ARLINGTON, Texas -- The regular season is four games old, a tiny sample size, but it already has a familiar ring. As in 2012, when they lost 14 of their first 20 games, the Angels — especially the sluggers in the middle of the order — are struggling at the plate, leaving little margin for error for everyone else.
Texas got the best of former Rangers star Josh Hamilton and the Angels on Friday, with Ian Kinsler hitting a two-out, run-scoring single to right field in the eighth inning that lifted Texas to a 3-2 victory at the Ballpark in Arlington. It was the Angels' third straight one-run loss.
If the offense had been producing, perhaps the Angels could have absorbed what reliever Garrett Richards called "one bad pitch," a fastball that Adrian Beltre hit for a tying home run in the seventh, or the Craig Gentry flare that sparked the eighth-inning rally, or the mental lapse by Alberto Callaspo, who was picked off at second in the fifth, thwarting a potential Angels uprising.
BOX SCORE: Rangers 3, Angels 2
But the Nos. 3-4 hitters, Albert Pujols and Hamilton, have combined to go two for 28 (.071) with 13 strikeouts in four games, No. 5 hitter Mark Trumbo (.188, five strikeouts) is off to a slow start, and the Angels have scored 13 runs.
"The margin for error is going to be tight if you're not swinging the bats to your capabilities," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We know the power is going to show up. There's nothing to overreact to. This is a marathon, and as important as it is to play well in April, these guys need to get their feet on the ground, and that offense will appear."
Jason Vargas, making his Angels debut, allowed one run and eight hits in a 5 2/3-inning high-wire act.
After A.J. Pierzynski's one-out, run-scoring triple in the second, Vargas escaped further damage. Vargas got out of a first-and-third, two-out jam in the third; a two-on, two-out jam in the fourth; and blanked the Rangers after allowing a leadoff double in the fifth.
Chris Iannetta's solo homer in the third and Mike Trout's two-out, run-scoring double in the fifth gave the Angels a 2-1 lead, but the cushion could have been larger. Callaspo and Iannetta opened the fifth with singles, and No. 9 hitter Peter Bourjos was up to bunt.
The Rangers' defense had third baseman Beltre charging toward home plate and shortstop Elvis Andrus breaking toward third. The second baseman usually covers first on that play, but Kinsler went to second instead. Callaspo was caught leaning too much toward third and was picked off by pitcher Derek Holland.
Bourjos struck out, and after Trout's RBI double, Erick Aybar grounded out to end the inning.
"That was huge," Scioscia said of the pickoff. "We got a run, but we had a chance for a bigger inning. Any time you're playing Texas, runs are important."
Scioscia said third base coach Dino Ebel warned Callaspo to be ready for the play, "but Holland made a quick move, and Alberto just didn't react."
Richards got two quick outs in the seventh before Beltre's shot bounced off the top of the left-field wall and over for a 2-2 tie.
With one out in the eighth, Gentry blooped a single to right off Angels left-hander Scott Downs. Gentry stole second and, after pinch-hitter Jeff Baker struck out, Kinsler lined a hard single to right.
Hamilton charged and made a strong and accurate one-hop throw home, but the ball skipped past Iannetta as Gentry scored. Texas closer Joe Nathan threw a scoreless ninth for the save.
Triple-A outfielder Kole Calhoun suffered a fractured bone in his right wrist on a swing Thursday night and will be out for four to six weeks. … Double-A catcher Carlos Ramirez was suspended for 50 games without pay for a second violation of baseball's drug-of-abuse policy.