Angels' offense struggles to live up to the promise of spring

Angels manage just three hits while striking out 13 times against the Astros in loss, 4-0

There was a 10-run outburst in Texas on Wednesday, and several notable games from Mike Trout, including a two-homer, five-runs-batted-in power trip in Houston on Friday night. Kole Calhoun is heating up, David Freese has slugged three home runs, and Johnny Giavotella is batting .313 from the ninth spot.

Other than that, it's been crickets this season from the Angels offense, which had another quiet night Saturday at Minute Maid Park, where the Angels managed three hits and struck out 13 times in a 4-0 loss to the Astros.

Dallas Keuchel is a tough left-hander, and he did a number on the Angels with his dirt-diving sliders and floating changeups Saturday, blanking them on two hits and striking out seven in six innings to outduel Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson, who took the loss despite allowing two runs and three hits in 6 2/3 innings.

But most opposing pitchers have looked good so far against the Angels, who are averaging 3.6 runs a game, rank 25th in the major leagues with a .217 batting average, 24th with a .280 on-base percentage and are hitting .209 (14 for 67) with runners in scoring position after their 0-for-8 performance Saturday.

"We haven't hit stride offensively, and that's easy to see," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We haven't been able to pressure teams the way we need to. These guys will get it going, but right now, we have to keep grinding it out and have good at-bats."

Trout is batting .400 with three home runs and nine runs batted in and has lowered his strikeout rate despite going hitless with two strikeouts in four at-bats Saturday. Calhoun, the leadoff man, was on a five-for-eight streak with a homer and a triple before going hitless in three at-bats Saturday, his average falling to .259.

But the Angels haven't gotten much production from the hitters behind Calhoun and Trout.

Albert Pujols has two homers and as many walks (six) as strikeouts (six), but he's batting .154. Cleanup batter Matt Joyce is hitting .206 with no homers and four RBIs. Freese, despite the three homers, is batting .209. Erick Aybar (.179), C.J. Cron (.125) and Chris Iannetta (.118) are struggling.

Of that group, Pujols is the biggest surprise. After battling left-foot and right-knee injuries the past two years, Pujols looked healthy this spring, hitting .310 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 21 games and spraying so many line drives around Arizona that hitting coach Don Baylor thought he could lead the league in RBIs.

But Pujols has not driven the ball with any consistency, and he has not looked that dangerous in the box.

"It's a really small sample," Scioscia said. "Albert looked really good this spring. It's in there. At times, he needs to get into some flow to get going, and he will. But his health is at a certain level where it looks a lot easier for him to do the things he's doing. I think he's going to be very productive."

Iannetta has not driven in a run, and he's off to an even slower start than 2014, when he hit .152 in his first 10 games.

He appeared to be coming out of his funk this week, when he had three hits in the final two games in Texas and three walks in his previous four games.

But after walking in the second inning Saturday, Iannetta struck out looking in the fifth and swinging at a Chad Qualls breaking ball that was in the dirt and way outside to end the seventh.

"I think I did the same thing last year," Iannetta said. "You come out of spring training, things speed up a little bit and you get a little anxious. You have bad timing, a bad swing, bad plate discipline and bad pitch-recognition. You have to calm that down.

"Then, things start to slow down a little bit. You start seeing the ball better, you have a better swing because of that, you're not chasing pitches, you're taking some walks, you're getting good pitches to hit … then all of a sudden you start getting on base and start getting hits."

Cron appeared to make great strides this spring, batting .413 with three homers, 11 doubles and 16 RBIs in 26 games, showing better plate discipline, bat control and plate coverage, and he drove the ball hard to right-center field.

But Cron has no homers, one RBI, seven strikeouts and one walk in seven games, and his fourth-inning double Saturday was a broken-bat blooper to shallow center field that Jake Marisnick dived for and missed. Scioscia has already begun benching Cron against some right-handers.

"He didn't chase as much in spring training, but right now, he's thinking a lot about what the pitchers might do," Baylor said. "He was real selective all spring, and I'm trying to tell him to let that carry over into the season. Just because the season starts, why should he change?"

Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna

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