ANAHEIM -- The Angels' rotation has been hit so hard by injuries that the bullpen has had to work very hard. And because the bullpen has had to work so hard, the bench is short one player. And because the bench is short one player, the spare catcher, Geovany Soto, was forced to play third base for only the second time in his 12-year Major League career in Thursday's ninth inning.
With two outs and nobody on, Soto cleanly fielded a hard-hit grounder off the bat of Stephen Piscotty but short-armed his throw to first base and put a runner on. The Cardinals went on to score two additional runs in that half-inning, giving them just enough cushion to sustain the Angels' furious rally in the bottom half and hold on for a 12-10 victory from Southern California.
The Angels dropped six consecutive home games for the first time since 2011 and are eight games below .500 for the first time since September 2013 -- and the injuries continue.
In the fifth, utility infielder Cliff Pennington, who has essentially become the everyday shortstop ever since Andrelton Simmons underwent surgery on his left thumb, exited with cramps in his left hamstring. In the eighth, third baseman Yunel Escobar, one of few bright spots for an offense that has struggled for most of the year, jammed his right thumb on a diving attempt, forcing Soto's entrance the next inning.
"We're definitely aware of what's going on, but the mentality of the clubhouse is that we have to keep going," Soto said. "It's going. Maybe it isn't going the way we've drawn it up, but you have to go. Every day, we're going to come up and play, play hard to win. That's the mentality. I know it's a tough patch right now, but we're going to keep playing baseball."
Jered Weaver began the game by retiring the first 11 hitters in order, then put nine of the next 10 batters on base. He was charged with eight runs on nine hits in four-plus innings, raising his ERA to 6.10 and marking the 12th time in the last 13 games that an Angels starting pitcher has been unable to complete six frames.
It has forced the bullpen to absorb 54 1/3 innings over that 13-game stretch, and prompted Angels manager Mike Scioscia to maintain at least eight relievers despite having other needs on the position-player side.
With Garrett Richards likely to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, Andrew Heaney hoping to elude the same procedure, C.J. Wilson out until at least the middle of June and Tyler Skaggs going on more than three weeks without picking up a baseball, it's hard to envision improving circumstances.
"There's one thing that I've learned over the years here with the Angels, and that's that we always persevere," Weaver said. "We always give ourselves a chance. It may not look like it right now, but everybody's keeping a positive mindset in the clubhouse, everybody's coming together. ... We can't just quit. Nobody's going to feel sorry for us. The season doesn't just stop because of all the injuries that are going on. We have to keep grinding and keep trying to figure this out."
The Angels at least got some encouraging signs from the offense, a unit that had managed only eight runs over its past five games.
Daniel Nava homered, providing only the second extra-base hit for Angels left fielders all year. Kole Calhoun drove in three runs. C.J. Cron hit two doubles, giving him 18 hits in his last 40 at-bats. And the Angels put the winning run on first base despite beginning the ninth with a five-run deficit.
Albert Pujols, who entered with a .185 batting average, hit a two-run homer, making him the ninth active player to homer against all 30 teams. And the Angels drew three straight walks against Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, loading the bases with one out and only a two-run deficit. But Kevin Siegrist struck out Carlos Perez and got Shane Robinson to pop out, handing the Angels their 10th loss in their last 12 games.
Up next are the division-rival Mariners, who have won eight of 10 and currently sit in first place.
"There's no quit any time during the game for these guys," Scioscia said. "And no matter what the circumstances are, they're going to keep going, and keep their focus and keep playing baseball. You have to have that component, on any club. And we have that. That's a starting point."