Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The trickle-down effect of Downs' injury
By Mark Saxon
The Angels are saying that Scott Downs will be re-evaluated in two weeks, but let’s face it. You don’t come back from a broken bone, even if it is your big toe, in two weeks.
The Angels’ top left-handed reliever probably will be out for 6-8 weeks, putting him on target for a late-April or early-May return.
Wednesday’s news was unwelcome for Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who relies heavily on his late-inning relievers. The Angels were hopeful for a dramatic turnaround after their relievers had the ninth-best ERA (4.03) in the American League last year.
They forked over $23 million to sign Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. That’s pretty serious freight for lefty middle relievers, who typically aren’t valued highly on the free-agent market.
As timing goes, this injury doesn’t feel catastrophic. In a way, it eases a logjam of young relievers who look capable of doing big things. The Angels can slide Takahashi into the late-inning role that Downs would have filled, say in an eighth inning when a couple of good left-handed hitters are due to bat.
Scioscia has indicated he’ll likely begin the season with 12 pitchers. It’s likely the bullpen will look like this: Fernando Rodney (closer), Takahashi (lefty setup), Kevin Jepsen (righty setup), Jordan Walden, Michael Kohn, Jason Bulger and Rich Thompson.
Francisco Rodriguez looks like an outsider at this point, largely because he – unlikely Thompson or Bulger – has minor-league options.
It's not a name-brand bullpen, but it has promise. Every reliever other than Takahashi is capable of throwing at least 93 mph. Rodney, Jepsen and Walden all consistently pitched at 95 mph-plus. Kohn hasn’t allowed a run in six innings this spring; Thompson and Walden have been scoreless in four; and Bulger (2.08 ERA) has also pitched well.
Downs’ break was a tough one, but it gives the Angels a month or so to figure out who their best seven relievers are. If they're lucky, the tough roster decision will come when he gets back.