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ANGELS 9, CHICAGO 5

Angels outslug White Sox to snap two-game losing streak

Jeff Mathis hits one of the team's four home runs in support of a shaky Ervin Santana, who lasts six innings despite some early trouble.

August 07, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | ON THE ANGELS

CHICAGO — If Ervin Santana were a boxer, his corner man would have broken out the smelling salts in the third inning Thursday. The pitcher's eyes looked puffy, his knees wobbly. He was clearly on the ropes.

Santana gave up a three-run home run to Jayson Nix in the second and walked Mark Kotsay with the bases loaded and one out to force in a run in the third.

The Chicago White Sox seemed poised for a knockout, but Angels Manager Mike Scioscia refused to hurl a white towel onto the field.

"That's a decision you don't want to make, taking your starter out that early, because it really affects what's going to happen down the road this week," Scioscia said.

"You want to give him every opportunity to pitch a little deeper into the game and settle down, but if it keeps going the wrong way . . . you're going to have to make a move."

Scioscia remained in the dugout, and Santana rewarded his manager's faith, striking out Nix looking at a full-count slider and getting Chris Getz to ground back to the mound.

Santana added three scoreless innings, and the Angels broke out of a two-game mini-slump with four home runs in a 9-5 victory over the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

Catcher Jeff Mathis, who began the game with a .197 batting average, hit a two-run home run in the second inning, and Vladimir Guerrero (third), Bobby Abreu (fifth) and Erick Aybar (ninth) added solo shots.

After scoring six runs and having only 11 hits, 10 of them singles, in two losses, the Angels broke out for 11 hits, five for extra bases Thursday.

Santana's line -- six innings, five hits, four runs, five walks, seven strikeouts -- wasn't impressive, but he survived another shaky start to improve to 4-6 and lower his earned-run average to 7.20.

Santana, who sat out two months this season because of elbow injuries, has seemed tentative in the first few innings of almost all of his starts, as if he's afraid to cut his fastball loose.

Opponents are batting .342 and have scored 39 of their 58 runs against Santana in the first three innings. They are batting .291 with 15 runs in innings four, five and six. Santana has given up 54 of his 90 hits in the first three innings.

"Ervin needs to get into his game and throw the ball like he can from the first out until he's done," Scioscia said. "Until that happens, he's going to struggle. He's in control. He's got to get out there and do it."

His teammates gave him a cushion to work with Thursday. The Angels scored twice in the first with the help of Chicago third baseman Gordon Beckham's error.

Mathis' fifth homer keyed a three-run second inning, and Guerrero, who was activated Tuesday after missing almost a month because of a pair of leg injuries, led off the third with a homer that gave the Angels a 6-3 lead.

The shot to left field also silenced some of those who criticized Scioscia for inserting the slugger back into the cleanup spot after the Angels went 17-3 and went on an offensive tear while Guerrero was on the disabled list.

"Nobody is ordained to a lineup spot, but Vlad swinging well in the middle of the order is important," Scioscia said.

"It's a starting point, and we'll adjust if we need to."

Guerrero, 34, has missed two months of this season and is batting .289 with five homers and 22 runs batted in after going 11 straight years with at least a .300 average and 25 homers.

"I try not to think about too much, because otherwise, I would go crazy," Guerrero, speaking through an interpreter, said of the injuries. "I thank God that I'm here and I'm playing baseball."

In the sixth and final year of his contract and with his skills in decline, the next two months will go a long way toward determining Guerrero's future -- in Anaheim, and in baseball.

"I missed a lot of time -- I don't want to spend a lot of time thinking about the next two months," Guerrero said. The next two months are "important for me and for the team, but I don't want to get too caught up thinking about" my future.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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