Angels' bullpen woes sting
A lot of things are going well for the Los Angeles Angels these days. Their starting pitching, which was billed as "Five No. 2s" but instead looked like Jered Weaver and the four dwarves, has rounded a corner. The lineup can be explosive in its own streaky way, even riddled with a few dead spots.
But nothing can spoil a good party like a soggy bullpen. Nothing says soggy like six walks in a little more than three innings, which is what the Angels' bullpen spit out in Sunday's 6-5 10-inning loss at St. Louis.
It's not as if that parade of late, misplaced pitches was anything new. The Angels entered Sunday with a 5.25 bullpen ERA, good for 28th in the major leagues. Only New York Mets relievers had walked more than the 81 batters Angels relief pitchers had walked before things got ugly again on Sunday.
The bullpen is one of the few areas of the team that's not showing improvement. Angels relievers have a 6.34 ERA this month.
It was arguably the Angels' best reliever, Fernando Rodney , who coughed up a two-run lead in the eighth inning, largely because he walked three guys while pitching to Paul Emmel's incredible shrinking strike zone. It was -- statistically speaking -- one of the Angels' worst relievers who gave away the game in the 10th. Scot Shields walked two batters, giving him 16 walks in 14 innings this year, and his ERA crept up to 6.59.
A win Sunday could have been a nice little way to end a road trip and, frankly, it should have been. When you hold Albert Pujols to 0-for-10 over three days, you really shouldn't walk away with two losses. When your ace, Jered Weaver, outpitches their Cy Young winner, Chris Carpenter, you kind of want to get that one.
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Of all his hopeful predictions this spring, manager Mike Scioscia's feeling that this could be his deepest bullpen yet appears the most laughable in retrospect. The Angels' relievers aren't just underperforming, they might be undermanned. Closer Brian Fuentes is as hittable as most long relievers nowadays, Shields' return from knee surgery has been slower than they'd hoped and two of the other pitchers in the 'pen, Bobby Cassevah and Trevor Bell, have virtually no experience. If either Rodney or Kevin Jepsen goes into a slump, this team could be in crisis mode.
Even on paper, this group is a shaky one. It's worse when they actually have to pitch.
Scioscia told reporters in St. Louis that infielder Maicer Izturis could return from the 15-day disabled list by the middle of the week. At that point, who will be the reserve player, Izturis or Brandon Wood?
The Angels clearly have lost patience with Wood, who was not in the lineup for the third time in four days on Sunday. Wood has gone hitless in 24 of the 38 games he has played in and has struck out 19 times in his past 61 at-bats.
It's not as easy as saying Izturis will be the starter, however. Though he likely would be an offensive and defensive upgrade over Wood, Izturis is prone to injury. The Angels have preferred using Izturis on a limited basis in a variety of roles to keep him healthy.
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After more than a month of hand-wringing, the Angels' rotation is beginning to resemble what they expected leaving spring training. At the head of the turnaround is lefty Joe Saunders (3-5, 4.42 ERA), who faces the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night.
Saunders began figuring it out three starts ago in Seattle. His past two starts have been practically dominant, though they came against the struggling offenses of Oakland and Chicago. Saunders has given up two earned runs in his past 22 1/3 innings.
His only good start in April came against Toronto, when he shut the Jays out for eight innings at Rogers Centre on April 17.
The Angels face Toronto lefty Brett Cecil (3-2, 4.98) for the first time.Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.