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Angels keep struggling in loss to Yankees

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

NEW YORK – The Angels boarded their team charter at the conclusion of their first trip, flew cross country and were expected to land in Southern California some time before dawn.

Good thing – considering the distance between the expectations they took into the season and the quality of their play to date, it might be best if the Angels slip back into their homes under cover of darkness.

Jerome Williams failed to make it through three innings in his season debut as the fifth starter, digging a hole that the team's incendiary bullpen only made deeper on the way to an 11-5 loss to the New York Yankees on Sunday night.

Nine games into the season, the Angels are 3-6 and have yet to win a series. They lost two out of three to the Kansas City Royals at home, the Minnesota Twins and the Yankees on the road.

"How many games did you say we've played?" second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "We're nine games in. That's my point exactly. I guess if we were playing a 10-game season we'd be in trouble."

Kendrick could be philosophical after his second consecutive three-hit game, missing out on a cycle only when his eighth-inning home run bid curled a few feet foul down the right-field line.

Others – including Torii Hunter – might feel like these nine games have gone on forever. Hunter is 1 for 12 since a pair of hustle doubles in Minnesota on Wednesday. He has struck out seven times in his past 11 plate appearances.

"I'll get out of it. That's a fact," Hunter said. "Oh yeah, I'm surprised (by the team's poor start). I'm pretty sure everybody in here is surprised.

"You guys have been around. You've seen us before. I definitely believe we're going to get out of this funk.

"We'll get back home, get back to normalcy. ... You can't put your finger on any one thing. It's a little bit of everything. Come Monday or Tuesday night, you'll see some different guys, different players. Right now, we're just not clicking."

The "normalcy" Hunter referred to might include the more familiar routine of baseball's 162-game schedule – six of the Angels' first eight games were day games, three of them were home openers (their own and then in Minnesota and New York).

Normalcy might also include the kind of starting pitching the Angels were expecting to get. With Williams' flameout Sunday night, the Angels' starters have a collective ERA of 5.23. Five times in the first nine games, the Angels found themselves down by multiple runs before the end of the fourth inning.

Williams retired just seven of the 15 batters he faced before Manager Mike Scioscia pulled him in the midst of a four-run third inning that put the Yankees ahead to stay.

The Angels got three-hit games from Kendrick and Maicer Izturis, and home runs from Mark Trumbo and Chris Iannetta. But every time the Angels tried to close the gap, the Yankees padded their lead, scoring six runs against a trio from the Angels' beleaguered bullpen (Hisanori Takahashi, David Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen).

The Angels did themselves few favors, though. The middle of their lineup (Albert Pujols, Hunter and Vernon Wells) went a combined 2 for 14 with six strikeouts, and the team was 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position. They stranded 10 runners on base, including the bases loaded in the seventh when they had a chance to tie the score.

"Like any good team, you depend on your pitcher setting the tone," Scioscia said. "Starting pitching is one of our strengths and we've gone a couple of times around the rotation now and are not getting the job done from our starters. It's going to magnify some things."

The Angels as a whole have been under a magnifying glass this spring. The expectations created by the signings of Pujols and C.J. Wilson have brought more attention to the team than in any previous season. The games in the Bronx Saturday and Sunday were nationally televised and the team is scheduled for 10 national TV games this season.

They have not played as if they are comfortable with that spotlight – or the expectations.

"Not at all," Hunter said when asked if that hype might be a factor in the Angels' poor start. "Say what you're going to say. But after another week or so, see what happens.

"I promise this is going to change. I'm not panicking at all. ... It's a little early right now. They're still announcing guys' names – opening day. That's early."


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