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Friday, August 26, 2011
Angels gamble with pitchers' rest

By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was eerie how similar everyone's story was. The phrase of the day was, "Not a big deal," when the Los Angeles Angels talked about using Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver on three days' rest in this pivotal series.

"Guys used to pitch on two days' rest back in the day, didn't they?" Weaver asked.

"As far as stamina, my gosh, we're talking about one day sooner for one time," manager Mike Scioscia said.

"I know it's not normal as far as having a guy pitch on the fourth day, but it's not something where it's alarming," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "We have no worries about it at all."

Sorry, guys. Say what you want, but it's kind of a big deal.

It's a big deal because it speaks to where this team is, fighting to keep its momentum rolling and hungry to track down a division leader that had spent the past week backpedaling.

It's a big deal because it opens Scioscia and Butcher to criticism if it fizzles or -- far worse -- somebody gets hurt. Nitpicking was particularly in play after the Angels put on a lousy game and lost the opener of this series 11-7 on Friday night. If Weaver and Santana struggle after altering their routines -- pitching on short rest for the first time in their careers -- the Angels are going to leave this place in a five-game hole. What's worse, they will be using Joel Pineiro and Jerome Williams in the next two games.

Teams practically never do it nowadays -- certainly not in August. To anyone not in the Angels' clubhouse, it will smack of desperation.

More important, it so often backfires. The easiest way to assess that is to study the postseason, in which teams try it fairly routinely. Starters on three days' rest in the playoffs have a 4.37 ERA since 1995. Their teams went 39-54.

And, finally, it's a big deal, because when you're playing your biggest series of the season, everything is a big deal. ESPN's Sunday night baseball crew isn't here because the guys love sitting around the set in 100-plus degree temperatures.

So, does that mean it's a bad idea? Ask again Monday morning, but I'd say it's worth a calculated gamble, particularly because it's done within such narrow parameters. Once the Angels leave this blast furnace, they'll return to their five-man rotation in the cool of

It's also worth the risk because the thing that has been the biggest drag on the Angels the past few weeks has been the disintegration of the back of their rotation. Frankly, Weaver, Santana and Dan Haren are about the only edge the Angels have on Texas. The Rangers have a better bullpen, their offense is a sledge hammer compared to the Angels' ball-peen hammer, and their defense, when it's right, is on par.

The fact that Haren started to squander that edge Friday doesn't change anything. And, hey, look at that, he was pitching on six days' rest! Are pitchers nowadays so fragile that, if their routines are altered in any way, they fall apart?

"Hopefully, we come out tomorrow and play well. I didn't do my part tonight, but I gave it my best. I just didn't have it," Haren said.

There was a cautionary tale for Weaver and Santana in Haren's start. The temperature at first pitch was 102 degrees, and every inning he pitched seemed to be an epic. The second batter of the game reached base on an infield single. The Rangers had big rallies in every inning after the first. In those conditions, you really want to stay out there as little as possible.

"I wouldn't blame it on that, but throwing 20 pitches every inning or more, that's tough enough," Haren said. "Then add in the weather, obviously, it makes it even harder."

Weaver and Santana were both running in the outfield at the Ballpark in Arlington before Friday's game, perhaps to acclimate themselves with pitching on the surface of the planet Mercury. The temperature at the time was 104 degrees. It was humid, so it felt like 112. That sort of limited their workout.

"If you run out there for 20 minutes, you'll die," Weaver said.

Butcher said the pitchers themselves lobbied to pitch on short rest. Weaver said the idea was brought to them and they just went along with it.

"We just work here, do whatever they say," Weaver said.

The Angels' season isn't going to be made or broken in the next two days, but these games will set the stage for September. There's a big difference between being one game back and being five games back with a month left. It's as much psychological as physical, but it's also physical. The Angels play the Rangers only three more times -- the last three games of the season -- so they'll need to play better and they'll need luck if things don't go well this weekend.

Things certainly didn't start off well. Now, we get to see how the biggest dice roll of the season goes.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.