Angels pitchers can’t stay in the zone in 8-1 loss to Seattle

Reporting from Seattle -- The Angels stumbled home Sunday night following their worst trip in nine years, an ignominious 10-game journey that ended with an 8-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners.

These are the same Seattle Mariners, mind you, who had lost eight consecutive games and had scored only one earned run in the last three of those. Sunday they got four runs in the span of four batters in the fourth inning.

The same Seattle Mariners who started the day last in the American League in hits and last in the majors in home runs. Sunday, they got 12 hits, including back-to-back homers for the first time this year.

And that’s not even the worst part. At least the Mariners earned those. What really had the Angels muttering to themselves was what they gave away.

Half the Mariners who scored reached on walks. And the final run came home on a bases-loaded walk, the 16th walk the Angels issued in the last two games and the 52nd they yielded on the trip, giving them a major league-worst 141 for the season.

“Bottom line is, you have to pitch to contact,” pitching coach Mike Butcher said. “You can’t be timid. You’ve got to be aggressive. You have to overcome those things and trust in your stuff and know that you can go out there and attack the strike zone.

“It’s not a mechanical issue. It’s just about going out there and believing in what you have and knowing that it’s good enough.”

None of that happened Sunday.

Angels starter Ervin Santana had faced only two batters over the minimum two outs into the fourth when he suddenly lost control, walking Ken Griffey Jr. and Ryan Langerhans on nine pitches.

Josh Wilson followed that with a three-run homer and the rout was on. Especially with Mariners starter Jason Vargas (3-2) shutting down the Angels on four hits through 7 1/3 innings.

“Those two walks, that was the game right there,” said Santana (1-3). “I got two quick outs and I was trying to find the zone. But I just missed my spot.”

He wasn’t the last Angel to do that. Reliever Brian Stokes had an even more spectacular collapse in the eighth inning, giving up three runs, two hits and four walks, the last one with the bases loaded.

Stokes missed his spot 23 times in 44 pitches Sunday and walked six in 4 2/3 innings on the trip, bringing his season total to 16 in as many innings. That’s the most of any reliever in the league.

But that hardly makes him distinct on a staff with eight pitchers averaging more than one walk every two innings.

“I don’t think it’s like mono. I don’t think it’s that kind of contagious,” Butcher said. “You can will the ball to go where you want it to go. There’s some things that, mentally, guys have to clean up.

“It’s a few guys. And they know who they are.”

Stokes certainly knows he’s one. And he knows why. After giving up a couple of hard-hit balls early in the year, he said, he’s tried to get too fine, pitching away from contact.

That’s a cardinal sin in Butcher’s book.

“I can’t be going out there and pitching timid, because the hitters will read that and then they’ll eat you alive up here,” Stokes said. “Obviously, it affects your confidence a little bit. And that’s one of those things that snowballs into each outing.

“I know exactly what’s going on. I just have to stay aggressive.”

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