The Los Angeles Angels haven’t lost over the last month when Kelvim Escobar is on the mound. They hope for a similar result Thursday as they try to avoid a three-game sweep by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.
Los Angeles (55-38) has dropped three straight games, getting outscored 20-9 and posting a 6.00 ERA, and 11 of its last 17. The Angels’ AL West lead has diminished to just 1 1/2 games over second-place Seattle.
Los Angeles had won nine of 10 games versus the Devil Rays (37-56) before dropping the first two of this series, including a 7-2 defeat on Wednesday.
“Records don’t mean anything when you’re playing a ballgame,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, whose team is trying to avoid losing four in a row for the first time since a six-game skid April 12-18. “The Rays are playing aggressive baseball, they got some good pitching the last couple of nights, and they beat us. We need to play better. We’ve had trouble this last 12 or 15 games getting into the way we need to play.”
Los Angeles has been swept at Tropicana Field just once previously—Aug. 26-28, 2005.
The Angels have been much better with Escobar pitching, though, going 13-4 in his 17 starts and winning his last five. The right-hander is 4-0 with a 3.10 ERA in his last seven starts while holding opponents to a .223 batting average.
He limited Texas to one run and six hits over eight innings on Friday, but didn’t factor into the 2-1 win. Escobar (10-3, 3.04 ERA) walked one and struck out six.
“I feel good that I’m able to go out there and pitch consistently,” said Escobar, who is trying to match his win total from all of last season when he went 11-14 with a 3.61 ERA.
Escobar has pitched at least seven innings in 11 of his last 14 starts, and has allowed fewer than three runs in nine of those 11 games. The 31-year-old veteran is 5-7 with a 6.11 ERA in 33 career games—including 13 starts—versus the Devil Rays, but hasn’t faced them since 2004.
He’ll try to slow Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena, who hit a three-run double Wednesday to extend his career-high hitting streak to 14 games. Pena is batting .360 (18-for-50) with five homers and 18 RBIs during that stretch.
The Devil Rays won for just the fourth time in their last 20 games and are going for their first three-game winning streak since June 9-12.
They’ll hand the ball to Andy Sonnanstine (1-4, 5.57), who is trying to avoid losing his fifth straight decision in his first career start against the Angels.
The rookie right-hander gave up five runs and nine hits over 6 1-3 innings in a 6-4 defeat to the New York Yankees on Saturday. He gave up homers to Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu to bring his season total to 11 in eight starts.
“Both pitches to Abreu and Matsui were cutters and (that pitch is) something I’ve been working on,” Sonnanstine told the Devil Rays’ official Web site. “The only way that pitch is going to get better is if I keep throwing it. You know, it’s a work in progress. Hopefully, I’ll iron that out pretty soon.”