Contracts no longer guarantee salvation. After the Angels released their highest-salaried player Wednesday, cutting pitcher Kevin Appier a farewell check for $15.67 million, pitcher Jarrod Washburn summarized the moral of the story in five words.
“Play well or you’re gone,” Washburn said.
However, it is unlikely any dismissals will result from Wednesday’s 8-0 loss to the New York Yankees. The Angels, facing future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens, fielded a lineup that included second baseman Adam Kennedy, batting third for the first time in his career, and three players who started the season at triple-A Salt Lake in shortstop Alfredo Amezaga, first baseman Robb Quinlan and outfielder Jeff DaVanon.
Clemens treated a sellout crowd assembled for his final appearance at Edison Field to his first shutout since 1999 and the 46th of his career. He scattered five hits, striking out five and facing the minimum 18 batters over the final six innings, thanks in part to two double plays. As he took the mound for the ninth inning, three months from retirement, the crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation.
“We have a lot of Yankee fans in this area that don’t get to come back East and see us,” he said. “I realize a lot of Angel fans were doing that too. It was nice for them to do it.”
The Angels have not scored more than two runs in any of the last six games, not too surprising with designated hitter Brad Fullmer out for the season, third baseman Troy Glaus out for a few more weeks and outfielder Tim Salmon listed as day-to-day because of back spasms. Salmon’s MRI examination Wednesday revealed no significant injury.
The Angels have the best bullpen earned-run average in the American League, but the relievers have been scored upon in each of the last eight games. Gary Glover, acquired Tuesday in trade for Scott Schoeneweis, made his Angel debut Wednesday and gave up a two-run double to the first man he faced.
Within the last three days, the Angels have traded Schoeneweis and released Appier and pitcher Mickey Callaway. Appier was replaced on the roster by triple-A reliever Greg Jones, who made his major league debut Wednesday and pitched a scoreless ninth inning.
While the Angels have fallen two games below .500 and essentially out of pennant contention -- a conclusion disputed by players and team officials -- the players do not believe the personnel moves indicate a rebuilding phase is underway.
“If they get rid of Percy [closer Troy Percival] or somebody like that, I’d say they’re looking to next year,” reliever Ben Weber said. “Until they get rid of somebody big, I still think we’ve got a chance.”
Said infielder Scott Spiezio: “The moves we’ve made from Salt Lake make sense. I don’t think this is like the Reds and the Pirates, where they’re just starting to unload everybody. They’re doing anything they can to make the team better and give us some kind of spark.”
Still, said outfielder Darin Erstad, “If that’s where a spark has to come from, that’s not good. But it definitely shows any move is possible.”
The Angels promoted two top prospects, catcher Jeff Mathis and third baseman Dallas McPherson, from Class-A Rancho Cucamonga to double-A Arkansas. Another top prospect, first baseman Casey Kotchman, is expected to rejoin Rancho Cucamonga Friday after sitting out two months because of a hamstring injury.