NEW YORK — Chris Nelson's first career grand slam and multi-homer game, which helped the Angels avoid a four-game sweep with an 8-4 victory over the New York Yankees on Thursday, provided a temporary respite from a brutal season.
Nelson, designated for assignment by three teams this year -- Colorado in April, the Yankees in May and the Angels in June -- hit a two-out slam to left field in the eighth inning against Boone Logan to turn a 3-1 advantage into a 7-1 lead.
Grant Green's double and J.B. Shuck's run-scoring single made it 8-1, and a shaky bullpen survived a three-run ninth to secure the win for C.J. Wilson, who gave up 11 hits and one run in a bend-but-don't-break, 62/3-inning effort to improve to 13-6.
But the Angels (54-66) are still 151/2 games back in the American League West; they've been ravaged by injuries and doomed by underachievement. They would have to go 19-23 over the last 42 games -- no easy feat -- to avoid a 90-loss season.
They're already looking ahead to 2014 knowing that no matter how much they spend on offense, they must upgrade their rotation and bullpen to have any chance of ending a four-year playoff drought.
"I'm sure Jerry is going to take a very close look at it," Manager Mike Scioscia said, referring to General Manager Jerry Dipoto. "We'll see where it leads."
Strong pitching, defense, situational hitting and aggressive baserunning were trademarks of teams that won the 2002 World Series and reached the playoffs six times from 2002 to 2009.
But with the signing of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton the last two seasons, a $365-million expenditure that limited what Dipoto could pay for pitching, the Angels have become more of a station-to-station team that relies on power more than manufacturing runs.
How's that working out for them? The Angels rank 14th in the AL with a 4.48 earned-run average and have committed 85 errors, second-most in the AL. They've grounded into a major league-high 114 double plays and are hitting .260 with runners in scoring position.
One rotation addition, Jason Vargas, has pitched well; the other two, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson, have not. Elbow problems prevented projected closer Ryan Madson from pitching and limited setup man Sean Burnett to 13 games.
Scioscia said Thursday the team's organizational philosophy "hasn't changed because we signed Albert and Josh. We had the potential to do what we needed to do from the pitching end, and it obviously hasn't fallen into place."
But he was more outspoken on the subject after an Aug. 4 loss to Toronto.
"This year, more than any year we've been here, the template was to gravitate toward a more batter's-box offense, and some guys have struggled along those lines," Scioscia said. "So you're seeing the double plays up, us not putting guys in motion as much, maybe the team speed isn't quite what it was before.
"The foundation of our organization has always been pitching and defense, and we desperately need to get more in line with that. Even in the years we ran and our situational hitting was good and we created runs -- that doesn't mean anything unless you have pitching and defense. We won because of that."
The Angels also have a void at third base, created by the July 30 trade of Alberto Callaspo to Oakland.
Nelson showed Thursday he may be an answer, starting an inning-ending double play on Vernon Wells' bases-loaded grounder in the third, hitting a solo home run to center in the fourth and breaking the game open with his grand slam.
"It's good to see his bat come alive," Scioscia said. "He's got some pop. He hasn't really showed it in the 100 or so at-bats he's had, but you saw it today. Hopefully it's a sign of more to come, because there's no doubt he can drive the ball."
Nelson, 27, spent 10 years in the Rockies organization, playing parts of four seasons in the big leagues, but he became a nomad this season, playing 21 games for Colorado, 10 for the Yankees and now 22 for the Angels.
"Nobody plans for a DFA" -- being designated for assignment -- "but it happens," said Nelson, who has a .276 average, 15 home runs and 87 runs batted in in 244 big league games. "You just have to roll with the punches."
Shuck, who singled and scored in the first, made a superb play in the bottom of the first, fielding Alfonso Soriano's hit off the left-field wall and firing a one-hop throw to second to nail Soriano, who tried to stretch the hit into a double. ... Hamilton was 11 for 29 on the trip, including two hits and an RBI on Thursday, to boost his average from .217 to .228. ... Mike Trout started Thursday's eighth-inning rally with a bloop double. Mark Trumbo was intentionally walked with two out, and Hank Conger, who hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth, laid off a close full-count pitch from Logan for a walk to load the bases for Nelson.
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New, not so improved
How the Angels' off-season pitching acquisitions have fared:
*--* Player W-L IP H ERA Joe Blanton 2-13 126 170 5.86 Jason Vargas 6-5 952/3 102 3.86 Tommy Hanson 4-3 672/3 79 5.59 Sean Burnett 0-0 92/3 9 0.93 Ryan Madson Injured, did not pitch *--*