Monday, February 21, 2011
How hard can Jordan Walden throw?
By Mark Saxon
One of the Angels' pitchers has a notion to do something historic this season.
The Cincinnati Reds’ Aroldis Chapman touched 105 mph on the radar gun in San Diego late last season, a pitch viewed as the fastest ever recorded. Angels reliever Jordan Walden has been in Arizona since early January working to strengthen his right shoulder and he thinks it could bump up his velocity a notch or two.
“I don’t know, I’ve still got a little bit. I hold back a little bit to throw strikes,” Walden said. “I think I can throw 104 or 105. We’ll see.”
According to Fangraphs.com, Walden’s fastball averaged 98.8 mph last year, second only to Detroit’s Joel Zumaya in the American League. One of his pitches in the minor leagues was recorded at 102 mph, so his claim isn’t just idle boasting.
But Walden is in the mix for a late-inning bullpen job for the Angels -- perhaps even as the closer one day -- and manager Mike Scioscia would rather see him concentrate on maintaining his velocity than hitting a flashy number once or twice.
“If you look at the good ones, the ones who have pitched at a high level for a long time, they’re very rarely going through a season throwing 96 at the start and 90 at the end or having it vary from game to game if they’re stiff or tired,” Scioscia said.
A year ago, Walden, 23, wasn’t even in major-league camp. He was coming off a forearm injury that convinced the Angels to convert him from a starter to a reliever. His velocity spiked and so did his success: After floundering as a starter, he climbed from Double-A to make his Angels debut last July 22.
He had a 2.35 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 15 1/3 major-league innings.
The dominant fastball comes naturally to Walden, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound Texan, but his off-speed stuff takes work. He is tinkering with a changeup to add to his fastball-slider repertoire.
Walden loves the adrenaline rush of pitching in relief and figures he has the mental approach to be a closer one day.
“I’d love to be a closer, but I don’t think I’d be one of the crazy ones,” Walden said. “I’m a shy, quiet guy.”