

To Weaver, who struck out seven batters and walked just one, there are signs that the Angels have emerged from the collective fog that sent them to a 2-6 start. They're 9-4 since then as the rotation has found a measure of stability, the offense has begun to find its power source and the bullpen -- at least the key members -- have gotten on a roll.

"You can see things starting to click a little bit," Weaver said. "It's only a matter of time before we start to get something rolling here, I think."

The Angels' nagging worry coming into Monday -- a lack of key hits -- didn't get much of a remedy as the team went 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position. For the season, the Angels are batting .250 in the clutch.

On Monday, the offense just kept coming. The Angels managed 15 hits. Some of the team's slumping hitters got in gear. Torii Hunter, 4-for-26 on the homestand, had two doubles. Brandon Wood, batting .113 to start the night, had three hits. Hideki Matsui, batting .240 the previous seven games, had a single and an RBI.

It also was the game that kept Bobby Abreu on a roll. The team's second-hottest hitter entering Monday, Abreu nearly got ejected for arguing balls and strikes with umpire Paul Schrieber in the early innings when he struck out twice, then launched a long two-run home run to right-center field in the sixth. He's 12 for 26 (.462) on this homestand.

The Angels needed a blanket offensive performance, because their middle relief entered the game like a wet blanket. Normally, you don't expect to need six pitchers when you've got a 5-1 lead, but Jason Bulger walked three batters and Brian Stokes gave up a home run to Austin Kearns.

That meant that Scioscia had to summon his best arms to get the final outs. Kevin Jepsen, Fernando Rodney and Brian Fuentes restored order. You also don't expect a 5-2 game to last three hours and 19 minutes, but 23 hits and 11 walks will tend to do that to a game.

TRENDS

When you dig as deep a hole as Brandon Wood did, you don't climb out of it in one day.

But Wood's two-run double Sunday seems to have snapped the deep cold funk he'd been in for nearly three weeks. He had three singles in four at-bats Monday to raise his batting average 45 points, up to .158. At one point last week, Wood was batting .087.

If he gets a hit in his first at-bat Tuesday night, Wood would have a higher average than Boston slugger David Ortiz (.160) did after Monday's games.

SCENE AND HEARD

If you watched the broadcast of Friday night's Angels win over the New York Yankees, you may have seen the awkward post-game interview between Fox Sports West's Michael Eaves and Angels first baseman Kendry Morales.

In the press box after Morales' game-winning home run, Eaves asked an Angels publicist if he could interview Morales in English. The publicist said he could, provided his questions were short and simple. Morales, who defected from Cuba five years ago, is working to improve his grasp of the language.

In the heat of the moment, Morales struggled to comprehend Eaves' questions. He answered the first two in Spanish and simply threw up his hands after the third one. Finally, at the urging of an Angels publicist, he answered, "Yes."

The interview was being carried live on the stadium video boards. Morales typically conducts interviews with Angels broadcaster Jose Mota acting as his interpreter.

MILESTONE

The story in the Japanese press coming into Monday's game was Hideki Matsui's "pursuit" of two career milestones. Which would he reach first, 1,000 hits or 500 strikeouts? It turns out, the former.

Matsui lined a David Huff pitch to right field leading off the fifth inning to reach the 1,000-hit plateau. He did not strike out Monday, leaving him at 499.

Matsui had 1,390 hits in the Japanese Central League while playing for the Tokyo Giants. Had Matsui compiled all 2,390 hits in the majors, he would be in 113th place on the all-time hits list, between Stuffy McInnis and Ryne Sandberg.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"If I was a football player, the trainers wouldn't have even come out and talked to me."  Hunter on getting the wind knocked out of him while making a diving catch Sunday.

LOOKING AHEAD

Which Joe Saunders will show up to face the Cleveland Indians Tuesday? Will it be the quick-working, efficient Saunders of his middle two starts of this season or the laboring left-hander who got knocked around in his first and fourth starts?

Saunders (1-3, 5.82 ERA) is off to the worst record to open a season in his career. In the past, Saunders tended to win games even when he was struggling. He was 16-7 last year despite a 4.60 ERA. If Saunders gets the win, the Angels will be the only team in the majors with a rotation of five pitchers who have each won 50 career games.

The Angels face rookie right-hander Mitch Talbot (2-1, 2.25), who earned his first major-league victory on April 16 vs. the Chicago White Sox. He won the Indians' fifth-starter job in spring training after missing more than two months with an elbow injury at Triple-A last year.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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