Angels unable to keep momentum, fall in series opener
MINNEAPOLIS -- If nothing else, this was a starting rotation expected to accumulate innings. Perhaps it wasn't a star-studded cast after Jered Weaver, but the four guys lining up after the Angels' clear-cut ace -- C.J. Wilson, Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson -- were arms with track records of consistently pitching deep into games.
Problem is, that has yet to really take place.
In fact, an Angels starter has recorded an out in the seventh inning in only one of their 13 games so far. That guy was Garrett Richards, who's only in the rotation because Weaver is hurt. And it wasn't even close to being Blanton, who couldn't even finish the fifth in the Angels' 8-2 loss to the Twins on Jackie Robinson Day.
The Angels' 4-9 record to start the season -- the same record they had through the first 13 games of last year's brutal April -- carries with it plenty of blame, to a lineup that isn't hitting with runners in scoring position and to a bullpen that hasn't been able to bridge the gap.
"But I think it really starts with the starters," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, whose club was coming off back-to-back victories against the Astros. "If the starters can control the game better than we have, then it's going to give our offense time and opportunity to really start to get on a roll. It's tough coming back every night."
Blanton gave up four runs on nine hits, two of them homers, in an 80-pitch, 4 2/3-inning outing, giving up a run each time after the Angels took the lead, leaving with a two-run deficit on a frigid night at Target Field when game-time temperatures were at 38 degrees with a 16-mph wind howling out to center field.
The rotation has now compiled a 5.73 ERA while averaging less than 5 2/3 innings a game. That means a thin bullpen -- with Richards now a starter, Kevin Jepsen on the disabled list and Ryan Madson still recovering from Tommy John surgery -- has accounted for 47 1/3 innings through the first 13 contests.
On Monday night, it led to Mike Roth (pitching in rookie ball last season), Mark Lowe (acquired from the scrap heap in late March) and Dane De La Rosa (formerly of independent ball) being called on to keep a deficit close.
It meant the Twins tacked on an extra four runs while the offense squeaked out four hits in the last six frames against Kevin Correia and the Twins' bullpen.
"It's early," Blanton said. "You can only say that for so long, but three starts in, I think you look at history and guys will turn around and start going into seven innings and hopefully be able to stay here. It's early, but at the same time, it won't be early long. It's time to start getting deep into games, getting outs early, getting the pitch count down, things like that."
Blanton cruised this spring, posting a 2.37 ERA without walking a single batter in 19 Cactus League innings. Through three starts, though, the 32-year-old right-hander has given up 15 runs (14 earned) in 14 2/3 innings, putting his ERA at 8.59.
Blanton said he's dealing with a mechanical issue that's affecting his fastball command and, to some extent, his velocity. He's usually at 89 to 90 mph, but on Tuesday, he was mostly hitting 87 or 88 mph.
"It's just a tick off, and that tick off has brought the [velocity] down a couple miles an hour, probably from trying to feel it, not trusting it," Blanton said. "And the location is not there, too. It's a little bit of a combination of the two."
The Twins came in with five straight losses and ranked 26th in the Majors in OPS. But Joe Mauer led the way from the No. 2 spot, going 4-for-5 with a solo homer and knocking in a couple of insurance runs later in the game.
"It was a good night," the Twins' franchise player said. "The ball was carrying better. The balls I hit carried pretty good. I've been disappointed a few times this season, but tonight it was flying a little bit better."
Up three in the eighth, the Twins (5-7) broke the game open on a two-run double by Pedro Florimon and an RBI single by Mauer.
The way the Angels swung the bats down the stretch, it was simply overkill. Correia gave up only two runs in seven innings, on Peter Bourjos' first career leadoff homer and a solo shot by Brendan Harris, and the Angels went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, giving them a Major League-worst .129 batting average in that situation this year.
"We just have to hit better with guys in scoring position," Josh Hamilton said after going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. "We're getting guys on, we just haven't been getting them in."