ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Runs were hard to come by Thursday but the Los Angeles Angels managed to get two, and that was more than enough for their starting pitcher, Jason Vargas, as the Angels shut out the Tampa Bay Rays 2-0 Thursday afternoon.
Vargas held the Rays to two hits through the first seven innings to improve to 8-5.
The Angels pushed across a run in the top of the second inning when Luis Jimenez singled to left to score Hank Conger from second base, and another in the sixth on Kole Calhoun's base hit. Meanwhile, the Rays were leaving runners on the bases while wondering where the punch had gone from the heart of their lineup.
Vargas (8-5) pitched himself out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the first and the Rays had two men on base in the sixth but were unable to score. Vargas allowed a leadoff double to Desmond Jennings and a sixth-inning base hit to Ben Zobrist. Beyond that, he retired 21 of 25 batters, giving up three walks and hitting one batter before giving way to Dane De La Rosa to start the eighth inning.
"I felt good," Vargas said. "I felt like I was able to execute. After getting out of that first inning, it kind of starts to push the momentum your way. You get out of something like that early, and it gets the guys fired up."
The first inning was a turning point, Angels manager Mike Scioscia agreed.
"He got some big outs in the first inning," Scioscia said of Vargas. "After that, I think his command got there. It was big getting out of the first inning and from there, he pitched deep into the game. Can't ask for more from Jason."
Ernesto Frieri came on to pitch the ninth and picked up his 28th save of the season but there was some suspense. He put runners on second and third with one out before getting Kelly Johnson to pop to third and pinch-hitter David DeJesus on a deep fly ball to right to end the contest.
"We were in a position to win," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We normally win a game like that, especially at home."
Jake Odorizzi, called up from Class AAA Durham Wednesday evening, pitched five innings for Tampa Bay, allowing one run on four hits. He was followed to the mound by Alex Torres, Jamey Wright and Wesley Wright. It was the sixth MLB start for Odorizzi, and his fourth for the Rays. He last started on June 18 against Boston. Despite allowing one run or less in each of his last two starts, he is still seeking his first win.
The Rays were unable to deliver any timely hits. Sean Rodriguez and Yunel Escobar, batting fifth and sixth, respectively, left a total of 10 Rays stranded on the bases. In total, the Rays were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Evan Longoria continued his doldrums at the plate, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Longoria is hitless in his last four games, going 0-for-15. Wil Myers collected three walks and one strikeout, to run his hitless streak to 19 at-bats. Combined, Longoria and Myers are hitless in their last 34 times in the batter's box and 0-for-19 in the three-game series against the Angels.
"They had a tough series, Longo and Wil," Maddon said. "But I did like the walks. When you're walking, you're hitting, and that's normally the first sign before somebody starts getting back to normal."
Myers, who had run his batting average up to .340 before watching it fall to the current .286 in his first major league slump, sees some light at the end of the tunnel.
"I feel better," he said. "I felt like today was my best day in a week. I took some good swings at the ball."
It was the seventh time this season that the Rays were shut out this season and they have lost four of their last five games.
"Frustrating is a great word for today," Maddon said. "It's very frustrating. The whole day reeked of frustration. It's no fun."
NOTES: With Thursday's loss, the Rays' streak of 11 consecutive unbeaten series at home came to an end. They hadn't lost a series at Tropicana Field since June 13-16 vs. the Kansas City Royals. ... Through 132 games, the Rays' 48 errors are second fewest in MLB history behind this year's Baltimore Orioles (39). ... Twenty-four of the Angels' 72 losses have been by one run. ... INF Luis Jimenez joined the Angels from Class AAA Salt Lake and collected two hits and an RBI. ... 3B Chris Nelson was put on the 15-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain.