Haren, Pujols lead Angels past Rays in opener

Haren, Pujols lead Angels past Rays in opener

Haren, Pujols lead Angels past Rays in opener
ANAHEIM -- While the buzz throughout Angel Stadium and the home clubhouse was about the Angels' acquisition of Zack Greinke from the Brewers, almost forgotten was that they had a game to play Friday night.

Against a Rays team that had beaten them six straight times, the Angels halted the losing streak with a 3-1 win in the series opener.

The win was the Angels' fifth in seven games on their nine-game homestand and cut their deficit to the Rangers in the American League West to four games. In their last 19 games at home, the Angels (55-45) are 14-5.

In his second start back from the disabled list, Angels starter Dan Haren lasted six-plus innings, giving up one run on five hits, while striking out six. The only run he allowed came on Jeff Keppinger's fourth home run of the year, a solo shot in the second inning.

Haren (8-8) allowed a leadoff double to Keppinger and walked Carlos Pena to start the seventh inning, before manager Mike Scioscia pulled him after 97 pitches. Reliever Kevin Jepsen came in to retire the next three batters and preserve the lead.

"It's gotten better as we've gone on," Haren said of his command. "My fastball command is a little off right now, but everything else is working well for me. My split, changing speeds with it. The cutter's been good. The curveball was pretty good today. My command in general is getting better. I still think I have room for improvement."

Before the right-hander went on the DL with lower back problems on July 4, Haren had given up 26 runs in his last 27 innings (8.67 ERA). But in his two starts since, he has allowed just three runs in 12 innings.

Considering how well starters Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson have pitched, and how inconsistent the back end of Ervin Santana and Jerome Williams/Garrett Richards have been, Haren has often been the forgotten man in the Angels' rotation.

And with the addition of Greinke, it appears it will stay that way, as Haren is now the fourth starter in a rotation that suddenly looks like one of the best in the Majors. Yet the addition of the former Cy Young winner changes nothing for Haren.

He's quietly getting healthy and seems to have the command again that led him to a 16-10 record and a 3.17 ERA last season.

"I don't think he's going out there trying to prove anything," Weaver said of Haren. "It's just that he was going out there and trying to be a gamer and pitch at 80 percent. His last two starts have been back to his capabilities and keeping the ball down and throwing those splits where he needs to."

After falling behind 1-0 in the second inning, the Angels took the lead in the third with four straight two-out hits. Mike Trout and Torii Hunter singled before Albert Pujols knocked them in with a double into the left-field corner. Mark Trumbo singled home Pujols in the next at-bat to give the Angels a 3-1 lead.

Rays' left fielder Sam Fuld went full-extension on Pujols' hit to try to make the grab and end the Angels' threat without any damage, but it hit the tip of his glove and bounced away.

"Probably about as close as you can get without catching it," Fuld said. "I don't think I would have done anything differently. It just went off the tip of my glove. If I had a 13-inch [glove] instead of a 12 3/4-inch, I probably would have caught it."

Pujols went 3-for-4 for his seventh three-hit game with the Angels this season. It also raised his batting average to .282, the highest it has been since the 13th game of the season, when he was hitting .296. During the last 56 games, Pujols is batting .342 with 45 RBIs.

All three runs the Angels scored came off Rays' starter Alex Cobb (4-8), who went seven innings, allowing eight hits while striking out three.

Though the Angels didn't put together many threats outside of that third inning, the bullpen came after Haren's departure to make sure the game remained at 3-1. Jepsen, Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri, who earned his 12th save of the season, came in to shut the door on the Rays (51-49).

Joe McIntyre is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.