Los Angeles Angels: Nick Blackburn
April, 30, 2012
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Virtually everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.
Albert Pujols launched his Angels career with an epically bad April, dragging an entire lineup down with him for nearly a month. The bullpen looked wobbly in spring training, then proved to be woeful.
Exactly one aspect of this team has gone according to plan. The Angels thought they had a great starting rotation and, guess what, they have a great starting rotation. Imagine something turning out just as everyone thought.
Angels starters entered Monday with the fifth-best ERA in the American League and they're climbing the charts. Factor out struggling Ervin Santana and the Angels rotation is 8-4 with a 3.06 ERA. Santana has allowed 10 of the 19 home runs given up by starting pitchers.
The fact that either C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren or Jerome Williams has been the winning pitcher in every game the Angels have won tells you all you really need to know. Imagine how stressful it must be for these guys when they have to hand over the ball near the end of games.
Yeah, it was a bad April. Imagine what it would have looked like without good starting pitching. Just make sure you do so on an empty stomach.
"You can't ever do anything other than what you're given to do," Wilson said. "You just have to have a positive attitude and root for the guys who are out there."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia had nowhere to turn when he needed a clutch out in the eighth inning Monday, so he did something he rarely does: he summoned his closer before the ninth. Scott Downs did what no other Angels reliever has been able to do this year: he found a measure of order, getting the final four outs to preserve a strong start from Wilson.
If the Angels aren't going to hit -- and they did show a few signs of stirring to life -- they're going to have to find some way to ham-and-egg the pitching to get through games. Afterward, manager Mike Scioscia was fairly forthright that he needs "more than one" reliable reliever, but that's what he's got right now.
"It's not our preference, obviously," Scioscia said. "We'd like to have some roles filled in and not have to stretch a guy, but it is what it is. Scotty's a guy that has the ability to occasionally go four outs."
Of course, there's one way to get people to stop talking about the bad bullpen: score more runs. Torii Hunter stayed hot and a couple of other guys showed signs of joining him Monday, so perhaps there's hope for an offense that had scored 11 runs in its previous seven games. Then again, they won't be able to face Nick Blackburn and the pitching-starved Minnesota Twins every night for the next five months.
"You can see the sparks with that lighter," Hunter said. "The light's not there yet, but we see the sparks."