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Angels lacking something

Without former ace, LA encounters early struggles

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 6, 2010

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The Angels got the ol’ double whammy last night.

The pitcher who got away, the former ace of their staff, beat them.

We know the regular season means very little in this regard, but if these American League rivals correct their slow starts and meet in the playoffs, the Angels won’t have John Lackey — the last guy to win them a championship eight years ago — as their postseason ace. The Red Sox will.

The Angels have muddled along with an ERA of more than 5.00 from their starting pitchers, while Lackey has been solid (five quality starts out of six), surely living up to the expectations of the Sox.

The Angels didn’t want to go where the Sox did with the big Texan, feeling they had enough pitching, especially after they added Joel Pineiro, to do what they’ve always done: win the AL West.

By all accounts, the Angels offered Lackey a four-year, $60 million deal, but that simply wasn’t enough. The Sox added a fifth year and a total of $82.5 million, and Lackey was even willing to give the Sox an option for a sixth year if he is forced to miss a year because of Tommy John surgery at any time during the deal.

Only time will tell what advantage the Angels have given the Sox.

“I suppose it was a little different facing the jersey,’’ Lackey said. “There aren’t a lot of guys in that lineup that I played with for an extended period of time. More pitchers and coaching staff that I know, more than the guys swinging.

“It was a little bit different but we needed to win a game. That’s the bottom line.’’

The Angels have struggled out of the gate for the second straight year, and who knows whether they’ll recover? As badly as they’ve played — they are 12-17 after last night’s 3-1 loss — they’re still just 3 games back. The AL West is a much easier division to come back in than the AL East.

Still, a six-game losing streak, Lackey pitching well for an AL rival . . . these aren’t the best of times for the Angels.

“Lackey pitched well,’’ said Angels outfielder Torii Hunter. “He really spotted his cutter well. He was definitely throwing a lot harder than I remember.

“He was probably a little pumped up, of course. He knew where the strike zone was and he stayed right there. The way we’re going, everyone looks like Cy Young.’’

Lackey, who gave up two hits in seven innings last night, has gone seven innings in each of his last three starts, going 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA.

The Angels replaced Lackey with Pineiro, and while he pitched well last night, it was his third straight loss, and he has logged a 9.98 ERA in those starts.

“When it’s going bad, it’s going bad,’’ said Hunter. “This is when you see who has the heart and who doesn’t. We have to keep fighting and grinding.’’

It was pointed out to Hunter that last season the Angels were coming off some issues, including the death of Nick Adenhart and injuries. This year, health hasn’t been a major issue, except for catcher Jeff Mathis being out. When asked to respond, Hunter said, “That’s a hot tamale. I’m staying away from that one.’’

Lackey worked quickly, and his fastball had some late life. The Angels scored their only run in the fifth inning when he surrendered a homer to Brandon Wood. Lackey left the bases loaded in the second inning, striking out Wood to end the inning.

Lackey had been critical of the Angels’ philosophy on players Tuesday when he said, “The way they preach the team game and the way you’re supposed to give it up for them, that’s a little suspect.

“You’re supposed to give it up for the team. Then when it comes time, they might not want to give it up for you.

“I totally knew what the situation was. I knew it was a possibility. I was prepared for that. That’s the nature of the game today.’’

Lackey was the Angels’ “lead dog’’ as manager Mike Scioscia liked to call him. They do have a deep rotation with Jared Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Pineiro, and Scott Kazmir. Weaver is certainly capable of being the “lead dog.’’

“John pitched a good ballgame,’’ said Scioscia. “He didn’t do anything we didn’t expect.’’

Scioscia pointed out that the Angels are missing a catalyst and that the hitters he expected to be driving the ball and changing games haven’t done so yet. He expects they will.

“We’ve got to find something that will be a catalyst for us right now,’’ he said. “It’s a daily chore for us to keep coming out here and finding that chemistry, and we will.

“We haven’t done a good job at doing things that are important to us. I think our team is a little bit redefined offensively. We’re not driving the ball like I think we can drive the ball.

“Combine that with our pitchers not getting us to a certain point in the game, you can see where the wins have been tough to come by. This team will play better. We’re going to be pushing forward every day to be that team.’’

The Angels probably will get better, but for now they do miss their “lead dog.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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