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Vargas extends rotation woes as Angels fall

Starter throws 90 pitches in 3 1/3 innings, allows five runs

MINNEAPOLIS -- One night it was Joe Blanton, the next night it was Jason Vargas. On a daily basis, the identity of the starting pitcher changes, but the result, for the vast majority of this excruciating 14-game stretch to start the season, has essentially been the same: A rough, inefficient outing, putting the Angels behind early, gutting an already reeling bullpen and ultimately leading to a loss.

On Tuesday night, Vargas needed 90 pitches to record 10 outs and gave up five runs to the Twins, paving the way for Jerome Williams to surrender three more and handing the Angels an 8-6 defeat at Target Field.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

"The occasional bad start, the occasional game you have to come back from, is one thing, but we've had to come back in virtually every game except one or two," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We need our rotation to give us a chance to not only set things up on the pitching side, because roles are really getting expanded, but from the offensive side to get wins."

The Angels have produced only four of them so far, tying the expansion 1961 team for the worst record through 14 games and putting them one off the pace of last year's crippling start -- the start they vowed to avoid.

In back-to-back losses to a Twins team many expect to finish last in the American League Central, Blanton and Vargas have combined to give up nine runs in eight innings. And for the season, the Angels' rotation now sports a Major League-worst 6.07 ERA, a big reason they've failed to score first in nine games.

"We definitely need to get deeper in the game and take some pressure off the bullpen and let our hitters have some breathing room, too, so they aren't feeling like they are out on the field for a long time and they have to come in and score a bunch of runs," Vargas said after his shortest outing since July 2011. "We need, myself included, to start putting guys away earlier and getting a lot deeper into the game."

Vargas gave up nine hits, walked two and didn't strike out a batter, putting his ERA at 6.75 and immersing himself into the wide-ranging struggles of an underwhelming Angels rotation.

Jered Weaver isn't expected back until at least mid-May because of a broken left elbow; Blanton has given up at least four runs and hasn't pitched past the fifth in each of his three starts; Tommy Hanson gave up five runs in the first three innings of his last start; C.J. Wilson had a 5.25 ERA in his first two outings before bouncing back his last time out; and Vargas has allowed a combined 34 hits and walks in 14 2/3 innings to start the season.

None of them -- only Garrett Richards, who's subbing for Weaver in the rotation -- has even taken the ball for the seventh inning.

And the three new guys -- Vargas, Blanton and Hanson -- have combined to go 1-6 with a 7.36 ERA in 40 1/3 innings.

"There's not one magic cure for all the guys who are struggling," Scioscia said. "Everyone has their own unique set of circumstances, and they're going to have to make adjustments according to their own game, and that's what [pitching coach] Mike [Butcher] is working very hard on, to get these guys to feel comfortable on the mound and make their pitches."

The Twins scored three runs in the second, tacked on one apiece in the third and fourth -- after the Angels' offense got back into the game -- then broke it open against Williams, getting a two-out, two-run single by Brian Dozier in the fifth and a two-out, RBI base hit by Joe Mauer in the seventh.

Mauer, batting .386 on the year, is on a nine-game hitting streak and has notched back-to-back four-hit games against the Angels, belting a homer and driving in six runs in the process.

"He can just rack up those hits, and it's incredible, and that'll never change," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of his catcher. "He's just an incredible hitter." 

The Angels made it interesting in the ninth, when Mike Trout's two-out, two-run double cut the deficit to two and put the tying run in the batter's box. But Albert Pujols' hard line drive bounced off third baseman Trevor Plouffe's body and snuggled into the hands of shortstop Pedro Florimon, who fired to first with just enough time to get a gimpy Pujols.

It was another break that didn't go the Angels' way.

The way their starters are throwing, and with a six-game homestand against the Tigers and Rangers on the horizon, they're in desperate need of some.

"If you don't control the game on the defensive side, you're never going to have enough offense to overcome that," Scioscia said. "We have a lot of confidence in our offense. It's an offense that can not only get a lead but break games open, and we haven't been able to do that."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.
Read More: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Jason Vargas, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout