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Angels Are Feeling Superior

Times Staff Writer

If the Angels do now what they did best last year, they’ll be rolling in a hurry.

The Angels beat up on bad teams last year, mercilessly and relentlessly. This is the time for an encore, and they opened the softer part of their schedule by pummeling one of the weakest teams in the major leagues. With Ramon Ortiz pitching the Angels’ first complete game of the season and Brad Fullmer falling a home run short of hitting for the cycle, the Angels crushed the Cleveland Indians, 10-1, on Tuesday.

“That’s the mark of a good team,” Fullmer said. “You beat the teams you’re supposed to beat.”

In winning a club-record 99 games last year, the Angels stumbled against the best teams -- before October, anyway -- but demolished the inferior ones. Last season, they played seven opponents that finished with winning records but did not post a winning record against any of them.

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They did post a winning record against each of their other 11 opponents, beating them at a .736 clip. If the Angels can again win three of four games against the poor teams, another mediocre April will be forgotten come September.

After wrestling with American League West rivals and the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox through an 11-14 start, Tuesday’s game marked the start of a 30-game stretch against mostly miserable teams. Of the six opponents in May, two started play Tuesday with winning records.

“Last year, we made a nice run in the middle of the summer, when we were playing Baltimore and Tampa Bay and teams like that, teams that we had a better chance to beat,” infielder Adam Kennedy said. “We took advantage of it. If you look at playoff teams, they do that. We’ve got to try to take advantage of this situation.”

The Angels took advantage Tuesday, against a Cleveland team that included four rookies in the batting order and started another on the mound. The Indians lost their seventh consecutive game, their longest losing streak in 12 years.

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Garret Anderson homered and drove in three runs and Jeff DaVanon drove in three more, as the Angels led 2-0 after two innings, 4-0 after three and 7-1 after six.

“No surprise from this team,” Ortiz said. “This team can hit. You have to pitch too.”

Indeed, the offense has not been at issue this April, not with the Angels hitting .288 and outscoring every other team in their division. The starting pitching has been at issue, and so Ortiz was the hero Tuesday.

He scattered seven hits and thrilled the Angels by finishing the game in 99 pitches. He struck out none but got three double-play grounders, using his sinker and changeup to tantalize an impatient young lineup.

“They’re aggressive,” catcher Bengie Molina said. “If you throw your breaking stuff for strikes, they’ll probably help you out. You’ll get quick outs. You’ll get one-pitch outs.”

Angel starters have a higher earned-run average (5.67) than any team in the league save the Devil Rays and Texas Rangers. But for the first time this season, the Angels have gotten seven innings from their starters in consecutive games, with ace Jarrod Washburn pitching tonight.

There are other encouraging signs. The Angels expect to activate starters Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele from the disabled list next week. The bullpen ranks second in the league, with a 2.52 ERA.

Third baseman Troy Glaus, who had missed two games because of an infected left foot, returned to the lineup Tuesday. Center fielder Darin Erstad, out because of tendinitis in his right hamstring, could return next week.

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And, for what it’s worth, the Angels started with a 7-14 stumble through the AL West last year, then played nine consecutive games against Cleveland and Toronto and went 8-1. This trip includes stops in Cleveland and Toronto.

“Hopefully, this will be the start of something like last year,” Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. “That wouldn’t be bad.”


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