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Escobar provides steady hand

He continues strong run and gets 11th victory with 72/3 shutout innings, as Angels avoid sweep by Devil Rays, 3-0.

July 20, 2007|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — If Ervin Santana and Bartolo Colon are double trouble for the Angels, then John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar are twice as nice.

The struggles of the former pair have made the success of the latter duo all the more imperative for the Angels, who like their chances every time Lackey and Escobar are the scheduled starters.

"Two guys I'd hate to see where we'd be without," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.

After Santana and Colon notched consecutive losses against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Escobar on Thursday helped the Angels avoid the embarrassment of becoming the first visiting team to be swept in a series at Tropicana Field in more than a year.

Escobar pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings to lead the Angels to a 3-0 victory that stretched their lead in the American League West to two games over the idle Seattle Mariners. Tonight, Lackey will go for his 13th victory against the Minnesota Twins.

It would be hard to find a more effective starter than Escobar (11-3) in recent weeks. He has given up one earned run or fewer in four of his last five starts, compiling a 2.57 earned-run average over that stretch.

"I'm just letting my talent do it for me," said Escobar, who has won a career-high five consecutive decisions and already has matched his victory total from 2006 with more than two months remaining in the season. "I prepare myself day in and day out physically and mentally to go out there and do my best."

Escobar wasn't flawless against Tampa Bay. He continually pitched into and out of trouble, giving up nine hits and three walks with five strikeouts. The Devil Rays had multiple baserunners in five innings but stranded 10 and went hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position.

The Angels scored the only run they would need in the second inning when Casey Kotchman laced a double down the right-field line, advanced to third on a groundout and came home on Robb Quinlan's grounder to shortstop. Garret Anderson added a two-run single in the sixth for the Angels, who have not homered in 12 games.

"We're still trying to unlock some things offensively and got some good situational hitting today," Scioscia said, "but if we can start pressuring clubs a little more, hopefully we'll take a little bit of that pressure off our pitching staff."

Escobar said he was able to relax a little after the Angels took an early lead, but catcher Jeff Mathis had trouble holding onto pitches that were unexpectedly cutting inside in the early going.

A passed ball helped the Devil Rays mount their biggest threat in the second inning, when they loaded the bases with two out on a double and two walks.

"It was dancing there at the beginning," Mathis said of Escobar's pitches.

But Escobar retired Carl Crawford on a groundout to second base to end the inning, and the Angels eventually improved to 14-4 in games Escobar has started this season, with Francisco Rodriguez striking out two in the ninth for his 25th save.

Escobar said his success isn't a function of any changes other than avoiding lengthy stays on the disabled list.

"I think I've been doing the same," Escobar said. "I always have been a hard worker. The most important thing is being healthy."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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