video thumbnail

CLE@LAA: Wilson allows one run, two hits over eight

ANAHEIM -- April is over, and the Angels have more wins than losses.

Around here, that's no small thing.

Not for a team that endured debilitating injuries and overcame the worst opening series you could possibly imagine.

Not for a team that has suffered about as many tough losses as anyone, losing seven of the nine games that have been decided by a single run.

And especially not for a team that had its playoff hopes crippled after the season's very first month each of the last two years.

"We're keeping our heads above water," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after sweeping a three-game series over the Indians with a 7-1 win at Angel Stadium on a windy Wednesday afternoon.

From 2012-13, the Angels had the fourth-worst April winning percentage. This year they finished at 14-13, heading into an off-day on Thursday and six home games against the Rangers and Yankees thereafter. It marked their second winning April in the last six years and their first winning record since Opening Day of 2013, representing the longest drought in Angels history since the mid-1970's.

"There's a different feeling in the clubhouse right now," Mike Trout said. "We're having a lot more fun. The guys are coming together. It's where we want to be."

Their hitting coach, Don Baylor, broke his right femur on Opening Day. Their two corner outfielders, leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun and cleanup hitter Josh Hamilton, sustained injuries that would put them on the shelf for more than a month. The first three games saw them get outscored by 18 runs to the division-rival Mariners. And the bullpen -- still without two key relievers in Dane De La Rosa and Sean Burnett -- lost its footing for a while, posting a 4.40 ERA in the first 20 games as Ernesto Frieri pitched his way out of the closer's role.

But the Angels marched on, never losing sight of the mission they carried through Spring Training and finally coming out of April with some momentum on their side.

"It's not so much you feel like a burden is off, but it's just very encouraging," catcher Hank Conger said. "Because I know that, especially pressure-wise, the last few years, everyone's like, 'Slow start, slow start.' Especially this season, it's like, 'When are you going to be able to get over .500 and get over that hump?' It's a small hump compared to where we want to be in September, but it's a hump leading into the month of May, especially in the direction that we want to go to."

They got there with power. Conger's second-inning two-run homer off Zach McAllister, who took the mound for the Indians on three days' rest, put the Angels on the board and gave them a Major League-leading 38 homers -- the highest output for April in franchise history.

They got there with Albert Pujols, the 34-year-old who finally has his legs back under him. Pujols now has nine homers and 23 RBIs to go along with a .279/.341/.586 slash line, after a day that included a third-inning sacrifice fly and a fifth-inning double that carried over center fielder Michael Bourn's head despite 27-mph winds.

They got there, as usual, with Trout, whose sixth-inning two-run double essentially blew the game open, putting the 22-year-old's slash line at .321/.403/.596.

But they got there, mostly, with starting pitching.

"Something that's flown a little bit under the radar is our starting pitching," Scioscia said. "There's been a lot of focus on what's happened on the offensive side and our troubles in the bullpen and trying to get our feet on the ground. But our starting pitching has been terrific."

C.J. Wilson pitched eight innings of one-run ball on Wednesday, giving up only two hits, walking one, striking out eight and retiring the last 18 batters in order -- six via strikeouts -- to put him at 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA on the year.

The Angels now have a 3.46 ERA from the department that was their biggest question mark heading into the year, with ace Jered Weaver still waiting to turn the corner and the three young guys -- Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago -- more than carrying their weight.

Last April, their rotation ERA was 5.26.

"One month down, five to go," Wilson said when asked of the 392-day drought between winning records. "We have to obviously do better than one game above .500 -- that's not going to cut it -- but I think we're going in the right direction. The starting pitching is starting to click a little bit, and that's going to make it a lot easier on the bullpen."

Despite the winning April, there's a sense that the Angels could be a lot better.

Their run differential is plus-40 now, ranked second in the Majors and trailing only the red-hot A's. Last year, when the Angels finished April 9-17, their run differential was minus-28.

If their bullpen can start displaying prolonged success, and David Freese -- with five hits in his last three games to raise his batting average by 38 points, to .193 -- can continue to hit, they may just see that start to translate moving forward.

"We got off to a rough start that first series, and then outside of that, we've played good baseball," Scioscia said. "The talent on this team points in a direction of a team that has a chance to really play well and play at a high level. And I think we've seen that. But this is just the start. We need to carry this for a long time."

MLB.com Comments