This time last week Angel fans were preoccupied with whether or not Ervin Santana, who recently returned from the disabled list, was really healthy or not. It turns out we all might have been worrying about the wrong pitcher.
John Lackey returned at almost the exact same time as Ervin Santana but he hasn't performed much better. Since he hasn't suffered a thorough shellacking like Santana did a few weeks ago, nobody is outwardly concerned about Lackey, but please allow me to be the first to raise the warning flag.
What happened to Lackey tonight is symptomatic of how he has pitched ever since allegedly getting healthy. The Rays got to him for nine runs (eight earned) over five innings, but it wasn't as if Lackey was a downright disaster, he simply wasn't sharp. The Rays didn't exactly pound him, but they did get 12 hits off of him, largely because Lackey was catching a little too much of the plate or putting himself in a bad situation because he fell behind the batter. Pretty much the only time he threw a first-pitch strike to a Tampa hitter was when they unwisely chased a ball out of the zone. He was still throwing with his normal velocity and his off-speed pitches still have good break, but Lackey is battling every single pitch he throws. He just doesn't seem to have his normal feel.
Big John has survived and even thrived in previous starts because his stuff remains strong and against lesser teams like Seattle (who he has faced in two of his last five starts), the hitters will get themselves out swinging at bad pitches. Rather than overpower batters like he has in the past, Lackey now finds himself pitching to contact and hoping for the best. A more potent offense like Tampa will make him pay for that like they did tonight. He needs to get back to his power pitching ways, you know back when he used to be able to strike batters out. But that again requires feel.
And perhaps that lack of feeling is the problem, and I mean that literally. What first sidelined Lackey was soreness in his elbow and forearm, which he claims he is now over. But anyone who has ever even seen John get interviewed knows that he is one of the toughest hombres in baseball. He's not going to let something like a little numbness in his pitching arm keep him on the sidelines (especially in a contract year) even if he can't totally feel the ball coming out of his hand.
Maybe his arm will eventually feel better or maybe I'm just totally wrong, but if it isn't, the Angels are going to have a big problem on their hands.
- Remind me again why Rich Thompson doesn't get to pitch more? With how unbelievably bad the Bullpen of Doom has been, it is shocking that Thompson hasn't been given a fair shake at earning a role. This was just his fifth appearance of the season, but if he pitches as lights out as he did tonight, it certainly won't be his last.
- Anytime you get an RBI double from Gary Matthews, you have to consider that a bonus. That now fulfills his monthly quota for being useful at one game. See you next month, Private.
It's All Your Fault
- Add Kendry Morales to the list of slumping Angels. He's had just one extra-base hit since May 25th and seen his average drop 22 points. Maybe getting Brandon Wood some reps at first base isn't such a bad idea after all.
- Remember when Bobby Abreu used to steal bases? Yeah, those were good times. I wonder why he hasn't even attempted a steal since May 19th. Wasn't that right before he hurt his toe that is now supposedly healthy? Hmmmm, must be a coincidence.
- A message to Mike Napoli. You don't need to try and pull EVERYTHING. It is called the opposite field. Look into it.
Not trying to beat a dead horse here, but he just didn't have it tonight. The Angels staked him to an early lead and he coughed it up almost immediately. Even at partial capacity, as I suspect, Big John is usually feisty enough to keep the team in the game, but tonight he jsut wasn't up to the task.