Angels get plenty of nothing

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Mickey Hatcher slumped before his locker, a cup of juice at his feet and a pained expression on his face.

The Angels hitting coach had watched his team, the No. 2 offensive team in the American League, get shut out in consecutive games for the first time in four seasons. The Angels put more runners on base with walks (six) than hits (four), wasting two of the pitching staff's best performances this season. And in Saturday's 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay, they cost left-hander Joe Saunders a chance at his seventh straight win.

All of which left Hatcher at a loss both for words and solutions.

"We'll think of things to do," he offered after the Rays' Scott Kazmir and three relievers extended the Angels' losing streak to a season-worst three games.

Then he thought of one: Rather than offering his players consolation, advice or even a kick in the rear, he issued a challenge instead.

"We need to turn some things around. And the only answer is in that room," Hatcher said, nodding to the Angels' clubhouse. "We've got to see what our players do. We're going to see how good we really are."

Based on what the Angels have done lately, the answer is "not very."

* In the two losses to Tampa Bay the Angels' most promising rally consisted of three walks in the eighth inning Saturday.

* The Angels have scored in only two of their last 26 innings.

* In the last 12 games, they've hit .217 and averaged 3.5 runs a game. In the 12 games before that, they hit .270 and averaged nearly five runs.

* And with top-of-the-order hitters Chone Figgins and Howie Kendrick out indefinitely with hamstring strains, the lineup the Angels started Saturday had just one .300 hitter, and three hitting below .191.

Even fate has turned against the Angels. In the sixth inning, Torii Hunter lined a shot down the right-field line that missed being a two-run homer by inches, then grounded into a double play two pitches later. Hunter, who has only three hits in 16 at-bats (.188) on a six-game trip that ends today, also popped up with the bases loaded in the eighth inning when a fly ball would have tied the score.

But he's not the only one struggling. Gary Matthews' fifth-inning double ended a four-for-45 skid dating to April 25 and infielders Brandon Wood and Sean Rodriguez are a combined five for 31 on the trip.

"There's no excuse because we lost some of our players that were big in our lineup," Hatcher said. "We've got some guys that should fill that spot. It's their time. Those were probably the two ugliest games I've ever seen offensively."

And considering Hatcher played 12 seasons in the major leagues and has coached nine more, he has seen a lot of games.

"Our team's got a challenge right now," he said. "We need to see what this room is made of. We need to see what these players are made of."

Saunders (6-1) certainly deserved better from his teammates after holding the Rays to a run and four hits through six innings, the third time in eight starts he has given up fewer than two runs. And the one run he did give up came on an out, when Evan Longoria grounded into a force play with the bases loaded in the first, scoring Akinori Iwamura, who had opened the inning with a single.

But that was a lead that proved insurmountable to the Angels.

"When you go 18 innings without scoring runs it's going to be tough to get a win," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It hasn't been this bad [before]. But these last two games, obviously, you've just got to turn the page on them."

The Angels get a chance to do that this afternoon when they send unbeaten Ervin Santana (6-0) to the mound. Santana pitched a shutout in his last start and he might need another one today just to stay even.

"We just need a spark," Saunders said. "We just need that big hit or we need that big at-bat right now. We'll get that [today], I'm sure."


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