Los Angeles Angels: Troy Percival

Question No. 5: Is the bullpen good enough?

January, 15, 2012
1/15/12
6:17
PM PT
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.

Angels Moment No. 8: Pride prevails

June, 21, 2011
6/21/11
2:57
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You could be a pretty big Angels fan and not remember much about Curtis Pride.

He was a journeyman outfielder and played just 68 games for the Angels in the final three years of his career. If casual baseball fans remember Pride at all, it’s because he was one of the few deaf men ever to play in the major leagues.

But Pride had one of the biggest hits in the Mike Scioscia era.

It was Sept. 29, 2004, and the Angels were in a three-way fight for the AL West, tied with the Oakland A’s for the division lead with only five games left. The Rangers, just returning to contention, were only three games out.

Texas led 6-5 in the ninth inning when they summoned hard-throwing closer Francisco Cordero, who had been largely automatic while piling up 48 saves to that point.

The Angels were desperate, down to their last out, when Vladimir Guerrero pushed a single to right field. That brought up Pride, who would bat just 40 times all year. Pride took a ball and then swung at a fastball and sent it soaring to deep center field. The ball slammed off the wall and scored Guerrero all the way from first to tie the game.

The Angels won in 11 innings on a Troy Glaus home run, Troy Percival holding on in a rocky bottom of the inning. Many of the Angels players hung around the clubhouse afterward and watched the A’s lost to the Seattle Mariners, moving the Angels closer to their first division crown in 18 years.

It wouldn’t have happened without that key contribution from a player who had bounced between eight teams in 11 years. Pride called it, “probably the biggest hit of my career,” which seems like an understatement.

Pride is now the head baseball coach at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., whose programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing students. He lives in Florida and showed up at the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista last December.

He ran into Scioscia in the lobby. No word if he had removed the word “probably” when they talked about that hit.

This story is part of an occasional series of Angels Moments which, when it's complete, will -- we hope -- add up to 50. The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this season. These are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but simply an assembly of scenes and anecdotes that are part of the team's colorful past.

Jordan Walden searches for the right tune

April, 8, 2011
4/08/11
7:02
PM PT
As of 90 minutes before Friday's Angels home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, closer Jordan Walden still hadn't picked out any entrance music.

"I have no idea," Walden said. "I'll probably go inside and make something up here."

That's how sudden Walden's elevation has been, from struggling minor-league starter to major-league closer in less than a year. Manager Mike Scioscia named Walden, 23, his ninth-inning specialist over struggling veteran Fernando Rodney on Tuesday.

Entrance music is part of a closer's persona, particularly since Mariano Rivera started coming into games at Yankee Stadium with Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blaring and Trevor Hoffman entered games in San Diego to AC/DC's "Hells Bells." For years, Troy Percival jogged to the Angel Stadium mound to the song, "Stay Away," by Godsmack.

Feel free to leave suggestions for Walden in the comments below.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jered Weaver
WINS ERA SO IP
15 3.57 137 181
OTHER LEADERS
BAM. Trout .290
HRM. Trout 30
RBIM. Trout 94
RM. Trout 91
OPSM. Trout .934
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOG. Richards 164