Angels gain ground in West

ANAHEIM — The only time Dan Haren isn’t thinking about catching the Texas Rangers in the American League West race is when he’s pitching. And that focus has enabled the Los Angeles Angels to stay in the hunt after a sluggish start to the season.

Haren worked in and out of trouble to get his 14th victory, Mark Trumbo continued his torrid rookie campaign with a two-run homer and an RBI double, and Vernon Wells hit his 20th home run in a 7-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Monday night.

The win, coupled with Texas’ 5-1 loss at Tampa Bay, enabled the Angels to climb within 21⁄2 games of first place.

“You feel more of the pressure before and after the games than when you’re actually out there,” Haren said. “I mean, I still get nervous before I take the mound. But after that, the nerves are pretty much gone and you’ve got a job to do. To be honest, the pennant race and pitching down the stretch is more of an issue in-between starts.”

Haren (14-8) allowed three runs and 10 hits, striking out three and walking none. The win put the Angels a season-best 13 games over .500.

“I’m very encouraged. I mean, we’ve had our struggles — especially in the beginning of the year. And Texas is an unbelievable ballclub. So for us to be this close this late in the season, if we can put together one good run we can catch them,” Haren said. “We’ve got 21 games left, and I like our chances — especially if we’re swinging the bats the way we are right now.”

Anthony Vasquez (1-2) gave up seven runs — six earned — and six hits in 52⁄3 innings for Seattle. The former USC left-hander has surrendered 18 earned runs, 22 hits and six home runs in 15 innings over his first three Major League starts, including a 13-5 loss to the Angels last Tuesday at Seattle.

The Mariners are 15-22 since their franchise-record 17-game losing streak in July, which included a four-game sweep by the Angels.

Exactly one month after he robbed Torii Hunter of a two-run homer to left field in his Major League debut at Angel Stadium, Los Angeles native Trayvon Robinson started in center for only the second time in the majors because of a season-ending injury to Franklin Gutierrez. He misjudged a two-out triple by Hunter that enabled the Angels to take a 3-1 lead in the first inning.

Hunter trotted to first base, thinking the ball would be caught, and didn’t turn on the jets until he rounded first and saw the ball hit off the top of the fence. Peter Bourjos scored on Hunter’s third triple of the season and Trumbo followed with his 26th homer.

“He just mixes his pitches so much, I wasn’t really keying on one pitch,” Trumbo said of Vasquez. “But I was trying to hit a ball up the middle. It looked like Brendan Ryan was really shading me in the hole and the middle of the field looked pretty inviting.”

Trumbo’s home run total is the highest among rookies and five shy of the Angels rookie record set by Tim Salmon in 1993. The big first baseman leads the club with 80 RBI.

Trumbo is hands-down the Angels’ MVP to this point, but no one in the clubhouse is conceding him that honor just yet.

“I don’t think it’s too early to call him our MVP,” Wells said with a grin, “but I think everybody on this team is going to try to take it from him over these next three weeks, so we can get to where we need to get to. And that’s the postseason.”