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For starters, a turnaround for Angels

Scott Kazmir's first victory of the season completes a run in which all five Angels starters have earned a win.

April 20, 2010|By Bill Shaikin

The Angels tumbled hard and fast into last place in the American League West, losing seven of their first 10 games amid some of the most dreadful pitching of the Mike Scioscia era. Perhaps this would be the year the Angels fell from power.

Or perhaps not.

The Angels are but a game out of first place. They climbed back above .500 with their fifth consecutive victory, with Howie Kendrick driving in three runs and Fernando Rodney earning his fifth save in seven days in a 6-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Angel Stadium.

The Angels had issues on Tuesday, to be sure. They lost catcher Jeff Mathis for at least six weeks because of a broken wrist, and reliever Scot Shields turned a comfortable lead into an uncomfortable one with his continued inability to throw strikes.

However, the success of the Scioscia era has been built upon a foundation of starting pitching, and this year's starters finally appear ready to lead. Scott Kazmir won his first start of the season on Tuesday, completing a turn in the rotation in which each of the five starters earned a victory.

"What our starters do is really going to dictate how this team will fare," Manager Mike Scioscia said.

Kazmir, who had two strikeouts in his only other start this season, struck out two of the first three batters on Tuesday, and five of the first 12.

He carried a shutout into the sixth inning. In all, he gave up two runs in 52/3 innings, walking none and striking out seven. That was the poorest performance in this turn through the rotation, with Angels starters posting a 5-0 record and 1.22 earned-run average in the stretch.

The Angels jumped to a 6-0 lead after five innings, highlighted by a two-run double from Kendrick in the second inning and a two-run double from Hideki Matsui in the fifth.

The home team did not cruise from there, with little support from the middle relievers.

Jason Bulger relieved Kazmir with two out in the sixth inning and allowed two inherited runners to score. In the seventh, Matt Palmer relieved Shields and allowed three inherited runners to score, all on a double by Miguel Cabrera, an 88-mph fastball redirected off the outfield wall.

Yet the outings of Bulger and Palmer sparkled in comparison to the performance of Shields.

The Angels asked him to protect a four-run lead, and he walked the bases loaded, nearly beaning two Detroit batters in the process. Shields threw 26 pitches, 15 of them balls.

Shields has faced 22 batters this season, walking seven and retiring 10. His earned-run average is 16.20.

Shields is neither injured nor rusty, Scioscia said.

"He's got a high-maintenance delivery," Scioscia said. "Right now it's obvious he's a little out of sync."

The failings of Shields forced the Angels to use setup man Kevin Jepsen for the fourth time in five days. Jepsen required 31 pitches to navigate a scoreless eighth inning.

After the game, the Angels activated closer Brian Fuentes and returned Francisco Rodriguez to triple-A Salt Lake.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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