Angels running out of options
The Halos have tinkered about all they can with the cards they've been dealt
ANAHEIM -- Of all the Los Angeles Angels' problems this year, the most worrisome isn't their slow-out-of-the-gate starting pitching, their sloppy relief work or their stop-and-start offense.
It's their lack of options.
The Angels have done about all the tinkering they can do. They've had a nip and tuck here or there at the fringes of their bullpen, some shuffling at the edges of their roster. But the theme after Monday night's lifeless 6-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays was how tied their hands are. The subtext, though no one will say it, is how little high-end talent this team has standing by at Triple-A.
Of his bullpen, which seems enamored with missing the strike zone, manager Mike Scioscia said, "Our first course of action is to get these guys where they need to be."
Of his struggling table-setters, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick, Scioscia said, "Right now, Erick and Howie will be hitting 1-2 tomorrow."
Not exactly revolutionary pronouncements. What else is Scioscia going to do? The trade market doesn't figure to shape up for at least a month and the best of the Angels' minor league talent is clustered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, probably at least two or three years away from helping the big club. The Angels could get a little boost from Maicer Izturis, probably when he's activated before Tuesday's game, but he hasn't been durable enough to look like an everyday option.
The Angels have been preaching patience for nearly two months now. Just as they start to see it pay off, the team finds a way to trip itself again. A sweep of Oakland to launch the Angels on the road led to two straight losses in Texas. A promising little stay in Chicago culminated in aggravation in St. Louis. It's literally one step forward, two steps back, week after week for this team.
"We're coming around. It's just a little bit hit or miss right now," pitcher Joe Saunders said. "We either pitch well and can't seem to score many runs or don't pitch well and seem to hit the ball well. We just need to turn around."
Faulty relief work has been the constant.
Steady bullpens haven't been a luxury for the Angels in the past; they've been part of the team's foundation. From 2000-2009, the Angels had the best bullpen ERA in the American League and were second only to the Dodgers' in the majors.
In 2010, the Angels have the worst bullpen in the league and it's not even close. The team's relievers have allowed 52 percent of the runners they have inherited to score. They've walked 90 batters. Both of those numbers are the worst in the American League by a large margin.
"This is quite prolonged right now. We're getting past a quarter of the season," Scioscia said. "These guys have not gotten their feet on the ground yet."
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It's getting to the point that Angels starters have to have a lead in the seventh inning or the game turns into a blowout. On Monday, Jason Bulger and Bobby Cassevah provided the kerosene as the Blue Jays turned a tight 2-0 game into a 6-0 laugher. Saunders struggled with his command, walking five, but he still gave the team an excellent chance to win when he left in the seventh inning.
Right now, the Angels have some firepower, but no kindling. Many of the big bats in their lineup have been fairly productive of late, or have been shuffled to the bottom of the lineup. But the top of the lineup isn't feeding them opportunities to drive in runs.
Leadoff man Aybar is batting .229 in May with an on-base percentage under .300. Kendrick, the No. 2 hitter, is stuck in a 4-for-36 (.111) slump in his last eight games. Scioscia wants to give Izturis some time to get comfortable before thrusting him into the leadoff role.
"We'll stay with those guys a little longer," Scioscia said. "When Izzy gets back and gets his feet on the ground, we'll look at some other options. If we have to juggle something, we'll do that."
TO THE RESCUE?
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It's tempting for the Angels to look at Izturis as something of a savior, since the diminutive infielder can solve two of their most pressing problems as soon as he returns from the disabled list (probably Tuesday).
Izturis can take over for slumping Brandon Wood at third base and for Aybar in the leadoff spot. The problem with relying too heavily on Izturis, however, is that he has a history of being brittle. He might simply be too fragile to play every day. Izturis has spent time on the disabled list every season but one since 2005. That doesn't even include his many minor league injuries, including a shoulder injury that needed surgery in 1999.
Still, the Angels needs are urgent.
"He will be playing. I'm not sure if it's going to be seven days a week, but it's going to be a lot -- as much as he can and hold up," Scioscia said.
The Angels face Toronto's best pitcher, lefty Ricky Romero, Tuesday night. Romero, an East Los Angeles native who attended Cal State Fullerton, is 4-1 with a 2.71 ERA. The Angels beat Romero on April 18 in Toronto, but he allowed just one run in eight innings.
The man who beat Romero that day was Ervin Santana, who allowed one run in nine innings. Santana (3-3, 3.75) has been on a roll since then. He has a 2.97 ERA in his last five starts.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.