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Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Bullpen needs to improve for Angels

By Ramona Shelburne

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It has come in pieces so far. A few more every day. And now, maybe, just enough to start visualizing what it all might look like when or if those final pieces can be stitched together.

None of the Angels' ups-and-downs to start this season should be surprising. Not the 2-6 start, or the five-game winning streak after the team held on for a 6-5 win over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium.

The philosophy and the main faces around here are mostly the same, but a lot changed in the offseason, and then a lot didn't go easily during spring training, so the uneven start was almost predictable.

Fernando Rodney
Angels reliever Fernando Rodney finally was able to nail down the victory for L.A., which nearly blew a 6-0 lead.

"I feel like we're getting a lot more confident. We're trusting our ability," said Scott Kazmir, who earned the win with a solid 5 2/3 innings to push the Halos (8-7) over .500 for the first time since an Opening Night win over the Minnesota Twins on April 5.

"There came a point earlier in the season we were almost pressing. We'd get our hits, but we didn't really have timely hitting. Now it seems like we're kind of putting the pressure on the pitcher, getting at them early and that's a recipe for success."

For the first six innings of Tuesday night's game the Angels followed that recipe to the letter. Good starting pitching from Kazmir, who struck out seven and walked no one, timely hitting from Howie Kendrick (1-for-3, three RBIs) among others, and sharp defense from third baseman Maicer Izturis.

Then, fittingly based on how this season has gone, the pieces started to fray again.

As soon as Kazmir handed the ball off to the bullpen, the unravelling began. First Jason Bulger gave up a two-run double to Brandon Inge to cut the score to 6-2. Then Scot Shields started the seventh by firing a pitch on a line to the backstop, walking three out of five batters and visiting with catcher Mike Napoli, pitching coach Mike Butcher and then finally manager Mike Scioscia enough times for anyone in the bleachers to run to the concession stands and buy garlic fries and a hot dog from separate vendors.

Shields gave way to Matt Palmer, who proceeded to give up a three-run double to Miguel Cabrera that cut the lead down to 6-5.

"There were a lot of good things on that field tonight and some things we definitely are going to have to clean up," Scioscia said.

While the starting pitchers have stepped up their game of late, going 6-0 with a 1.23 ERA in the Angels' last six wins, the bullpen has been awful. Angels relievers have been charged with 28 runs in their last 27 1/3 innings after throwing 11 scoreless innings to open the season.

Like we said, things have come in pieces this season, never a complete garment.

"What we're seeing in Scot Shields right now is nothing different than what we've seen before in his career and it's not related to his knee, it's not related to him missing time," Scioscia said. "He's got a high-maintenance delivery that has a lot of deception in it, and right now it's obvious he's a little bit out of sync. He's not that far away. ... Scot's just going to have to work through this."

Scioscia dismissed the idea that the bullpen's struggles have come because of a shift in roles since closer Brian Fuentes has been out because of a stiff back.

"I don't think it's guys being out of roles that's caused some of the wildness or ineffectiveness of some guys," he said. "Some of these guys haven't done the job just by not being able to make enough good pitches."

On this night, just enough went right for just long enough. The rain held off, the lead held up, and the number in the wins column finally surpassed the number in the losses column.

Not a perfect look just yet. Maybe not even tailored well. But enough to see how it might all come together.

"We're still not where we want to be, but I think we'll get there,'' center fielder Torii Hunter said. "But we'll just keep grinding and grinding."

Numbers game

Bobby Abreu became the sixth player in history with 350 steals and 250 home runs. He is the only active player to reach that mark. The other five players in MLB history to do so are Rickey Henderson (1,406 SBs, 297 HRs), Joe Morgan (689 SBs, 268 HRs), Barry Bonds (514 SBs, 762 HRs), Bobby Bonds (461 SBs, 332 HRs) and Craig Biggio (414 SBs, 291 HRs).

Quote of the day

"I've never even seen the tarp on the field." -- Shields on the possibility of a rainout Tuesday. The Angels skipped batting practice because of intermittent rain showers, but skies cleared before the game. The last rainout at Angel Stadium was June 16, 1995, against the Chicago White Sox. Shields has been with the Angels since 2001.

Looking ahead

If the rain holds off again, the Angels' would-be ace, Jered Weaver, looks to improve to 3-0 to start the season against Jeremy Bonderman (1-1, 9.00 ERA). Bonderman has had one good start and one awful start in his attempt to come back from two consecutive injury-plagued seasons.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for