Baseball / Sports

Marlins pound LeBlanc as Angels fall back into a first-place tie in West

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- One way for the Los Angeles Angels to minimize the loss of Garrett Richards -- at least, in their minds -- is to tell themselves that the hard-throwing right-hander, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, pitched only once every five days.

Richards is not a middle-of-the-order slugger such as Mike Trout or Albert Pujols. No matter how dominating he could be, Richards did not factor in four out of every five games. Yes, the Angels would miss him, but why should his loss kill their playoff hopes or drag them down?

That rationale held up in the immediate aftermath of Richards' injury, as Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver pitched well enough to win or keep the Angels in the previous four games against Boston and Oakland.

Then Richards' rotation spot came up Monday night for the first time since he suffered a torn patellar tendon in his left knee in Fenway Park last Wednesday, and his absence could not have been felt more acutely.

Wade LeBlanc was rocked for six runs and seven hits in 3 1/3 innings of a 7-1 loss to the Miami Marlins in Angel Stadium, dropping the Angels into a first-place tie with the Athletics in the American League West. The soft-tossing left-hander got the first crack at replacing Richards.

It might be his last.

LeBlanc, 30, seemed to have the right attitude about subbing for Richards, who went 13-4 with a 2.61 earned-run average in 26 starts.

"I don't think there's anybody outside of maybe two or three guys in the major leagues who can take the place of a Garrett Richards," LeBlanc said. "Me not being one of those guys, my job is to get as many outs as I can, keep the games close, get the ball to the bullpen."

LeBlanc got the ball to the bullpen, all right -- in the fourth inning, far too soon for the Angels to have a chance. He gave up three runs and three hits in each of the third and fourth innings. The six earned runs he gave up were more than Richards yielded in 24 1/3 innings of four starts this month.

The Angels can't be patient with LeBlanc, who was designated for assignment by both the Angels and New York Yankees this season. They could summon Randy Wolf or Chris Volstad from triple-A Salt Lake or Michael Roth from double-A Arkansas to replace him.

Or, they could continue to look outside the organization for help. New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon and Houston right-hander Scott Feldman reportedly cleared waivers Monday and can be traded to any club.

But Colon does not appear to be a fit for the Angels because of his age (41) and $11 million contract for 2015, and the two years and $18 million left on Feldman's contract makes him less desirable.

Colon, who won the 2005 AL Cy Young Award pitching for the Angels, is 12-10 with a 3.82 ERA in 25 starts, striking out 130 and walking 22 in 167 1/3 innings. Feldman is 7-9 with a 4.37 ERA in 23 starts.

The Angels could have gained an exclusive 48-hour negotiating window with the Mets had they claimed Colon, but they also could have been stuck with his hefty contract if the Mets let him go via a waiver claim.

The Angels have about $140 million in salary commitments for luxury tax purposes to 10 players under contract for 2015. Salaries for arbitration-eligible players and those with less than three years' service time could push that figure well past $170 million.

If the Angels absorbed Colon's $11 million for 2015 or Feldman's $10 million average annual value, it would push them up against -- or past -- the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, which owner Arte Moreno prefers not to pass, and leave them virtually no flexibility to pursue a free-agent pitcher next winter.

But if they can't find a capable in-house replacement for Richards, they have no choice but to make a deal.

MARLINS 7, ANGELS 1

KEY MOMENT: The game was still within reach of the Angels until Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton sent a laser over the left-center-field wall for a three-run homer in the fourth, turning a 4-0 game into a 7-0 rout. It was the 150th career homer for Stanton, who is 24 years, 290 days old. Only two active players were younger to 150 homers, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. It was also the 11th homer in 92 at-bats in three Southern California parks for Stanton, who leads the National League in homers (33), runs batted in (97), walks (86), on-base (.407) and slugging (.566) percentage.

AT THE PLATE: Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich, 22, a former Westlake (Calif.) High standout who attended one of Angels manager Mike Scioscia's baseball camps in Thousand Oaks when he was 9 years old, hit RBI singles in the third and fourth innings and doubled in the sixth. "He was one of those kids you see on a baseball field and say, 'Wow,' " Scioscia said. Bottom-of-the-order hitters Donovan Solano and Reed Johnson combined for four hits and four runs. Angels shortstop Erick Aybar had three singles, giving him five straight multi-hit games and 18 hits in his last 39 at-bats (.462). Josh Hamilton, six for 16 with two homers and eight RBIs in his previous five games, was hitless with a walk in three at-bats.

ON THE MOUND: The Angels beat Jarred Cosart twice this season when the right-hander pitched for Houston, scoring eight runs in 12 2/3 innings off him. But they managed only one run and seven hits, including Kole Calhoun's RBI double in the eighth, in 7 2/3 innings off him Monday night. Cosart struck out four, walked one, and of his 107 pitches, 80 were strikes. Angels reliever Mike Morin gave up one hit and struck out three in two scoreless innings, and Fernando Salas retired the side in order in the ninth.

EXTRA BASES: Left-hander Joe Thatcher (left-ankle sprain) has begun running and hopes to resume throwing off a mound this weekend, but the reliever, sidelined since Aug. 3, is still at least a week away from returning.

UP NEXT: Right-hander Matt Shoemaker(12-4, 3.56 ERA) will oppose Miami right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (6-8, 4.06) at Angel Stadium at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times

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