Los Angeles Angels: LaTroy Hawkins

3 Up, 3 Down: Angels 9, Indians 6

August, 14, 2012
Be vanquished, three-game losing streak! The Los Angeles Angels are back in the win column -- no small thing in what has been a miserable August -- with a 9-6 victory over the visiting Cleveland Indians at the Big A. Like your average Tarantino film, it had some moments you could do without, but overall produced enough high points to get the job done.

Starting the night eight games back in the division and 2.5 out of the second wild-card spot, we're well past deducting for style points. In need of wins, the Angels managed to pick one up Tuesday night.


Fast start: Pitching has undoubtedly been their bugaboo through their August-plus swoon, but over their past three games the Angels haven't exactly punished teams offensively, either. Tuesday, they solved that problem in a hurry off once-good Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez. Breaking it down by pitch:

2: Mike Trout doubles to right center.

4: Torii Hunter singles, scoring Trout. 1-0, LAA.

10: Albert Pujols walks.

11: Kendrys Morales singles, Hunter scores. 2-0.

12: Mark Trumbo singles to right. Pujols scores. 3-0.

21: Chris Iannetta singles -- though it could have been fielded -- past Asdrubal Cabrera at short. Trumbo scores, 4-0 Halos.

That's almost a run every five pitches. That the Angels could easily have added more is beside the point. Facing a struggling pitcher with one of their own on the mound, the Angels received a much-needed boost with a great bottom of the first. It's always easier to play with a lead.

Zack Greinke (for six innings, at least): After a solid outing in his Angels debut (7 IP, 2 ER), Greinke was lit up for 16 hits, 7 walks and 10 earned runs over his next two starts, both losses for the Halos and clearly not the sort of thing for which he was imported from Milwaukee. Tuesday, Greinke gave folks a scare on his first pitch, a Jason Kipnis single, but two pitches later induced Cabrera into a 3-6-3 double play. From there, Greinke settled in. Save a bad sequence in the fourth when with two outs he drilled catcher Carlos Santana before grooving a fastball to center fielder Michael Brantley -- hit on a rope well over the wall in right -- Greinke kept a lid on Cleveland's offense. In part, because he avoided trouble. Through his first six frames, of the five Cleveland baserunners he allowed, four reached with two outs.

Even the seventh, the only inning in which Greinke ran into legitimate trouble, shouldn't have been quite as bad as the scoreboard indicated. Cleveland loaded the bases with only one down, but with a 9-2 lead and his bullpen currently roasting like a Zankou chicken, Mike Scioscia gave Grienke an opportunity to work his way out of the jam. Good call. Had Pujols not misjudged a high chopper back to Greinke by CF Ezequiel Carrera -- he wandered too far from first to tag the base on Greinke's throw -- the Indians would almost certainly have been limited to a lone tally. Greinke ending the inning with a strikeout of Cabrera was a nice touch. A hit there would have brought runs and, potentially, at least, a seriously demoralizing loss.

Overall, Greinke allowed four runs on eight hits over seven innings with one walk and five K's, but the performance was better than the line. It was enough to earn him his first win with the Angels.

Albert Pujols: Following the first-inning walk, Pujols continued doing damage, most notably when he reached out and pulled a 2-2 changeup from Jimenez just over the wall in left, maybe five feet from the foul pole. If that AB demonstrated his strength, what he did in the sixth accentuated his skill. Against Cleveland reliever Chris Seddon, Pujols fell behind 1-2 but stretched the at-bat another eight pitches (including five foul balls) before ripping a changeup into left for a double. He finished 2-4, with four RBIs and two runs scored. He has now driven in 82 on the year.

Honorable mention to Iannetta, entering the game 1 for his last 12 and .194 for the season, who reached base four times with two singles and a pair of walks.


Mike Trout grounding into a double play? C'mon! Technically, when he ended the seventh with a 6-4 DP, it was the third time this year Trout has pulled the two-for-one. But it's the first time I'd seen it live, and it's no fun. Trout is supposed to be too fast for that sort of thing. It's a little like seeing a department store Santa exiting the rest room around Christmastime. You know St. Nick (like everyone else) has to do that sort of thing from time to time, but it does dent the mystique. I prefer to picture Trout sprinting with Usain Bolt or tackling cheetahs on the savannah.

LaTroy Hawkins: He'd actually held opponents scoreless in 11 of 12 appearances before allowing a pair of runs over two innings against the White Sox on Aug. 4, then five in only two-thirds of a frame four days later in Oakland. Tuesday night, he restored a little order with a pair of K's over 1.1 innings, but in relief of Greinke continued the general trend of poor work from Angels relievers, allowing a no-doubt-about-it two-run blast to Casey Kotchman over the wall in right.

Alberto Callaspo: The only starter left out of L.A.'s nine-run, 13-hit fun fest, Callaspo went 0-4 and left three men on.

3 Up, 3 Down: Tigers 8, Angels 6

July, 16, 2012
The Angels continue to get so-so starting pitching and awful relief as they lost for the third time in four games since the All-Star break, dropping an 8-6 game in Detroit Monday.

The Good:

He's back. Torii Hunter missed most of two games after slightly straining a groin muscle Friday night in New York, but he returned with a splash by picking up four hits and driving in three runs. Hunter had been struggling a bit before the injury. He's largely overshadowed nowadays by the likes of Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, but he's still a big part of what the Angels are trying to accomplish this year.

Making progress. It would be a good time for the Angels to get their best players on the field and until starting catcher Chris Iannetta comes off the disabled list, that's not going to happen. Iannetta finally looks like he's making some progress after a couple of setbacks. He threw to the bases in Detroit Monday and could go on a rehab outing soon. The Angels could use his bat, particularly now that the pitching is experiencing some turbulence.

Power show. Mark Trumbo's swing doesn't appear to have suffered as a result of the Home Run Derby. Or, perhaps his swing is the same one he used at the derby. He has homered in five of his last seven games and, with 25 on the season, is zeroing in on the league leaders. The 29 homers he hit last year apparently were just a taste of the youngster's massive power.

The Bad:

Bullpen blahs. For the third time in four games since the All-Star break, the Angels' bullpen struggled. The names change, but not the results. Hisanori Takahashi and LaTroy Hawkins blew a one-run lead in the seventh inning and David Carpenter coughed another run up -- not as egregious as some recent unravelings, but also not encouraging.

Ervin just all right. Too bad there's not "The OK" section here in 3 Up, 3 Down, because that's where Ervin Santana's night belongs. In some ways, it was a step forward. Against a good lineup, he didn't allow a home run and he gave up just two earned runs in six innings. But he also struck out just two batters and clearly isn't as crisp as he needs to be. He also made things difficult on himself with a bad throw.

Throwing. Erick Aybar hasn't had a bad year at shortstop, but he also hasn't had another Gold Glove caliber season thus far. The Tigers' first two runs scored as a result of throwing errors, one by Aybar and one by Santana. When you're struggling already, doing the little things is even more important and Santana didn't help himself.

LaTroy Hawkins on change

June, 26, 2012

AP Photo/ David Hood/CSM
ANAHEIM -- Los Angeles Angels pitcher LaTroy Hawkins is the second-oldest player on the team and the most tenured one in the clubhouse. He’s also pretty dialed in to social media.

Before a recent outing, Hawkins talked about his tweeting habits, having to call an operator to make a phone call from the clubhouse and how much the game has changed since he signed his first professional contract with the Minnesota Twins on June 7, 1991 (two months before Mike Trout was born.)

Markazi: You’re 39 years old and were drafted in 1991. Are you one of those people that believe age is just a number?

Hawkins: No. It’s a real number. 39 is 39, but they got an old saying, “Good black don’t crack.” [Laughs] I just try to take care of myself. I try to eat well and try to do things to be able to go out there and continue to do my job. Eat healthy, work out and stay ready. I look at it like this, if I drive a Mercedes, would I put diesel in my Mercedes? No. My body is the same way.

Markazi: You are one of the most prolific tweeters on the team. You’ll go from live tweeting “To Catch a Predator” one minute to giving a recipe for vegan macaroni and cheese the next. What made you become so active with social media?

Hawkins: Well, that’s what it has come to. When myself and Jason Isringhausen first came to the major leagues we didn’t have cell phones or computers in the clubhouse. If you wanted to make a phone call you had to go to the clubhouse phone and give the number to the operator and she would dial it for you. Everything evolves though. You have MySpace and Facebook and I got on Twitter about a year before I actually went public with it. I was just trying to figure out how to work it and how everyone went about their business on Twitter. I came out with it before spring training this year and I’ve had fun with it.

Markazi: How much has baseball changed over the past two decades?

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Are they inventing a new bullpen model?

June, 25, 2012
In the late 1990s, relief pitcher Jose Mesa saw veteran sports writer Jerome Holtzman in the Cleveland Indians clubhouse and ran across the room to embrace Holtzman in a bear hug.

That’s not the typical behavior of major-league baseball players toward journalists, but 30 years earlier, Holtzman had invented the save rule, a statistic that had made Mesa -- and hundreds of other pitchers of his ilk -- millions of dollars.

Holtzman, a member of the Hall of Fame who died four years ago, had no idea that he was creating a monster.

After the save rule, baseball gradually settled into the era of specialization. Every team has to have a closer, who can earn a 10-figure salary, a setup man or two and specialists, usually left-handed but sometimes right-handed, who often face only one batter.

For nearly two months now, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has tried a different approach, a more democratic use of his late-inning pitchers that has achieved stunning results. Shortly after Scioscia pulled Jordan Walden from the closer’s role -- and after the arrival of hard thrower Ernesto Frieri -- the Angels bullpen has taken off while spreading the credit liberally.

In the Angels’ first 32 games, the bullpen was 1-6 with a 4.70 ERA and four saves.

In the last 41 games, it is 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA and 13 saves. Angels relievers haven’t allowed a run in nearly a week.

They just have to stay ready from the sixth or seventh inning through the end of the game. There’s not a lot of time to lounge and enjoy a game.

“As soon as the phone rings, four of us get up to take our coats off,” Angels reliever Jason Isringhausen said.

So far in June, lefty Scott Downs has pitched twice in the seventh inning, four times in the eighth and twice in the ninth. He has six saves. Since he arrived in a trade from the San Diego Padres in early May, Frieri has pitched the ninth inning 12 times, the eighth inning nine times and the 11th inning once. He has nine saves.

On any given night, Walden, Isringhausen, Hisanori Takahashi or LaTroy Hawkins could pitch in a crucial point in the latter innings of a game. And nobody seems to be complaining. You almost get the impression that general manager Jerry Dipoto, who acquired about half the members of the bullpen, planned it this way.

Dipoto knows a few things about relief pitching because he did it as a job for eight major-league seasons. He showed little appetite for spending millions on a closer even though several were available in free agency over the winter.

“It’s one of the beauties of having a group that has risen to an occasion. There are no previous positions, there’s very little in the way of egos that get in the way of a job to do,” Dipoto said. “It’s almost like a tag team the way the bullpen works. You’re just passing the baton to the next guy.”

Scioscia isn’t willing to commit to the practice long-term and, lately, Frieri has settled into something resembling a traditional closer’s role. Downs has been the X-factor, being deployed in one of the final three innings depending when the other team’s best left-handed hitters are due up.

“We’re going to continue to match up until we get some roles that are in concrete,” Scioscia said. “The ability to be flexible makes your bullpen better.”

If it’s not broken, why fix it?

Holes spring up in the bullpen (Updated)

May, 7, 2012
Did the Angels lose their two most-reliable relievers in the final three pitches of yesterday's game?

They said they'll know more after the pitchers are evaluated in Minnesota later today, but it appears they could be without closer Scott Downs and setup guy LaTroy Hawkins for several games, if not weeks.

Downs had to limp off the field after ducking J.P. Arencibia's line drive and injuring his left knee. Hawkins broke his right pinkie catching Omar Vizquel's line drive that turned into a game-ending double play. Hawkins announced he had broken the finger on his Twitter feed along with this photo.

UPDATE: The Angels announced Monday that Hawkins will be placed on the 15-day disabled list and replaced by David Pauley, who was recalled from Triple-A.

The Angels would really be in trouble if they hadn't traded a couple of prospects for San Diego Padres right-hander Ernesto Frieri three days earlier. Frieri looks like the prime candidate to take over the closer role temporarily with David Carpenter and Jordan Walden likely serving as the primary setup men.

3 up, 3 down: Angels 7, Yankees 1

April, 14, 2012
NEW YORK -- The Angels got a much-needed respite from their early-season struggles with a well-rounded 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on a beautiful Saturday in the Bronx.

The Good:

Rising ace. The Angels have only gotten three quality starts so far and two of them have been C.J. Wilson's work. The hitters gave him early runs again and the lefty took them and ran with it. Wilson (2-0) works efficiently, fields his position well -- except for a rushed throw to Albert Pujols that resulted in an error -- and isn't afraid to pitch aggressively inside. One reason you have three aces is you're hoping one of them will be a stopper at all times. Right now, it's Wilson.

Slump busters. Howie Kendrick was 0-for-the roadtrip (12 at-bats) coming into this game and Vernon Wells was... Well, I think we all know how things have been going for him lately. Saturday was a breakout game for both players. Kendrick had three hits -- including a no-doubt three-run home run into the left-field seats -- and Wells became the first Angel to hit his second home run. Oh, and a guy named Albert Pujols, who was hitting .222 coming in, went 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI.

Lead holds! Did the Angels simply find the comfort level for their bullpen -- a six-run lead -- or was Saturday a genuine step forward for the weakest area of the team? Kevin Jepsen, who had a miserable outing in Minnesota, breezed through the heart of New York's order in the seventh and LaTroy Hawkins and Jordan Walden, getting a little work, tidied up the last two innings nicely.

The Bad:

Still squirming. Before the game, Kendrys Morales admitted he's far from comfortable at the plate. Nothing that happened a couple of hours later indicated he's getting any more at ease. Morales went 0-for-5 to extend his slump to 1-for-23 with seven strikeouts. He still seems like the logical cleanup hitter, but he won't be for long if this keeps up. Of course, that leads us to...

Missing pop? Has Torii Hunter's bat slowed down now that he's 36? He has hustled his way to two doubles this season, but otherwise all of his hits are singles. That wouldn't feel like a pattern this early if he had been crushing balls in spring training. He never homered in Arizona. Hunter struck out three times Saturday.

Just missing. The last thing Peter Bourjos wants to do is strike out. It's such a waste of his brilliant speed. But being more patient hasn't necessarily helped him get on base as he struggles to learn the skills of a leadoff hitter. He struck out three times, twice looking, and now is tied with Wells for the team lead in strikeouts (eight). With Bourjos, strikeouts are the stat to watch.

Is the bullpen still the weak link?

April, 3, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Things have gone so smoothly this spring for Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales and the Angels’ four aces, fans’ angst has to drift somewhere and it has landed on the bullpen. Is it this team’s Achilles heel?

Evidence this spring has suggested it might be, and the Angels’ front office apparently shares the fans’ concern. Already, general manager Jerry Dipoto has signed a couple of free agents with major league experience, Jason Isringhausen and David Pauley, to minor league deals.

And his search for arms hasn’t ended. Dipoto has been working the phones fairly aggressively, a source said, to try to dig up pitchers that can secure leads for Angels starters and make the rebuilt offense’s work stand up.

“If you said, ‘Would you want to add bullpen depth? Well, of course,’ “ manager Mike Scioscia said, “but if we don’t, I think we’re in a position where we’re going to be very comfortable if guys just pitch to their potential.”

It’s not that the bullpen has looked bad, just unsteady. And with the money owner Arte Moreno has spent to improve other areas, it’s a major, maybe fatal, gamble to enter a season with uncertainty in such a key area.

Some signs are positive -- the Angels clocked closer Jordan Walden throwing more than 100 mph this spring and Kevin Jepsen, whose velocity was diminished by a knee injury last year, at 98 mph. Lefty Hisanori Takahashi had pitched nine scoreless innings before a wobbly outing at Dodger Stadium Tuesday.

Even Isringhausen’s struggles may not be as dire as they appear. Monday night, he threw practically all sinkers, a pitch he doesn’t throw during the regular season, simply to see if he could get a feel.

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Things we're close to knowing

March, 28, 2012
Opening Day is a week from Friday and, with only four more games in Arizona -- three with the regular lineup -- the Angels are zeroing on some decisions.

The bullpen is practically set. Kevin Jepsen (probably) is in and Bobby Cassevah and Michael Kohn probably are out, because of nagging injuries. The Angels would love for Jason Isringhausen to make it so closer Jordan Walden would have twin pillars of 39-year-old wisdom along with LaTroy Hawkins, but Isringhausen had been shaky and his mechanics, by his own admission, were askew.

Isringhausen is set to work in back-to-back games for the first time this spring and the first day helped his cause. He worked a scoreless inning Wednesday and Mike Scioscia told reporters his stuff looked more crisp. ...

Dan Haren is right on track to pitch Game 2 against Kansas City, though Wednesday was a bit of a bump in what had been the smoothest of springs for the big right-hander. Haren gave up nine hits against the Cincinnati Reds in less than six innings and told reporters afterward he was going through a bit of a "dead-arm phase. Most starting pitchers experience that in spring training, so it's probably no big deal.

"Spring training is getting a little bit monotonous at this point," Haren said.

No kidding. ...

Vernon Wells needed a "do-over" after his dismal 2011 season, so he worked with Chicago Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo on fundamentally changing his swing, but thus far the results look pretty similar. When Wells hits it, he hits it hard. He hit his third home run of the spring in the third inning off Bronson Arroyo.

But the vast majority of his at-bats are ending with mishits and misses. He is batting .250 this spring, which isn't that bad when you consider he batted .218 last season.
ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon interviews Angels reliever LaTroy Hawkins.

Where is Mike Trout (and others)?

March, 9, 2012
The Angels are nearly a week through their spring training schedule and their top prospect and four of their main relievers have yet to appear in a game. What's the deal?

Trout missed several days of camp earlier with a viral infection and lost about 10 pounds, so the team is giving him at least a week to get his strength back up. Look for Trout to be playing by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Reliever Bobby Cassevah showed up with some shoulder tightness, will throw a bullpen Sunday and should be showing up in games next week. He said he's not concerned that it will become a more serious injury. He had the same delay last spring.

Manager Mike Scioscia is easing veterans Scott Downs, 37, Jason Isringhausen, 39, and LaTroy Hawkins, 39, into action, but all three should be pitching in games next week. Relievers typically only need eight or nine innings in spring training. Once they've pitched in back-to-back games, they're usually ready to go.

Pitcher Jerome Williams (hamstring) needs to start showing up in games by around March 20 to be on target to win the team's fifth starter job. Otherwise, it likely will be rookie Garrett Richards, who makes his second spring start on Sunday.

[UPDATE: For those asking, Kendrys Morales continues to run in the base paths with no bases. They hope to have him run the bases early next week and to be playing in games by next weekend. Scioscia said he "got a really good report," from trainers after Morales ran Friday morning.]

The mentoring of Jordan Walden

February, 23, 2012

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese
The Angels hope to avoid scenes like this by pairing Walden with veteran relievers.

If it seems the Angels are filling their bullpen with veterans whose most-dominant years are behind them, it's not an accident.

The additions of LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen, both 39, are intended -- in part -- to provide mentors for second-year closer Jordan Walden. In his rookie season, Walden, 24, was essentially thrown to the wolves, to mixed results.

Hawkins and Isringhausen both have been closers and have combined to pitch in 17 playoff series. The bonding experience has already begun. The Angels relievers have played golf together and dined together. Next up is movie night.

"There's nothing he could go through on a baseball field I haven't gone through," Hawkins said. "If I can help him avoid some of the mistakes I made, then we'll be all right. He has the stuff, without a doubt. From what I heard from Torii [Hunter], he has unbelievable stuff. It's all about honing that in and then doing it day in and day out."

The Angels departed from a familiar pattern last season. They prefer young relievers to grow into the closer role under a veteran. Troy Percival waited behind Lee Smith. Francisco Rodriguez waited behind Percival. Brian Fuentes was an established veteran when he arrived. The plan dissolved last year after Fernando Rodney struggled and was demoted to eighth-inning duty.

The only two other veteran relievers last year were both soft-throwing left-handers, Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. Neither has pitched in the postseason.

"We were some young guys down there last year. It's going to be huge to have guys I can talk to who have been there and done it," Walden said.

Jordan Walden and the next step

February, 21, 2012
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.

Position previews: Relievers

February, 14, 2012
Three days into the 2011 season, the Angels' bullpen had set a tone the team would scramble for six months to change. It never quite did.

It's not often a team comes together for an impromptu, players-only meeting so close to Opening Day. But after that Saturday game in Kansas City, several Angels veterans -- including Scott Downs and Torii Hunter -- huddled in the trainers room with a couple of the team's young relievers for a pep talk.

Kevin Jepsen and Michael Kohn got their seasons off to awful starts and they eventually would be demoted to Triple-A, yanking two key relievers from the Angels' bullpen and forcing management to scramble for solutions, a process that would go on for months.

Given the rocky start, things actually came together pretty well by mid-season. The Angels' bullpen ERA (3.52) was second only to the New York Yankees' in the American League and rookie Jordan Walden used a 96-to-100 mph fastball to cement himself in the closer's role Fernando Rodney couldn't hold.

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Angels vs. Rangers: Bullpens

February, 1, 2012

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
The Angels stood pat at closer, leaving their most crucial relief role to 24-year-old Jordan Walden.
This is part of an occasional series comparing the rosters of the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers and the rebuilt Angels, who could have the hottest rivalry in the league this year.

Bullpens are as unpredictable as the economy nowadays. You just never know what direction they'll go.

At this time 10 years ago, Brendan Donnelly had never thrown a major-league pitch, Ben Weber was a 32-year-old minor-league journeyman with a career 4.15 ERA and nobody had ever heard of a 20-year-old Venezuelan kid named Francisco Rodriguez. The Angels' 2002 bullpen became a virtually impermeable barrier to late-inning rallies.

Both the Angels and Rangers have had to accept some risk as they enter this season, the Rangers because they tinkered with the bullpen, the Angels because they didn't.

Instead of sticking with what worked -- strong setup men funneling the game to Neftali Feliz -- Texas seems intent on moving Feliz to its rotation and added 37-year old Joe Nathan to be its closer. Nathan pitched in 48 games for the Minnesota Twins last year -- two seasons removed from ligament-replacement surgery in his right elbow -- and had a 4.84 ERA.

The Angels sat back and watched a regiment of closer candidates sign with other teams this winter, leaving its most crucial relief role to 24-year old Jordan Walden (hometown: Arlington, Texas). Walden's blazing fastball earned him an All-Star bid but he wobbled in the final few weeks of the pennant race, one memorable meltdown against Oakland virtually ending the Angels' chances.

Whose bullpen would you rather have? The Angels had a surprising edge in 2011, with their relievers putting up a 3.52 ERA, second in the American League to the New York Yankees. Texas relievers had a 4.11 ERA, near the bottom of the league, but they also blew six fewer saves than the Angels. And Texas fortified the seventh and eighth innings by adding Mike Adams and Koji Uehara near the trade deadline.

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Question No. 5: Is the bullpen good enough?

January, 15, 2012
We’ll preview spring training 2012 – one of the most anticipated in Angels’ history – with a series of five crucial questions about the upcoming season. First up: relief.

The Angels' bullpen was the area of the team that experienced the least upheaval this winter. The offense got an injection of power and plate discipline from future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. The rotation finally took on a left-hander, and a pretty good one, in C.J. Wilson.

General manager Jerry Dipoto didn't neglect the bullpen -- he added veteran setup man LaTroy Hawkins -- but it probably wasn't the overhaul some Angels fans had hoped for. Unless something changes in the next four weeks (and it might), the Angels will go into spring training banking on second-year closer Jordan Walden. Considering he's 24 and maintained his upper-90s fastball all year, that's not necessarily a bad thing. When I talked to him a couple of weeks ago, Walden sounded excited to erase bad memories from the end of his 2011 season.

But if you're poking this team for soft areas, places where it might be susceptible, you'd probably point your stick at the relief pitching. Angels relievers actually had the second-best ERA in the American League (3.52), but that obscures some of deeper problems. They allowed opponents to bat .247 against them, which ranked ninth, and they walked 185 batters. Only six teams saw more walks from their relievers. When the Angels were trying to find their footing early in the season, the bullpen was awful. When they were chasing teams late, it tended to implode at inopportune times.

Letting Fernando Rodney walk (pun intended) will solve only so many problems. The scrutiny will be on Walden, but it's almost equally vital that some other young arms continue to develop. Let's assume that Hawkins and Scott Downs stay healthy and do what they normally do, which is to be two of the more-dependable eighth-inning guys. Hisanori Takahashi is probably fairly bankable in low-stress roles.

No other Angels reliever has proven he can lock down an inning or two. Rich Thompson was the best of the youngsters, but had some shaky moments, especially late in the season. Bobby Cassevah and Trevor Bell will be fighting to stay on the roster as usual.

When the Angels were throwing a blanket over the late innings in 2002, Francisco Rodriguez got much of the credit, but it was depth that made the team so hard to rally against. Troy Percival, Brendan Donnelly and Ben Weber gave Mike Scioscia options when he was mapping out the final three to 15 outs of a game.

The Angels might not need that kind of dominance to rumble into the playoffs in 2012 -- on paper, they've got the talent to barge right in -- but as we sit a month before spring training, the bullpen remains a major question mark.



Jered Weaver
18 3.59 169 213
BAH. Kendrick .293
HRM. Trout 36
RBIM. Trout 111
RM. Trout 115
OPSM. Trout .939
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOJ. Weaver 169