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Angels can't back up Kazmir's strong debut

The left-hander pitches 61/3 strong innings but can't match the effort of Mariners' Hernandez.

September 03, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | ON THE ANGELS

SEATTLE — On the plus side, the Angels won't have to worry about today's off day killing any momentum. They have none.

One of baseball's most prolific offenses ran into a two-game road block in Safeco Field, where Seattle ace Felix Hernandez spoiled Scott Kazmir's Angels debut Wednesday with eight innings of four-hit ball in the Mariners' 3-0 victory.

The Angels have lost nine of 14 games, and their American League West lead over Texas has dwindled to 3 1/2 games.

Combined with Tuesday night's 2-1 loss to Seattle right-hander Doug Fister, an Angels club that leads the major leagues in batting and hits and ranks second in runs has managed only one run and 10 hits over the last 18 innings.

This, coming after a 9-1 win over Oakland on Sunday and a 10-0 win over the Mariners in Monday night's series opener.

"[Tuesday] night we squared some balls up and didn't have much to show for it, but today, they did a good job against us," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're going to have to find that offensive continuity again and do some of the things we know we can do."

Hernandez, who has emerged as a leading AL Cy Young Award candidate, suffocated them Wednesday.

The right-hander, who is 9-2 with a 2.21 earned-run average in 17 starts since June 5 and 14-5 with a 2.65 ERA on the season, is tough enough under normal conditions, with a 96-mph fastball, a heavy sinker and a sharp curve.

Throw in a 3:40 p.m. start time on a sunny, shadowy afternoon and, in the words of center fielder Torii Hunter, the Angels had "no chance."

Their only real threat came in the third inning, when walks to Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu loaded the bases with two outs. Hernandez struck out Hunter to end the inning.

"Hernandez was filthy," Hunter said. "A 96-mph fastball with sink is pretty tough. . . . This is a day when you truly tip your cap, because no one in the game, with the exception of maybe [Cleveland's] Fausto Carmona when he's on, is that nasty."

What kind of degree of difficulty do the shadows add?

"Put a helmet on and see for yourself," Hunter said. "It's scary. The ball is moving in and out of the sun and darkness. You have no chance."

Kazmir, acquired Friday from Tampa Bay for three minor leaguers, was pretty nasty himself, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first by striking out Mike Sweeney, Adrian Beltre and Bill Hall, the start of a stretch in which he retired 18 consecutive batters.

But Sweeney led off the seventh with a walk, and after Beltre flied to the warning track in center, Hall split the gap in deep left-center with a double that scored Sweeney to give Seattle a 1-0 lead.

Scioscia pulled Kazmir in favor of right-hander Kevin Jepsen. Hall got a great jump and stole third. He scored when catcher Mike Napoli's rushed throw bounced past third baseman Figgins and into shallow left field. The Mariners tacked on an insurance run in the eighth off closer Brian Fuentes.

"I wish I could have gotten the win," said Kazmir, who allowed two runs -- one earned -- and three hits in 6 1/3 innings, striking out eight and walking one.

"I worked my way out of the first, but I wish I could have been more economical with my pitches."

Kazmir got into immediate trouble, as Ichiro Suzuki reached on an infield single, Franklin Gutierrez singled to center and Jose Lopez was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs in the first.

Sweeney worked Kazmir for a 10-pitch at-bat, fouling off five pitches, before striking out looking at a 94-mph fastball, Kazmir's 20th pitch of the inning.

Kazmir then struck out Beltre with a 95-mph fastball and Hall with a 93-mph fastball to escape the jam, though he needed 28 pitches to complete the inning. He threw 106 pitches in the game.

"After the first couple of batters, he really settled in -- he felt comfortable, and you could see the stuff was there," Scioscia said. "He really pitched a strong game, and it's a shame we couldn't get him any runs. . . . But if he can repeat this performance, he's going to be big for us in September."


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