Jordan Walden and the next step

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
10:35
AM PT
It's not that Jordan Walden had a bad year.

His 10 blown saves were the most in the American League, but he reached the All-Star game as a 23-year-old rookie and had numbers that were otherwise more than respectable (2.98 ERA, 1.243 WHIP). Most pitchers would swap fastballs with him in a heartbeat.

The question is whether he's ready to get the final outs for a team that has championship aspirations. It might come down to his second best pitch, no matter what it is.

Walden has a fastball that can touch 100 mph at times, but he struggled to consistently trust his secondary pitches, a slider and still-developing changeup. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Walden's fortunes tended to soar or sink depending on how frequently he was throwing his off-speed pitches and how effective they were. Walden threw fastballs 81 percent of the time last year. The rest were sliders and just 3 percent were changeups.

Good hitters will eventually learn to hit straight pitches, even if they're coming at a blistering speed.

Walden's focus this spring is on nurturing his other pitches. Experience could be key.

"You can throw it in the bullpen all day, but there ain't nothing like being in the game -- the adrenaline, the batter, the umpire, everything..." Walden said. "We'll see. It's good and I have a lot of confidence in it, but we'll see, I guess.

The Angels are heavily invested in Walden's development, because they opted not to spend their money on a veteran closer this winter. They have Scott Downs and LaTroy Hawkins as fallback positions, but both are in their upper 30's with diminishing stuff and have little closing experience.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jered Weaver
WINS ERA SO IP
15 3.57 137 181
OTHER LEADERS
BAM. Trout .290
HRM. Trout 30
RBIM. Trout 94
RM. Trout 91
OPSM. Trout .934
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOG. Richards 164