6/2/2013 9:30 P.M. ET
Angels have struggled against new rival Astros
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- The Astros' move to the American League West was supposed to give a team like the Angels an occasional soft spot in their schedule, with 19 games against a team that went into the season with the lowest payroll in baseball and no real hopes of contending.
So far, though, the Angels haven't been able to take advantage.
Sunday's defeat to the Astros (20-37) gave the Angels three straight losses to start the four-game home series and moved them to 3-6 against their new division rivals this season. The Angels won two of three in the first meeting in Anaheim, one of them on a walk-off, then dropped two of three at Minute Maid Park from May 7-9, with the only victory a comeback effort.
Tommy Hanson gave up five runs on Friday and the offense combined to plate four runs on 15 hits while going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position the next two games. The Angels -- with a payroll about six times the size -- have been outscored 38-29 by Houston and came into Sunday with a .244/.315/.431 slash line against a pitching staff with the highest ERA in the Majors.
"With the lineup we have, they've just done a really good job of not making mistakes," said Angels outfielder J.B. Shuck, who spent the first five seasons of his pro career in the Astros organization. "Their starters have done a very good job of keeping us off-balance and then their bullpen has done a great job of not letting us get in our groove."
Rotation or relief? Decision looming for Williams
ANAHEIM -- A younger Jerome Williams, he can admit now, wouldn't have been very good at handling this predicament -- performing well as a starting pitcher, but nonetheless faced with the real possibility of being relegated back to long-relief duty.
"If I was younger in this situation, I don't know what I would've done," Williams said Sunday morning, mere hours after pitching seven innings of two-run ball against the Astros the night before. "I would've probably flipped out. But now, I understand the game. I understand what needs to be done to have a winning team. If it calls for me to go to the bullpen, then I have to do it. I have to help the team win some way."
Decision time looms for Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who either hasn't decided how to pare his rotation down from six to five or doesn't want to reveal that decision just yet.
What he did reiterate on Sunday was that the Angels will go back to the traditional five-man staff after Thursday's off-day, which could mean Williams' start Saturday was his last in the foreseeable future. The 31-year-old right-hander has maintained a 3.08 ERA while starting the last six turns through the rotation. In his past five outings, he's pitched at least six innings and given up no more than two runs.
In short, he's done everything needed to do to stay in the rotation.
"Of course I want to stay in the rotation, but if it falls on me to go to the bullpen, I'll go to the bullpen," Williams said.
"It's about doing what I need to do to be successful and to help a team win. I think I've been doing that lately. Hopefully I can stay in the rotation. If not, so be it. I'll do my thing in the bullpen. It's not going to change my mindset or anything."
Joe Blanton, who starts Monday's series finale against Houston, is perceivably on the bubble but has given up a combined five earned runs in 13 1/3 innings his last two times out and has generally pitched better than his numbers -- 1-8, 5.94 ERA -- would indicate. Another question mark could be Tommy Hanson, who missed nearly four weeks on the restricted list before giving up five runs (four earned) in 6 1/3 innings on Friday.
And then there's Williams, who began the season as a long reliever and could be the victim of a cruel numbers game.
"I can tell you exactly what I think we're going to do now, and it can change 24 hours from now because of some things," Scioscia said. "I don't think it serves a purpose to say what you're going to do a week before you really are going to do it. And there are some things obviously that need to play out and need to filter down."
Hamilton remains confident he will find his timing
ANAHEIM -- We're 57 games into the season, and Josh Hamilton is still trying to figure it out at the plate.
It's never quite taken him this long.
"Never, ever -- from the first time I picked up a ball to now, no," he said after going 0-for-4 with a strikeout in Sunday's 5-4 loss to the Astros.
Two days into June, Hamilton's slash line is at .216/.227/.380, with eight homers, 18 RBIs and 61 strikeouts -- on pace for 173, which would top last year's career high by 11. On Sunday, he hit two lineouts, one of which resulted in a tumbling catch by right fielder Jimmy Paredes, but manager Mike Scioscia admitted Hamilton is still "searching for some things" and his "timing's a little bit off."
Hamilton is miffed by how long it's taking but continues to convey confidence he'll get out of whatever funk he's in.
"Take a poll of every player in this clubhouse and see if I'm going to come out of it or not," he said. "The proof is in what's gone on in the past. I've struggled at times and always come out of it."
Asked once again if this slump is a connection to last year's second half, when he batted .259 with 86 strikeouts in 69 games while the Rangers' division lead crumbled, Hamilton said: "Your guess is as good as mine. I hit 43 home runs, had  RBIs last year. I don't know."
• As part of their ongoing efforts to keep children out of gangs, the Angels are giving 1,300 at-risk kids -- ages 9 to 13, in grades 4 to 8 and representing 34 schools in Orange County -- VIP treatment for Monday's game as a reward for good behavior. The students will arrive four hours before the 7:05 p.m. PT first pitch, will be greeted by a surprise Angels player prior to batting practice and will take in the game behind the dugout. This is the fifth straight year the Angels have done this; the 1,300 kids is the most that have succeeded in the challenge.
• Garrett Richards suffered what he called a "mild" sprain on his left ankle in the eighth inning of Sunday's 5-4 loss to the Astros. Richards broke off the mound to field a squeeze bunt and made a nice flip home for the out. But on his next step after letting go of the ball, he hurt himself. "It's not too bad," Richards said postgame. "It grabs every once in awhile."
• Asked if Peter Bourjos will return to batting leadoff when activated off the disabled list, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said: "Let's let Peter get his first rehab at-bat, and then that'd probably be a conversation we can talk about." Bourjos, out since April 30 with a strained left hamstring, plans to start his rehab for Class A Inland Empire on Monday, then progress to Triple-A Salt Lake before getting activated within a week.
• Lefty reliever Sean Burnett played catch on Sunday for the first time since landing on the disabled list with a left elbow impingement five days earlier. Scioscia said "he's going to have a little step up" before being able to throw off a mound again but doesn't anticipate it taking long. Burnett is eligible to come off the DL on June 10 and could be ready around that time, if he doesn't have a setback.
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.