ANAHEIM — All's quiet on the closer front, but the Angel pitching crisis has shifted from the finish line to the starting block, as the team with a surplus of bullpen stoppers struggles to find a few good opening acts.
Scott Sanderson was the latest to bomb, giving up a dozen hits--two of them home runs--in 4 1/3 innings of the Angels' 6-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians in front of a crowd of 32,101 Saturday night at Anaheim Stadium.
Combined with Dennis Springer's one-inning, five-run performance Friday night, the Angels' fourth and fifth starters have given up 11 runs--seven earned--on 16 hits, including three homers, in their last 5 1/3 innings.
Granted, Springer and Sanderson were lit up by one of baseball's most potent lineups, the defending American League-champion Indians.
But with a knee injury sidelining pitcher Mark Langston for six to eight weeks and Texas showing no signs of slippage in the AL West, the suddenly pitching-poor Angels, who trail the Rangers by five games, may be in danger of drifting farther back in the division.
"I don't know what the answer is, but we've got to get to a point where we're not using the bullpen for so many innings in those spots," Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann said. "There's something to be said for patience, but we also have to explore everything we can."
The Angels, who hope injured starter Steve Ontiveros can pitch this season, are in the market for a starting pitcher and hope to use reliever Lee Smith as trade bait.
But they will probably have to package Smith with another player--utility infielder Damion Easley is a possibility--if they are to get a front-line starter.
"As soon as Mark hurt his knee we had to start looking," General Manager Bill Bavasi said. "But tonight had nothing to do with it. Langston's knee and Ontiveros' elbow have plenty to do with it."
Springer's start Friday was practically lost amid the hail of Angel hits in a 13-8, come-from-behind victory. Sanderson didn't get nearly the support Saturday night, but the Angels did make it interesting in the ninth.
Trailing, 6-2, Tim Salmon opened with a single and Chili Davis walked off Cleveland starter Jack McDowell. Indian Manager Mike Hargrove summoned closer Jose Mesa, who had converted all 12 of his previous save opportunities, but after fouling off six 2-2 pitches, J.T. Snow singled to left to make it 6-3.
Garret Anderson singled to right, scoring Davis to make it 6-4. Snow stopped at second, and Tim Wallach fouled off a bunt attempt. Lachemann took the sacrifice off, and Wallach flied to deep right, moving Snow to third.
Don Slaught followed with a sacrifice fly, cutting the lead to 6-5, but Mesa got pinch-hitter Jack Howell to fly out, ending the game.
McDowell gave up four runs on only five hits in eight-plus innings to improve to 4-1. He retired the first 10 Angels before Jim Edmonds' double in the fourth. Anderson's two-run homer in the seventh, which followed Snow's single, broke up his shutout.
Sanderson, making his first start since straining his right groin April 24, spent his evening in the eye of a Cleveland laser show, as the Indians smashed liner after liner around the stadium.
Sanderson's earned-run average (7.47) didn't take much of a beating because Cleveland's four runs in the third were unearned, after Salmon dropped Kenny Lofton's inning-opening drive to the right-center field gap on the warning track.
But few of the Indians' hits off Sanderson were of the bloop variety, and several of their outs came on balls that were drilled.
Cleveland took a 1-0 lead in the second when Eddie Murray hit career home run No. 481 and hit No. 3,100 to center, moving another step toward joining Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as the only players in baseball history with 500 homers and 3,000 hits.
After Julio Franco's RBI single in the third made it 2-0, Jim Thome's three-run homer, his third homer in eight career at-bats against Sanderson, took about 1.7 seconds to clear the right-field wall and had Salmon spinning in a complete circle as the ball whistled over his head.
Thome, who had three hits in the game, also singled and scored on Alvaro Espinoza's single to give Cleveland a 6-0 lead in the fifth.