Saturday, June 26, 2010
New bullpen issues for Angels
By Mark Saxon
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Angels somehow got into a long battle of bullpens with a team that had used every arm at its disposal in a 13-11, extra-inning game the night before, and they managed to lose.
That's all you need to know about how hard it has been to find reliable relief in Anaheim this year.
The culprits were different, but the crime was the same. The guys who gave it up Friday night -- Fernando Rodney and rookie Francisco Rodriguez -- have been among the most blameless Angels relievers this season, but maybe blown saves are spreading like a virus.
Jered Weaver should have been polishing up his All-Star resume with his eighth win Friday, but instead he was offering supportive words for his teammates after watching them blow it for him during the Angels' 11-inning, 4-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
"Those guys aren't going to come in and be lights-out every game," Weaver said. "There are going to be times guys get in some trouble and give up a run or two. That's just baseball. Those guys want it more than anybody. They're going to come back tomorrow, bounce back and be solid."
The Angels don't need lights-out from their bullpen every night, but when they have things lined up as they're designed -- with a starter who hands them a lead and just two innings left -- they'd like to see things locked down on a fairly regular basis. Instead, Rodney gave up a bloop hit, threw a wild pitch and hung a changeup that Carlos Gonzalez rolled into right field.
It wasn't a spectacular blow-up -- far from it -- but Rodney could have given the Angels' confidence a needed boost if he could have put up a zero. Closer Brian Fuentes, who has had his share of failure this year, wound up pitching a perfect ninth, albeit against the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 hitters.
Rodney agreed with Weaver in one sense: the game they're playing.
"That's baseball," Rodney said. "Every day, I'm not going to do my job. Next day is tomorrow, we'll see what happens."
If there's a knock on Weaver -- and isn't there one on everyone -- it's that his pitch counts tend to drift up and he rarely gives the bullpen a day off. In fact, he has recorded an out in the eighth inning only once this year. It's a lot easier to keep your pitch count down when you get outs earlier in counts.
Weaver leads the majors in strikeouts with 118. He has struck out 11 batters in two straight starts. Those are nice numbers and they might help Weaver pitch in the All-Star game in a few weeks, but the Angels could use a little more pitch efficiency from their ace. His last complete game came last August.
Pitch counts have always been Weaver's bugaboo, but they're something he's getting under control gradually. The Angels aren't going to complain about anything he's doing on the mound right now.
"I think this year, he's going deeper into games than he ever has," Scioscia said. "Maybe they aren't complete games like [Joel] Pineiro has. He is striking a lot of guys out and when you strike a lot of guys out, it's going to elevate your pitch count."
Weaver easily pitched well enough to win, as he has in all but two of his 16 starts. Weaver had allowed only three base runners before he gave up an Ian Stewart single to lead off the fifth. Four pitches later, catcher Chris Iannetta got a hanging slider and lifted it over the left-field fence for a two-run home run.
It was the lone blemish. Weaver gave up five hits in seven innings.
The Angels made some nice plays behind Weaver. Kevin Frandsen wandered far down the left-field line and well into foul ground to catch Seth Smith's second-inning pop-up. Bobby Abreu leaped at the wall to catch Gonzalez's deep drive in the fourth.
Abreu caught the ball right in front of an airline ad that read, "Going, Going, Gone." Later that inning, Howie Kendrick dove for a grounder in the hole, got to his feet and threw out Smith.
Scene and heard
The Angels had a closed-door meeting with representatives of the players association Friday, but Brandon Wood wasn't there. He was out on the field, taking grounders from Angels infield coach Alfredo Griffin.
Wood is trying to get out of the funk that had him making three errors in seven starts at shortstop. Soon, Wood will have to put in even more work, as Erick Aybar's return from the disabled list will push Wood into a reserve role. He'll back up shortstop, third base and first base.
"If you want to be good playing a bunch of different positions, you constantly have to work at it," Wood said. "If I ever had to cross that bridge, I'd make sure I was ready."
Hitting .176, Wood might be destined to be a major-league utility player. The Angels aren't ready to say his window as an everyday player has closed since he's just 25.
"It's going to take more than 140 at-bats to make that determination," Scioscia said.
By the numbers
When Rodney gave up Gonzalez's eighth-inning RBI single -- and blew the win for Weaver -- it ended a streak of 27 straight save opportunities Rodney had converted at his home ballpark.
It was the longest such streak among active relievers, but most of those saves were in Detroit, where Rodney pitched until this season.
Quote of the day
"I was trying to be a little too fine." -- Rodriguez, who got two quick outs before giving up a walk, two hits and the winning run in the 11th.
Much of the Angels' frustrating first six weeks could be laid at the feet of their two struggling left-handed pitchers. Lately, Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders have reverted to some of their early-season struggles.
Saunders (5-8, 5.07 ERA) will try Saturday to break out of the mini-funk that has cost him his last two decisions, in which he has posted a 11.88 ERA. Unfortunately for him, he has not fared well at Angel Stadium this year. He's 1-6 with a 6.75 ERA here. The Angels face veteran right-hander Aaron Cook (2-4, 4.82).
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.