ANAHEIM, Calif. – In the near distance, the Angels can see welcome relief. It’s called the All-Star break.
They need it. They need some time off to rest, recoup, relax and rejuvenate. They need time to heal.
A team that depends so much on its starting pitching has a rotation that’s reeling. On Thursday, Dan Haren went on the disabled list for the first time in his big league career. Jerome Williams is still on a rehab assignment in the minors. Ervin Santana is battling confidence issues, as unlikely as that sounds.
And after they came from four runs down to beat the Baltimore Orioles 9-7 Thursday night, the Angels sent rookie pitcher Garrett Richards, whose last two starts have been dreadful, back to the minors.
This is a team built on starting pitching, and now it feels like the pitching is slowly crumbling apart. With three games left before teams break for the All-Star Game, the Angels are virtually hobbling into the weekend.
“We’ll bounce back,” outfielder Torii Hunter said. “Pitching picks us up when we’re not doing something so now the hitting is going to pick up the pitching. We have to step up and do what we have to do. That’s the plan.”
It’s one they’ll have to execute perfectly, and not just until the break. There’s still half a season left to play, and they won’t get through it without Haren and Santana.
The heart of the Angels’ rotation remains CJ Wilson, who pitches Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles, and ace Jered Weaver, who goes Saturday. But Sunday remains a mystery; that’s Haren’s spot, and manager Mike Scioscia said he’s still mulling several possibilities.
It almost certainly won’t be Williams, who isn’t ready to rejoin the team after going on the disabled June 20 following an asthma attack that caused him to faint in the clubhouse. He was rocked in his first rehab start at Triple-A Salt Lake and was even hit on the arm by a line drive in that game.
Most likely to get a shot is lefty Brad Mills, currently pitching at Salt Lake. The Angels are hoping Haren’s stay on the disabled list won’t be extended. If the inflammation in his back subsides quickly, he could return as soon as July 19 when the Angels are in Detroit.
Haren has been pitching with some kind of discomfort since he initially tweaked his back in his last start of spring training. But he’s such a gamer, he continued to make each of his starts. Since 2005, his first full season in the majors, he has made 254 consecutive starts, the longest streak in the majors.
“That was probably a big reason why I didn’t do this earlier,” he said. “I tried to just go out there and tough it out. The doctor told me today I was pitching with brute strength rather than with my body. I was trying to throw the ball rather than with the science of pitching.”
But the results weren’t there. In fact, Haren has given up 26 runs in 27 innings over his past five starts. As prideful as he is, he finally acknowledged that he wasn’t helping the team. He estimated he was pitching at 70 percent of full strength.
“The pain that I had was manageable,” he said, “but it was almost like my mind was telling me yes and my body was telling me no. I think I was doing a disservice to the team going out there at less than 100 percent and trying to win ballgames.”
His situation is different from that of Santana, who has likewise struggled mightily, including a 1 1/3-inning stint Wednesday in Cleveland when he gave up eight earned runs.
You’d think confidence would be the least of Santana’s problems, but Scioscia said the right-hander is struggling to believe in his stuff. There’s nothing mechanically wrong with his pitching.
“It’s like what comes first, the chicken or the egg?” Scioscia said. “Are you confident you’re going to go out there and get results or do you need results to get confident?
“Right now, he has to commit to a pitch, trust in it, execute it and live with the results. When a pitcher’s confidence isn’t as high as it has been when he’s been able to do a lot of things, that’s a tricky thing to rediscover.”
The Angels’ starters still rank among the American League’s top three in ERA, but in recent days they’ve been relying on their offense to win games. Thursday, Kendrys Morales had three hits and two RBIs, and Mike Trout was 2 for 2 with two sacrifice flies, two RBIs and three stolen bases.
That will get it done some nights, but in the long run, the Angels are all about pitching. Without it, they’ll struggle.