Thursday, January 5, 2012
Does Jordan Walden deserve another shot?
By Mark Saxon
Timing is so crucial in sports. Ask any kicker.
As the Angels wrap up their winter business heading into spring training next month, they'll be contemplating whether to spend on another seasoned bullpen arm to go with LaTroy Hawkins and the remnants of the Angels' 2011 bullpen. One reason they're still looking into it is how Jordan Walden's rookie season ended.
Walden was on the fringes of Rookie of the Year talk and cruising toward an impressive debut season when things fell apart. In Walden's final three appearances, he allowed five of the 20 earned runs for his season, his ERA shooting from an impressive 2.34 to a marginal (for a closer) 2.98.
The Angels were in the thick of the wild-card race (thanks, mostly, to Boston's collapse) before Walden fielded an Adam Rosales grounder and sailed it into center field on Sept. 25, part of a brutal meltdown against Oakland that effectively stubbed out the Angels' season.
Walden, one of the hardest throwers in baseball, said he has managed to put that rough finish behind him.
"I took it as a good season," he said Thursday. "I've tried to forget all the bad times and just kind of build on it, looking forward to this new year."
Walden said he hasn't spoken with anyone in the Angels about his role for 2012, but unless the team signs an expensive closer like Ryan Madson or Francisco Cordero in the coming days, it looks like the job will be his to lose. Hawkins is 39 and has spent most of his career as a setup man. Lefty Scott Downs will be 36 by opening day and has just 17 saves in 10 major-league seasons.
Walden made the AL All-Star team and finished seventh in ROY balloting last season.
"Oh yeah, that's what I want to do, but I'm just happy to be part of the team and help us win," Walden said.
Walden, 24, said he changed his off-season routine and hired a personal trainer to help him deal with the rigors of a major-league season. He has already begun his long-tossing regimen. Walden appeared in 62 games last year, two seasons after he transitioned from starting to relieving.
"You learn a lot about how long a season is, what's expected of you and how your body's got to be in shape," he said.