Wilson unable to contain Mariners as Angels fall
Club starts season 0-2 for first time since 2001; Ibanez hits two-run blast
ANAHEIM -- The Angels, owners of the fourth-worst April winning percentage the previous two seasons, have yet to get much depth from their starting pitching, have seen the bullpen struggle to keep games manageable on back-to-back nights and are struggling out of the gate with runners in scoring position.
Here we go again?
"It's way too early to think that," Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton said after an 8-3 loss to the Mariners on Tuesday night. "We haven't thought about it, so, stop thinking about it. Talk to me in like a week and a half. Guys are getting their feel, getting settled in, not only here but at home. We'll be good."
It is, in fact, just two games -- roughly 1.2 percent of the season. But slow starts feel different around here, because of how much they crippled the grand expectations of 2012 and '13. And the Angels have yet to carry over the momentum of Spring Training, when they won 19 out of 32 games, pitched well and hit great.
C.J. Wilson gave up six runs in 5 2/3 innings, one night after Jered Weaver allowed four runs (three earned) in 6 1/3 frames. The offense went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, one night after going 0-for-5. And Michael Kohn gave up two ninth-inning runs to blow the game open, one night after Kevin Jepsen and Nick Maronde gave up six for the same effect.
The Angels are 0-2 for the first time since 2001.
It's early -- very, very, very early -- but they can't let things snowball again.
"I don't think anybody has their head buried in the sand; we know how important it is to get off to a good start," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "But what we need to do is focus on the process. You have to play free. You can't go up there thinking anything but the process of going out there and playing aggressive baseball, making your pitches, making your plays, and that's what we're going to keep our focus on."
Tuesday's game turned on a decision a lot of teams will probably make this season -- intentionally walking Robinson Cano.
In the third, the Mariners had runners on second and third with two outs and a one-run lead thanks to Abraham Almonte's RBI double. With first base open, Scioscia opted to intentionally walk the left-handed-hitting Cano (.355/.459/.419 slash line in his career against Wilson) to face the switch-hitting Justin Smoak (3-for-5 with a walk and a three-run homer in 2014 heading into that at-bat).
And on a 1-1 pitch, Wilson missed inside with a fastball and Smoak laced a three-run double to give the Mariners an early 4-0 lead.
Asked if it was strange to walk a left-handed hitter to face someone batting from the right side of the plate, Wilson said: "Yes. No more questions on that one."
It wasn't about righty-lefty matchups for Scioscia, though. It was about Cano's career .860 OPS, vs. the .703 mark Smoak has put up.
"Robinson Cano is the guy you want to try to minimize as much as you can," Scioscia said. "Justin Smoak, give him credit -- got some big hits last night, got some big hits tonight. If that continues, then Robinson Cano will get some pitches to hit. But right now, you're going to want Justin Smoak to swing the bat instead of Robinson."
Wilson was the Angels' best starter last year, with 17 wins and a 3.39 ERA, and he was coming off a lights-out spring that saw him give up just six earned runs in 28 2/3 innings. But against a Mariners team he faced three times in the Cactus League, Wilson had a hard time getting out of innings, giving up Smoak's two-out, three-run double, a two-out solo homer to Brad Miller -- the first of two for the Mariners' shortstop -- and a two-out RBI double to Dustin Ackley in the sixth, just before exiting with 114 pitches.
"This is a results game, so any time you give up six runs, it's a pretty crappy day at the office," Wilson said. "But you have to look at the cause. At the end of the day, I'm looking at it from an analytical perspective and saying that I threw some pitches that were very hittable, and they hit 'em."
Raul Ibanez struck out in four of his first five plate appearances against his former team, but he put the Angels on the board with a line-drive two-run homer to straightaway center field in the fourth.
That was all the Angels could get off Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez, though.
The 23-year-old right-hander, the No. 2 starter only because Hisashi Iwakuma started the season on the disabled list, scattered six hits, walked none, struck out six and worked out of several jams in seven solid innings.
"I just knew he was ready," Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon said. "He did a pretty darn good job of executing his pitches. He made a couple mistakes with strategy early, but other than that, I thought he did a fabulous job."
The Angels had two on with none out in the second, but Ibanez struck out and Howie Kendrick grounded into a double play. They had two on with two outs in the third, but Albert Pujols -- one RBI away from 1,500 for his career -- flied out to center. They had two on with one out after Ibanez's fourth-inning homer, but Ramirez came back to strike out Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun.
They scored a run off Tom Wilhelmsen in the eighth, when Pujols hit a one-out double and then scored when Cano made an errant throw on a potential inning-ending double play. But left-hander Joe Beimel came out of the bullpen and immediately picked David Freese off first base to end the inning.
That kind of night -- and they hope it isn't that kind of April again.
"It's only been two games," catcher Hank Conger said. "I'm not worried about it. We're two games into it. We're still getting a feel, and we're playing hard."