ANAHEIM - As the Angels have navigated through this rough second half, enduring maddening struggles up and down the pitching staff, Jered Weaver has been their rock. It's been Weaver, the ace of this vaunted-yet-underachieving rotation, whom they could count on to avoid long losing streaks, give the bullpen a rare break and provide quality outings when the Angels desperately need them.
On Friday, for the first time in a long time, Weaver got hit around and the Angels witnessed just how dire their situation is if he struggles.
One night after Dan Haren failed to make it through the fourth inning against the Rays, Weaver couldn't even record an out in that frame. He finished surrendering a career-high nine earned runs, lasted three-plus innings -- representing his shortest non-injury start since 2008 -- and handed the Angels a 12-3 loss that sunk them even lower.
"Nothing was good," Weaver said. "Fastball command was not good. The only thing that was really good was my changeup, but I can't really throw that every pitch. Just one of those games, man. Everything they were hitting was finding gaps and finding holes and stuff. What are you going to do? You can't hang your head too much. Obviously it's disappointing, but you can't dwell on it."
Weaver's outing came one night after Haren gave up seven runs (five earned) in 3 2/3 innings. It put the Angels at 3-5 on this homestand and 14-20 since the All-Star break, keeping them seven back of the Rangers in the American League West and 2 1/2 off the pace for the second Wild Card spot, with three teams to jump.
Their rotation ERA this month is 6.00.
"From a pitching standpoint, we haven't held up our end of the bargain," Weaver said after giving up eight hits and two walks in a 58-pitch outing. "We need to figure something out and try to get back on a nice little streak here."
Weaver, looking like the AL Cy Young favorite for most of the year, came in having given up nine earned runs at home all season.
He gave up solo homers in the first and second inning, to B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist, representing just the third time in 22 starts he's given up multiple homers in a game. Then, in the fourth, the Rays scored seven runs by putting the first seven batters on against Weaver.
The merry-go-round went like this: single (Evan Longoria), walk (Zobrist), walk (Jeff Keppinger), RBI single (Sean Rodriguez), RBI single (Ryan Roberts), two-run single (Jose Molina), RBI double (Desmond Jennings). When LaTroy Hawkins allowed two of his inherited runners to score on a two-run single by Upton, Weaver's ERA went from an AL-leading 2.22 to 2.74, his record eventually falling to 15-3 with a second straight loss.
"I know as well as anybody, sometimes you're going to have bad days," said third baseman Evan Longoria, whose Rays have won nine of their last 11. "Our team did a great job of getting to him early. He's a strike-thrower and we got to him."
Part of the problem in that rough inning, Weaver said, was his chemistry with catcher Chris Iannetta.
"Obviously me and Chris have been rolling here for a while," he added. "I just couldn't get on the same page. It's just a bad feeling going into it and it was a bad feeling coming out of it. It's going to happen."
Iannetta pointed specifically to the first pitch to Keppinger, a curveball that went for a wild pitch and moved the runners to second and third with none out.
"I made a mistake; I put down the wrong sign," Iannetta said. "It's on me. It's my fault on that one pitch. I thought we were using a certain sequence and it didn't work."
Like David Price the night before him, James Shields had little trouble against the Angels with the big early lead. He gave up just three runs, on a homer by Erick Aybar and a two-run shot by Howie Kendrick, and lasted six innings, plenty to give the Rays the first two of this four-game series.
The Angels have now dropped 10 of their last 11 vs. Tampa Bay.
"The way we play is going to dictate where we end up, and right now, we're not playing at the high level we need to be playing," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "When you're down early, you're handing it to the other team to set up their bullpen and making it tough on yourself. That's where we've been for the last month far too often."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.