With the Angels’ middle relievers providing little in the way of relief these days, John Lackey went to the mound Friday with a simple goal: Pitch long enough and well enough to keep the bullpen from becoming a factor.
And with the exception of one poor inning, he did that. But Seattle’s three-run third proved too much for the Angels to overcome against left-hander Jason Vargas and a trio of relievers, who pitched the Mariners to a 5-2 win.
“I felt like I took another step forward,” said Lackey, who pitched into the eighth inning, the second time he has gone at least seven since coming off the disabled list two weeks ago. “My stuff tonight was as good as it’s been in a couple of years.”
Which is saying something. Five starts after coming off the disabled list last May, Lackey started a streak that saw him win 11 of 12 decisions.
“I’m real close to making [another] run,” he said. “My arm’s feeling pretty good.”
Lackey got through the first two innings unscathed, throwing only 20 pitches. But he needed nearly twice that many to get through the third, when the Mariners sent eight men to the plate, scoring three.
Only one of the four hits Lackey gave up in the inning was hit hard with Endy Chavez reaching on a dunker to left and Franklin Gutierrez on a blooper that bounced first on the infield dirt. Both came around to score, Chavez when Ichiro Suzuki singled to right, extending his hitting streak to 22 games, and Gutierrez on an infield single by Adrian Beltre that traveled less than 50 feet.
“I’m still not really sure how I gave up three [runs],” said Lackey, who lost to Seattle for the first time in more than three years. “You just have to keep moving forward and try to give your team a chance to win.”
The Angels, meanwhile, were stinging the ball against Vargas, though most of those shots were lined right at somebody -- including sharply-hit balls by Kendry Morales and Bobby Abreu that were turned into double plays.
“You look at this game and you’re going to see five hits and you’re going to see two runs and you’re going to think we just didn’t do much in the batter’s box,” said Manager Mike Scioscia, whose team is hitting .197 on the homestand. “But I really think it was a game where we did a lot more in the batter’s box than is showing up in this box score.”
The line next to Juan Rivera’s name will look pretty good, though, since Rivera went three for four, including a booming home run to left-center field leading off the fifth. But Seattle got the run back in its next at-bat when Russell Branyan led off with a double and came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Chavez to make it 4-1. And with that, both bullpens began to stir.
That’s about the only thing they had in common, though, because while the Angels’ relief corps started Friday ranked 29th in the majors, Seattle’s bullpen is the second-best in the American League.
It showed why Friday, with three pitchers combining for 2 2/3 innings of shutout relief. When the Angels chased Vargas (2-0) in the seventh, scoring on a walk and two singles, Sean White came on to retire the side with the tying run at second.
Then after Jose Lopez ended Lackey’s night with a one-out home run in the eighth, Mark Lowe and David Aardsma came on to finish the Angels off, the last out coming when Aardsman struck out Mike Napoli, who was representing the tying run.