Williams battles, but falls short in return to rotation

Williams battles, but falls short in return to rotation

Williams battles, but falls short in return to rotation
NEW YORK -- If there had been one bedrock for this Angels team, it was the rotation. Starting pitching was the one department -- maybe the only department -- they knew they could count on heading into a much-hyped 2012 and, up until now, it had lived up to its billing.

It was there for them through a sluggish April, continued to be a strength when the offense and bullpen finally got going and, for the vast majority of the first half, it was statistically the best in the American League.

Now, in mid-July -- decision time with regards to roster construction all over baseball -- that rotation is leaking oil.

It's not that Jerome Williams was bad at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, when he gave up a couple of two-run homers and was tagged with the loss in a 5-3 defeat against the team with baseball's best record. It's that he wasn't good. More specifically, it's that besides Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, nobody in the rotation has been good of late.

The last time the Angels got a quality start from someone with a last name other than Weaver and Wilson was June 24.

In that span, those other starters have combined to give up 42 earned runs in 36 2/3 innings, which amounts to a 10.40 ERA -- and that includes five shutout frames from Brad Mills, who was sent to the Minors after Friday's game.

Do the Angels need to add starting pitching before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline?

"Probably us and 29 other clubs," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after his team dropped back-to-back games against the Yankees to start the second half. "You guys ask a lot about our offense and what's going on there, but the reality over the last road trip, right before the first half, and what's happened the last couple of weeks has been the inconsistency with our starting pitching.

"But out of all the things that are happening on our team, that has the potential to improve quicker than a lot of things that you try to fix with the club. And it doesn't necessarily mean different people; it just means the good arms we have here pitching like they can."

The Angels are counting on a lot of things there. That a couple of weeks off will be good enough for Dan Haren's ailing back to heal and get him back on track. That simply getting ahead in counts will allow Ervin Santana to thrive again. And that somewhere along the way, Williams and Garrett Richards will find it again.

More will be known, specifically with regards to Santana and Haren, in the next couple of weeks.

But right now, the rotation looks very fuzzy. And with names like Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Ryan Dempster possibly being dangled this month, the Angels find themselves in an interesting predicament.

"We don't have a crystal ball," Scioscia said, "but I think we're confident that Ervin Santana's going to throw the ball better than we saw in the first half, and we're confident that a healthy Dan Haren is going to execute pitches better."

Williams executed all but two pitches, really -- a hanging changeup that went for a two-run homer by Robinson Cano in the first inning, and a hanging curveball that went for a two-run homer by Curtis Granderson in the third inning.

But in this ballpark, and against a Yankees team that leads the Majors with 138 homers, the margin for error is razor thin. And with the Angels struggling with runners in scoring position against the soft-tossing Freddy Garcia, that was especially the case for Williams.

"I thought I threw the ball well, but just gave up some homers," Williams said after being charged with five runs in six innings to put his ERA at 4.67 on the year. The 30-year-old right-hander was making his first start since suffering an asthma attack on June 18 and then quickly being placed on the disabled list.

"I'm trying to get past that right now," Williams said. "Everything's fine with the breathing and everything. I'm just trying to get past that and want to concentrate on throwing the ball well."

Williams has now lost each of his last four starts, compiling a 7.54 ERA in that span, and the Angels (48-40) have dropped five of seven.

They got on the board in the first on a two-out, two-run single by Alberto Callaspo, then cut their deficit to one on an RBI groundout by Bobby Wilson in the fourth.

Mike Trout went 3-for-5, with a couple of singles and a double, to up his AL-leading batting average to .348. He also stole two bases, making him just the sixth Angels rookie to reach 30 steals -- a total that also tops the Junior Circuit this season.

But the Angels couldn't get much beyond their star leadoff hitter, going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position -- with the only hit being Callaspo's single in the first -- and leaving nine men stranded.

Trout was on second base with two outs in the second inning, but Erick Aybar flied out. Down one, the Angels had runners on first and second with two outs in the fourth, but Albert Pujols rolled over for a groundout as part of an 0-for-4 game.

And when the Yankees (54-33) added an insurance run off Williams in the sixth, it seemed almost certain that the Angels were done for the day.

It was that kind of afternoon, offensively.

"We're giving ourselves a chance to win," Trout said. "It's all about timely hitting. When we have runners on base, we have to capitalize. They capitalized, and we didn't."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.