CHICAGO -- The struggling bullpen for the Angels is starting to feel like more than a minor issue.
Not only do the Angels have two key relievers out with injuries, but the 'pen is overtaxed and now under-producing as a trip to Oakland awaits, coming on the heels of another disappointing loss to the White Sox, 4-2, on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field.
Powered by A.J. Pierzynski's pinch-hit two-run home run off veteran reliever Jason Isringhausen in the seventh inning, the White Sox took the three-game series by overcoming a strong pitching performance from Angels starter Dan Haren and feasting off a beleaguered bullpen.
"It's just the trickle-down effect," said Haren, who allowed only a solo home run to Kevin Youkilis but needed 112 pitches to get though six innings. "Our starting pitching really hasn't gotten that deep into games. If we get into that seventh inning and shorten the game, it's big for the bullpen. We've been leaving a lot of outs for them. They're pretty worn down. It seems like every game we're two or three guys [into the bullpen]."
The White Sox forced the Angels to use that many relievers in all three games and overcame late leads doing it. They nearly made it a series sweep had it not been for a 6-5 Angels win in the 10th inning on Saturday, which negated a blown two-run lead in that game.
"We've had a rough three weeks as far as our starters, and what our starters do obviously has an impact on your bullpen roles," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "These guys are good. It's not going to take long to reset, but we need to get our starters getting deeper into games and we have arms down there [in the bullpen] that will get the outs. It didn't happen this afternoon, but it will."
"It's a tough team, a very good team," Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "We were in all three games, so those are what you kind of expect. You want to do that when you go up against good teams and we were able to win two of them. For us, it's a good series win and you just go from there."
Pierzynski made sure it didn't happen on Sunday with his clutch homer, which was his 21st and fifth in as many games. It gave Chicago a 3-2 lead and the White Sox tacked on an insurance run in the eighth to cushion their own bullpen, which performed admirably after starter Francisco Liriano was knocked out of the game by a ball hit off his leg in the fifth.
Pierzynski's shot, a towering drive that just cleared the fence 398 feet away, came off a fastball with a 2-0 count.
"It's pitching 101," Isringhausen said. "I was falling behind everybody. When you fall behind hitters you have to come in with good pitches to hit. I've had a lot of success with strike one, and today I wasn't in there with all three hitters. All my success this year has been with getting ahead of hitters. Today I had to come in with the fastball for strikes. It makes a big difference."
Haren, who'd missed his previous start with side stiffness, did his part to get the Angels another win. He gave them a second straight quality start against the White Sox, who have one of the American League's most dangerous lineups. Coming a day after Ervin Santana allowed just two earned runs over six innings, it looked as if Haren's start would further help the injury-depleted bullpen recover.
He fanned four, walked two and gave up just four hits in his six innings of work. Two times over the first five frames, he worked out of dangerous situations by retiring three straight hitters and looked strong in the other innings. His pitch count was about the only area of concern, which is why the Angels bullpen was needed in the seventh yet again.
"He hasn't thrown that many pitches in a while and I think he did his part," Scioscia said. "Stretching him today just wasn't going to be an option. If he'd been a little more pitch efficient, then maybe there's a chance he [pitches the seventh], but I think he was getting a little bit tired and he'd thrown everything he had at those guys."
After Haren left, it was all set up for the relievers to show some of the confidence Scioscia had hoped was gained from Saturday's win. Instead, for the second game in a row and third time in the past five, the Angels' 'pen blew the save opportunity.
LaTroy Hawkins gave up the big home run on Saturday and Isringhausen followed it up against Pierzynski on Sunday, allowing Chicago its first lead. He also gave up a sharp single to Gordon Beckham before being pulled in favor of Jerome Williams, who put out the fire and kept it a one-run game.
Still, the damage was done and it's becoming an all-too-familiar sight.
The Angels bullpen coming into the game had allowed 20 earned runs in its previous 19 1/3 innings for a whopping 9.31 ERA, all during this current road trip that started in Texas six games ago. Since the All-Star break, Angels relievers have combined to allow 43 earned runs in 64 1/3 innings for a 6.02 ERA and could really use the return of injured regulars Jordan Walden (biceps tendinitis) and Scott Downs (shoulder strain), both on the disabled list.
In the meantime, the pitching staff as a whole needs to hit the reset button with the A's up next on the schedule.
Oakland has also made a habit out of winning games late this season, so the Angels' bullpen might have more opportunities to turn things around sooner rather than later.
"The longer you're in this league, the more of these home runs you're going to give up," Isringhausen said. "You have to put it behind you. It's the last two months of the season. We've got to buckle down and get some wins. We've let a couple of games slip away on this road trip. We've got to get better."
Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.