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Angels are blindsided in 4-0 loss at Cleveland

Right fielder Torii Hunter, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, loses a ball in the sun for a two-run error. Indians starter Derek Lowe limits the Angels to three hits over 72/3 innings.

April 29, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna

CLEVELAND — If this isn't rock bottom, the Angels can definitely see it from here.

A team that can't hit and is stocked with relievers who can't get anyone out found another way to lose Sunday when nine-time Gold Glove-winning right fielder Torii Hunter lost a routine fly ball in the sun, the key play in a 4-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Progressive Field.

Right-hander Derek Lowe went through the Angels like a chainsaw through kindling, giving up three hits in 72/3 innings, and reliever Vinnie Pestano struck out Howie Kendrick with the bases loaded in the eighth inning to snuff out the Angels' only real threat.

So ended a 1-5 trip through Tampa Bay and Cleveland in which the Angels scored nine runs, were shut out twice, hit .165 (31 for 188) overall and .133 (four for 30) with runners in scoring position.

A star-studded club with a $151-million payroll and World Series aspirations has been as big a flop as Disney's "John Carter," its 7-15 record matching the worst 22-game start in franchise history, set in 1976.

"Nobody would have believed this — it's crazy," Hunter said. "It can only get better. It can't stay like this forever."

Hunter homered in each of the first two games against the Indians and made two outstanding defensive plays Friday night, but his series took a U-turn in the fifth inning Sunday.

With two on and two out in a scoreless tie, Asdrubal Cabrera lifted a fly ball that Hunter lost in the sun, the ball dropping to his side for a two-run error. Hunter lost a game in similar fashion May 19 in Seattle.

"You cannot beat God's light," Hunter said. "You battle and the sun wins no matter what kind of glasses you have. I feel bad because [Ervin] Santana pitched his butt off, and I lost that game."

As usual, the offense provided no margin for error. Only one leadoff batter in nine innings reached base, and Albert Pujols, signed to a 10-year, $240 million deal, was hitless in four at-bats, his average falling to .216.

Pujols, who averaged a home run every 14.3 at-bats in 11 years in St. Louis, has gone 22 games and 88 at-bats into 2012 without a homer. He has gone 13 games without a run batted in and has four RBIs this season.

Only three players have more at-bats without a home run than Pujols — Atlanta's Michael Bourn (90), St. Louis' Rafael Furcal (89) and the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy (89). Even weak-hitting catcher Jeff Mathis has two homers.

"He's obviously not locked in right now," Manager Mike Scioscia said of Pujols.

The transition to a new league and new pitchers has been more difficult than Pujols expected, but that wasn't an issue Sunday — Pujols had a .357 career average (10 for 28) against Lowe, the former Dodgers, Atlanta and Boston right-hander.

"Obviously, he's not swinging the same," Lowe said. "I don't care if you're a Hall of Fame player like he is, confidence is everything in this game. When you start losing it, you start to question yourself."

Lowe said Pujols is swinging at pitches at which he normally doesn't swing.

"I've thrown him the same breaking balls I did today, and [in the past] he would just watch them go by," Lowe said. "He's a little more aggressive swinging at pitches he normally doesn't swing at.

"He'll stop swinging at those, and then he'll dictate the count instead of the pitcher. We won't be having this conversation the next time we see you, I promise you. He's too good a hitter."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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