ANAHEIM -- The Angels came into this season believing their Achilles' heel was fixed. With Albert Pujols on board and Kendrys Morales healthy, their lineup now had the capability to mash, making it nothing like the one that went scoreless through the first five innings of a Major League-high 50 games last season.
Through the first two games of 2012, though, that remains to be seen. Because in two games, a Royals team that last season ranked 29th in the Majors in starting-pitcher ERA has silenced the Angels bats early on.
On Friday night, they were flustered by Bruce Chen's deception -- though a Jered Weaver gem and an eighth-inning spark bailed them out.
On Saturday afternoon, a steady diet of Luke Hochevar cut fastballs and a sluggish outing by co-ace Dan Haren led to a 6-3 defeat.
Torii Hunter, at least, was able to keep things in perspective.
"How many games? 160 games to go? Yeah, you can't panic right now," the veteran outfielder said. "Today was one of those days. You have to tip your hat to the starting pitcher, Hochevar. He kept us off balance and we couldn't score any runs."
Morales went 4-for-4 in his first start against a right-hander, Bobby Abreu hit an RBI double against left-hander Tim Collins and Pujols got his first hit in his Angels career -- a line-drive double to left field after an 0-for-4 start.
But like Opening Night -- when their bats didn't wake up until the decisive, five-run eighth -- the Angels took a while to get going, getting just three hits and putting two runners in scoring position through the first six innings before finally mustering a couple of runs in the seventh.
"Their starting pitching -- Chen last night and Hochevar this afternoon -- they kind of do it in different ways, but they pitched well against us," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We got started a little bit late. It's early, and I think we're going to be able to pressure teams every inning."
Haren made it an uphill climb for the Angels, giving up 11 hits (two of them homers) and five runs through a 5 1/3-inning outing.
The 31-year-old right-hander gave up four straight singles in a two-run first inning, surrendered a double and another run in the second and threw 73 pitches through four. He then gave up homers to Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas in the fifth and sixth inning, respectively, forcing Scioscia to go to his bullpen with one out in the top of the sixth.
Haren was constantly behind in counts, didn't get many opportunities to use his patented splitter and believes he "just never really got into a rhythm."
"All in all," he surmised, "I wasn't myself."
Haren breezed through Spring Training, posting a 2.05 ERA, walking two and striking out 25 in 26 1/3 innings.
The biggest difference in his regular-season debut?
"Just the amount of balls I left out over the plate," said arguably the most consistent pitcher in baseball over the past seven years. "They did what they were supposed to do with them. But, you know, my season isn't going to be defined by my first one, whether it was a no-hitter or a day like that today. I'm going to go out there 33 more times, and more often than not, I'm going to do better than this."
And more often than not, the Angels' offense will be better than the one that has shown up the last couple of games.
So far, though, the bats have taken a while to wake up. And on Saturday, the baserunning didn't help.
In the third, Bobby Wilson was picked off at first base by catcher Humberto Quintero after getting too brave with his secondary lead. In the seventh, Morales hesitated on a single to right field by Hunter and had to retreat back to third base. And in the fourth, Pujols was thrown out at home while trying to score from second base.
The new first baseman ran through a stop sign by third-base coach Dino Ebel, then was gunned down by left fielder Alex Gordon -- though Pujols believed he slipped his foot under the tag and got in safely.
"I think it's going to be a comfort level with Dino and Albert because Albert has a tendency to, when he has a feel for a play, he wants to get going and he has a tendency to drop his head," Scioscia said. "I think that's what happened on the play there, and that's just something that we'll work out."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and 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.