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ANGELS FYI

Bullpen has been much better for Angels

Relief pitchers struggled a bit Saturday, but mostly they have been a big part of successful run.

July 12, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

The relief corps in front of closer Brian Fuentes, awful for the first 2 1/2 months of the season, has been so good lately that Saturday's struggles, which enabled the New York Yankees to get back into the game, seemed like an aberration.

The Angels held a 9-4 lead through six innings at Angel Stadium, but Eric Hinske hit a two-run home run in the seventh off Darren Oliver, ending a string of nine scoreless innings over 11 appearances for the veteran left-hander.

In the eighth inning, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui hit consecutive home runs off Jason Bulger to pull the Yankees to within 10-8 and end the right-hander's string of nine scoreless innings over eight appearances.

The Angels' bullpen had entered Saturday with a combined 7-1 record and 2.96 earned-run average since June 12, a span in which the team went 18-8.

Two bullpen bright spots Saturday: Kevin Jepsen got Melky Cabrera to hit a soft line drive to second with a runner on to end the eighth, and Matt Palmer threw a scoreless ninth.

"You're talking about one of the best offensive clubs in the game -- they can bash the ball all through the lineup," Manager Mike Scioscia said of the Yankees.

"They hit five home runs today, some against our bullpen, but our bullpen has been doing a terrific job. They're holding leads, putting up zeros. They gave up some runs today, but all in all, we're doing a much better job."

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Pouring it on

Easing pressure on the Angels relievers Saturday was a relentless offense that, after scoring seven runs in the fifth inning, kept the Yankees at arm's length with single runs in the sixth and seventh innings and four in the eighth.

Reggie Willits reached on a strikeout/wild pitch in the sixth, stole second and scored on Erick Aybar's triple, and Mike Napoli hit a solo home run in the seventh.

Willits sparked the eighth-inning rally with a leadoff single, Bobby Abreu hit a sacrifice fly, Kendry Morales hit an RBI double, and Gary Matthews Jr., who collected his 1,000th career hit Friday night, hit a two-run single.

The Angels went from first to third on singles twice Saturday and lead the major leagues in that category, having gone first to third on singles 65 times. They stole four bases and rank second in the AL with 89 stolen bases.

"They sure are a tough team all the time, but especially here," Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon said. "They can just wear down a team."

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Rivera rests

One day after losing Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero to the disabled list, the Angels played Saturday without Juan Rivera, who was injured when he tripped and fell beyond the first-base bag after reaching on a fifth-inning error Friday night.

Rivera, who is batting .312 with 16 home runs and 52 runs batted in and has 33 RBIs since June 1, remained in the game for two more innings before leaving because of tightness in his left quadriceps and right hamstring.

He still felt some tightness in his legs Saturday but said he should be able to play in today's series finale against the Yankees.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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ANGELS TODAY

VS. NEW YORK YANKEES

When: 12:30 p.m.

Where: Angel Stadium.

On the air: TV: Channel 13; Radio: 830, 1330.

Pitchers: John Lackey vs. CC Sabathia.

Update: Lackey, who will tie Frank Tanana for fourth on the Angels' all-time list with his 218th start today, has a 4-7 record and 4.81 ERA against the Yankees. After missing the first six weeks of the season because of a forearm strain, Lackey has been erratic, following one or two excellent starts with a mediocre of subpar one. Since beginning the season with a 1-3 record and 4.85 ERA in six starts, Sabathia is 7-2 with a 3.16 ERA over his last 12 starts. He gave up four earned runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings of an 8-4 loss to the Angels in Yankee Stadium on May 2.

-- Mike DiGiovanna

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