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John Lackey makes quick work of Mariners

Right-hander throws a five-hit shutout to continue team's solid starting pitching.

September 11, 2009|KEVIN BAXTER | ON THE ANGELS

John Lackey sat on a sofa in the Angels' clubhouse Thursday afternoon, calmly putting the finishing touches on his first-week picks in the team's football pool.

"A little healthy competition in the clubhouse is fun," Lackey said. "It's good for the team, for sure."

But that's not the only competition going on in the Angels' clubhouse. For the last two weeks, the five pitchers in the Angels' rotation have been waging an impressive game of one-upmanship, with each starter trying to outdo the others.

And that's a competition Lackey is dominating after shutting out the Seattle Mariners on five hits Thursday in a 3-0 Angels victory.

The complete-game shutout was the first in more than two years for Lackey and it dropped his earned-run average to 0.35 over his last three starts. Not coincidentally, the Angels have won eight of 11 since then. And only three times in those 11 games has a starter given up more than one earned run.

"I don't want one of those guys to one-up me. I want to do a little bit better than them," said Lackey (10-7), who struck out seven, walked one and got 11 outs on ground balls. "We have a bunch of good guys who have found a good roll here."

So good, in fact, Thursday's victory gave the Angels their first series sweep in a month, pushed their lead over the idle Texas Rangers back to five games in the American League West and left the Angels a season-high 29 games over .500.

Lately that success has started -- and ended -- with starting pitching, leading Manager Mike Scioscia to call this rotation, with the recently acquired Scott Kazmir at the back end, the best he has had in his 10 seasons with the team. Which is saying something when you consider the 2005 team had a Cy Young Award winner in Bartolo Colon and three other starters who won at least 12 games.

"From top to bottom, where guys are right now, this is the deepest rotation that we've had here," Scioscia said.

And that includes the first rotation Lackey was a part of, the one that won a World Series in 2002.

"We for sure have a better pitching staff, starting-wise," Lackey said. "Without a doubt."

Especially when the starters are trying to outdo one another.

"They don't want to drop that baton," Scioscia said. "They want to keep it going. They want to be the guy that keeps the streak going."

And speaking of streaks, Lackey has a pair of pretty impressive ones going. By pitching at least eight innings in each of his last three starts, he is the first Angels pitcher to do that since Kelvim Escobar in 2006. And since Jeff Mathis became his regular catcher in mid-July, Lackey is 7-3 with a 2.31 ERA.

"Matty's been great," Lackey said. "Since he's started catching me. . . . I've been executing pitches and we've really been on the same page as far as game plan and calling pitches."

Torii Hunter gave Lackey all the support he would need with a majestic two-out, two-run home run into the rock pile beyond the left-center-field wall in the fourth inning. The homer was the 20th of the season for Hunter, who has hit as least that many in each of the last four seasons and in eight of the last nine.

The Angels, who had 10 hits, scored an insurance run in the seventh on one-out singles by Howie Kendrick and Mathis and a two-out double by Erick Aybar.

The 10 hits were nine more than Seatte's leadoff hitter, Ichiro Suzuki, had in the series. Suzuki came into Anaheim needing five hits to reach 200 for the ninth consecutive season, but he went 0 for 4 against Lackey, striking out twice, and was one for 14 with four strikeouts in the three games.

"We mixed it up pretty well. He's a great hitter. You've got to show him a lot of different things," Lackey said. "But you can expand the zone on him a little bit. He's definitely aware of getting his hits. He likes to swing."


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