By Joe Haakenson, AngelsWin.com Contributor -
GAME 48 - ANGELS AT ROYALS
KANSAS CITY -- It's official. The Angels have come back to earth.
After winning 21 of 24 games and making the rest of the league take notice, the Angels have now lost three of their past four games, including a 7-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals Tuesday night before 11,773 at Kauffman Stadium.
It also was the Angels' second consecutive loss, something they haven't done since losing to Seattle back-to-back nights on April 22-23. They missed a chance to gain a game on the first-place Mariners, who lost, and remain three games out in the American League West.
The Angels jumped out to a 3-0 lead three batters in to the game when Darin Erstad hit a two-run homer and Troy Glaus followed with a solo homer. But Royals starter Paul Byrd (8-2) stifled the Angels bats after that. He didn't allow another Angel to reach second base until Garret Anderson homered with two out in the eighth.
By that time, Angels starter Aaron Sele had blown the lead and put the Angels in a hole. Sele (4-3) gave up seven runs and a season-high 11 hits in five-plus innings. The big inning was the fourth, when Sele gave up five runs and six hits.
``He didn't make that many bad pitches that inning,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. ``But he didn't hit spots in key times. He wasn't able to change speeds like he had early in the game. Obviously, it affected him.''
Sele's ERA rose to 5.31 and he failed to pitch seven innings for the ninth time in his 10 starts this season. Still, Sele has a winning record, which is more a relection of the offensive support he's received. The Angels have averaged 6.0 runs per game in Sele's starts.
``I don't think I've pitched overly well,'' said Sele, who signed a three-year, $24 million contract before the season. ``At the same time, it doesn't matter because we've been winning games. I've pitched innings and given the team a chance to win. I take it a game at a time and try to get better in between starts.''
Angels catcher Bengie Molina said he has been ``frustrated'' by trying to catch Sele, who throws a fastball, curveball, changeup, slider and cutter.
``For me to catch that guy, it's kind of hard,'' Molina said. ``He can throw any pitch at any time. I try to read his mind but sometimes I get frustrated when he shakes me off, just because I want to be with him.''
Sele had pitched better lately: Going into Tuesday's game, he was 4-0 in his previous five starts. He got through the first three innings Tuesday before the game changed in the fourth.
Sele had been getting ahead in the count with first-pitch fastballs, but in the fourth the Royals adjusted and started swinging early in the count.
Mike Sweeney, Joe Randa and Michael Tucker singled to begin the inning, Sweeney scoring on Tucker's single. After a sacrifice bunt by Mark Quinn, Luis Alicea doubled in two to tie the game at 3.
One out later, Niefi Perez singled home Alicea and Carlos Febles tripled to score Perez for a 5-3 Kansas City lead. The Royals added two more runs in the sixth and knocked Sele out of the game.
``I don't think we're seeing Aaron at his best, or even average production from Aaron Sele,'' Scioscia said. ``This guy is a horse, he will pitch deep into games and do it on a consistent basis. ... The important thing is to pitch ahead in the count and put hitters away. That's where he's had trouble.''
KANSAS CITY -- Pitchers Ramon Ortiz and Scott Schoeneweis flip-flopped their spots in the rotation, with Ortiz scheduled to start tonight's game against the Royals and Schoeneweis to start Thursday in Minnesota against the Twins.
Upon hearing of the switch, Ortiz sought out Angels spanish radio broadcaster Ivan Lara, asking Lara to interview him.
Lara said Ortiz occasionally will ask to be interviewed the day before his start for superstitious reasons. In 1999, Ortiz was interviewed by Lara the day before his major league debut, and Ortiz allowed one run and four hits in eight innings for a victory against the White Sox.
Ever since then, when Ortiz is struggling, he goes to Lara to get himself on the right track. Ortiz has struggled in his past two starts, allowing 11 runs in 13 1/3 innings and giving up seven home runs.
Ortiz, however, refused to talk to reporters Tuesday.
Because of Monday's off-day, Ortiz will start tonight's game on his regular four days rest, something he prefers. But the primary reason for the switch had to do with Schoeneweis, who needed additional work between starts with pitching coach Bud Black.
Schoeneweis has struggled in his past two starts, and after his last one he said he was frustrated because he wasn't ``carrying his weight'' for the team.
``There's some mechanical things we've been trying to iron out,'' Black said. ``Throwing once in between starts sometimes isn't enough mound-time to accomplish what you want to accomplish.''
Schoeneweis threw off the mound in workouts Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday, and Black said he believes the left-hander has worked through his problems.
``I sense he's in a better frame of mind,'' Black said. ``Obviously, he puts a lot of pressure on himself. All players do. But he wears it on his sleeves more than most. He's pitched a couple years in the big leagues and has higher expectations of what his performance should be.''
Shortstop David Eckstein was not in the starting lineup for the sixth consecutive game Tuesday because of a sprained left knee. Eckstein is running and swinging the bat fine, but still needs an extra day or two to make sure the knee is not a problem for him when moving laterally while playing defense.
Eckstein likely will be the designated hitter tonight and likely will rejoin the starting lineup Thursday or Friday in Minnesota.
``You do whatever it takes to be out there but you don't want to take a risk,'' Eckstein said. ``You do what you need to do to make sure it's not a problem the rest of the season.''
Utility infielder Benji Gil, recovering from a sprained ankle suffered April 5, is hitting .412 (7 for 17) with two homers in his rehab assignment at Triple-A Salt Lake. Gil might rejoin the team this weekend in Minnesota.
Shawn Wooten, out all season after tearing a ligament in his thumb in spring training, began his rehab assignment for Salt Lake on Tuesday. Wooten will need 1-2 weeks before being activated.