ARLINGTON -- Matt Harrison needs his sinker down in the strike zone. That hardly makes him unique among pitchers, but he was unable to do that on Saturday afternoon, especially in the first inning, and it cost him.
Harrison, in his second start of the season, gave up a pair of two-run home runs to Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo in the first and the Rangers never recovered, losing to the Angels, 8-4, before a second straight sellout crowd at the Ballpark in Arlington.
"Especially in the first inning, every ball I left up was leaving the ballpark or about to," Harrison said. "I tried to do damage control but ... it was a bad outing, a bad first inning."
Leaving the ball up was especially bad on a windy afternoon with conditions favorable for the long ball. There were seven home runs hit in the game, including two by Pujols. The Rangers didn't give him a chance to hit another one.
The Rangers, with a left-hander on the mound and first base open, intentionally walked him three other times to face Josh Hamilton. In those three at-bats, Hamilton struck out twice and flied out, and he was 0-for-4 with a walk in the afternoon.
"It depends on the situation and what the score is ... but Hamilton's not swinging the bat well," manager Ron Washington said. "We had a left-hander out there so we went for the matchups. Every time we didn't walk him, you saw what happened."
Harrison made it through five innings but allowed five runs on eight hits and four walks while striking out three. Most of the damage came off his sinker -- also known as the two-seam fastball -- that was up and flat in the zone. Harrison is now 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA after two starts.
"There's no level of concern, he just misfired on some pitches and they didn't miss," Washington said. "He just had trouble settling in the first two innings. After that, he got us three zeros. He made some mistakes with location and they made him pay for it. Harrison will be fine."
Harrison started his afternoon by getting Mike Trout on a ground ball to second. But Erick Aybar doubled to left-center and Pujols crushed a 2-1 sinking fastball over the center-field wall to give the Angels a 2-0 lead. Hamilton followed by drawing a walk and Trumbo hit a first-pitch sinker over the right-field wall for another home run that gave the Angels a four-run lead.
"It's definitely frustrating," Harrison said. "Any time you give up runs like that one inning, it's frustrating. They've got a great lineup. I've got to do a better job of getting the ball down and minimizing damage."
The Angels added another run in the second on singles by Chris Iannetta and Peter Bourjos, a groundout by Trout that advanced the runners and Aybar's sacrifice fly. That made it 5-0 and also set up the first intentional walk to Pujols. Harrison struck out Hamilton to end the inning.
"I think we had good at-bats," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We got in good hitting counts. We executed better -- a couple sacrifice flies, got a bunt down. We were driving the ball -- Albert, Mark Trumbo, Peter. One through nine our approach was good.
The Rangers struck back with solo home runs by Mitch Moreland and Ian Kinsler in the third to make it 5-2. But they couldn't get closer. Harrison followed up his early troubles by pitching three scoreless innings, which included another intentional walk to Pujols in the fourth. But the Angels went back to the long ball in the sixth. Jason Frasor took over and gave up a leadoff home run to Bourjos. He retired the next two hitters but Pujols blasted his second home run of the afternoon to make it a five-run game again.
"That's Pujols, man," Elvis Andrus said. "When he's on fire, you'd rather give him four balls than let him beat you. He's a great hitter, one of the best in history. When he's locked in, there's not much you can do."
On Saturday afternoon, the Rangers best option with Pujols was throwing him four balls and taking their chances with Hamilton.
"I think it was a smart move," Hamilton said. "Albert dominated today, obviously. If I was in that situation, I'd do the same thing."
Nelson Cruz delivered the final home run in the ninth inning but the afternoon belonged to Pujols and Harrison was left to absorb much of the frustration.
"I put us in a hole early," Harrison said. "I don't know if it was a mechanical issue, my arm dragging or rushing to the plate, but I've got to make a better adjustment."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.