ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The depth in the Los Angeles Angels' rotation is being tested again with the sudden absence of Jason Vargas because of a blood clot under his pitching arm that could sideline him from four to six weeks.
Jerome Williams is the logical candidate to fill the void, but Saturday night the right-hander struggled through six innings in his first start since June 12 and gave up two home runs in a 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Williams (5-3) was charged with five runs — four earned — and eight hits over six innings in his eighth start of the season. Solo shots by Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez accounted for two of the runs.
Alvarez, who homered his first time up Friday night against Jered Weaver, did likewise against Williams in the second inning to trigger a three-run rally. The 26-year-old third baseman has homered in three consecutive games.
"Jerome made really good pitches in the first inning, and he really made some really good pitches throughout the game," catcher Chris Iannetta said. "But in that three-run inning he gave up the home run to Alvarez, and that was just a good piece of hitting. All of his mistakes were up in the zone and they capitalized on them."
The Bucs added two more that inning on an RBI single by No. 9 hitter Jordy Mercer and a bases-loaded walk to Russell Martin, the eighth of Martin's career. One of the runs was unearned, the result of a fielding error by third baseman Alberto Callaspo on a slow-hit grounder by Marte that kept the inning alive for Martin.
"Actually, if Williams threw the whole game the way he did in the first inning, it would have been complicated for us," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's pitched extremely well for them, and this was probably not normal for what they've seen from him this season. There were mistakes he made tonight and we were able to do something with those mistakes. A lot of balls were elevated."
Travis Snider hit an RBI single in the fourth after a leadoff double by Neil Walker. McCutchen made it 5-0 in the fifth, ending a drought of 98 homerless at-bats with his eighth of the season, and Sanchez capped the scoring in the eighth inning against Michael Kohn with a drive off the left field pole. It was his sixth homer and second in his last 44 games.
"It was awesome just to be able to do that, and we had a lot of fun doing it," McCutchen said. "This is the way we should come out and play every day. We don't have to depend on just one or two guys. Everybody's coming through. To have a complete lineup like that from top to bottom is always fun."
Francisco Liriano (6-3) allowed a run and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings, struck out six and walked three. The Angels' run came in the seventh, when rookie J.B. Shuck hit a ground-rule double just inside the right field line and Mike Trout drove him in with a two-out single on the left-hander's 104th and final pitch.
After striking out four of his first five batters, Liriano found himself in a jam with runners at the corners in the third inning before retiring Albert Pujols on a grounder to second base. The three-time NL MVP is 1 for 15 against Liriano.
"On any given day, anyone can go out there and do really well," Iannetta said. "I mean, stats are good at times, but sometimes they're not indicative of what a guy can do. Ultimately, he came out tonight and threw really well. His fastball was 92, 95, and had good movement. He had a really tight slider tonight and a very good changeup. That was his equalizing pitch, and we swung through it a lot."
Howie Kendrick, hitting at a .381 clip over his previous 35 games, legged out a double to right-center with one out in the Angels' fourth and was thrown out at the plate as Marte charged Erick Aybar's sharp single and made a one-hop peg to Martin.
"I knew he was out right when they sent him home, because I know he has a cannon," McCutchen said. "When that ball was coming to him and I saw (third base coach Dino Ebel) waving, I was like, 'He's out.' He's not a typical left fielder because he has the arm of a right fielder. So when he threw that ball, I knew he was toast."
A two-out walk to Iannetta then loaded the bases for Shuck, but Liriano struck him out after getting a visit from pitching coach Ray Searage.
Liriano has allowed fewer than three runs in seven of his nine starts after missing the first 35 games of the season because of broken bone in his non-throwing arm — the result of a Christmas Day mishap at his home in the Dominican Republic.
NOTES: Shuck started in RF in place of Josh Hamilton, who missed his second straight game with a sore right wrist. Hamilton is batting just .207. ... Hurdle, whose only season as the Texas Rangers' hitting coach coincided with Hamilton's 2010 AL MVP campaign, had a chance to reconnect with Angels' slumping right fielder during this series. "It was an extremely good visit," Hurdle said. "I think there's a lot of challenges, and he's in a challenging place. I reminded him of the strengths and the skills he does have, and also that he can't do it alone. There's some other pretty talented people in that clubhouse and on that ballfield." ... Hurdle played in 18 games at Angel Stadium with the Kansas City Royals when it was still known as Anaheim Stadium, and was 10 for 46 lifetime.