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LAA@NYY: Santana picks off Gardner in the second

NEW YORK -- Heading into this season of great promise, the Angels expected to sport a deeper lineup and hoped to have a better bullpen. The one department they knew would be great was their starting pitching.

Seven games in, it's perhaps their biggest hindrance.

On Friday afternoon, during the Yankees' home opener, Ervin Santana continued that trend, giving up three first-inning runs -- five total -- in a six-inning outing that put the Angels in an early hole and led to a 5-0 defeat at Yankee Stadium.

The Angels have now dropped five of their last six games, with that one win coming courtesy of the only quality start they've received in that span -- seven innings of one-run ball by newcomer C.J. Wilson on Monday.

"It's the seventh game," said Santana, who's now winless in his last seven starts against the Yankees, dating back to September 2008. "I know we're not pitching good, but we're going to be pitching good. It takes time. Nobody's perfect. We just have to keep pitching. That's how we get better."

Of course, it's not only the rotation that's hurt the Angels.

The offense, most notably Albert Pujols, has been inconsistent through the first week and was devastated by a steady diet of Hiroki Kuroda sliders on Friday. And a bullpen that is now only more barren with Scott Downs nursing a right ankle injury came in having surrendered a lead in back-to-back games.

But it's the rotation -- a staff that was a strength last season, and figured to get only better with the Wilson signing -- that has yet to meet expectations, posting a 6.17 ERA in the last six games.

"The offense is going to be there," manager Mike Scioscia said, "and we know the starting pitching is going to be there. But we're right now off to a rough start, because on the mound, we haven't executed the way guys are capable of executing. And that will change."

The Angels certainly hope so -- and track record would certainly suggest that -- because solid starts tend to allow everything else to fall into place. Suddenly, bullpen roles will be more defined, and perhaps the offense can get rolling when not having to constantly come from behind.

On Friday, Kuroda was able to cruise with the luxury of a three-run lead, limiting the Angels to five hits and two walks through eight-plus innings.

"When you have that kind of run support," Kuroda said, "I was able to get in a really good rhythm and relax."

The Angels had Pujols, Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo in the same lineup, then put just two runners in scoring position while getting shut out for the first time this season. Pujols continued to struggle, going 1-for-4 -- though he did square up a couple of balls nicely -- and is now batting .222 with no homers in his first seven games of the season.

The longest Pujols has gone without his first homer is eight games, in 2008.

"The wrong thing to do is try to put extra pressure on yourself and think that you have to carry everything," said Pujols, who was making his first appearance at the new Yankee Stadium. "It's not going to happen. Believe me. I've been in this league for 12 years, 13 years as a professional, and when you try to do it yourself, it's not working. We have a great lineup. Our offense hasn't clicked the way we want to, but you know what, man, it's still a long season. I'll bet you at the end, we're going to be right where we want to be."

Take away a four-at-bat sequence in the bottom of the first (which finished with a bases-clearing three-run double by Nick Swisher) and a monster showing by Alex Rodriguez (3-for-4 with a solo homer to dead center field in the third) and Santana actually did well.

But Scioscia said that Santana "tried to get too fine" once he gave up a two-out single to A-Rod in the first. That led to an eventual 28-pitch inning, which set the tone in the Angels moving to 2-5 through Week 1.

That last part bears emphasizing: It is only Week 1.

"Our rotation's good," said Scioscia, whose club has now lost 11 of its last 15 in the Bronx. "These guys can pitch, and they'll be there for us at the end. We just have to start executing better on the mound and getting a little bit better production from guys that are very important to us."

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