In terms of dominance, balance, depth, experience and proven track records, the Angels can’t measure up to an Indians bullpen that could be even better this season than the one.
It would be unfair to compare the Angels’ bullpen to that of the Cleveland Indians, who could set a gold standard for relief this season with a group headed by left-handers Andrew Miller and Boone Logan and right-handers Cody Allen and Zach McAllister.
In terms of dominance, balance, depth, experience and proven track records, the Angels can’t measure up to an Indians bullpen that could be even better this season than the one that led the team to the World Series in 2016.
But Angels relievers don’t need to blow away opposing hitters to be effective. They need to keep games close in the middle innings and hold late leads, with or without style points.
“Everyone looks at a bullpen like Cleveland’s and sees velocity and strikeouts and total dominance, and they went to a World Series,” said Angels right-hander Huston Street, whose bid to reclaim his closing role has been slowed this spring by a strained back muscle.
“And, yeah, they’re probably gonna do all that stuff again this season — they’re really good players. Pitching, though, don’t forget, is about getting outs. It’s not about spin rate, velocity. I don’t care if you get three ground-ball outs every inning, three pop outs, it’s about getting outs and not giving up a lot of runs.”
While the game is trending toward late-inning relievers who throw closer to 100 mph than 90 mph, the Angels will have only one or possibly two relievers in their opening-day bullpen — Cam Bedrosian and J.C. Ramirez — who throw more than 95 mph.
Neither of their top two left-handers, Jose Alvarez and Greg Mahle, will overwhelm hitters, and the fastballs of two right-handed short men, Andrew Bailey and Mike Morin, top out at about 93 mph.
Street, who is trying to rebound from an injury-plagued season in which he had a 6.45 earned-run average in 26 appearances, relies more on deception than power, mixing a slider and changeup with a 90-mph fastball.
But as Street points out, the Angels are only three years removed from having one of baseball’s best bullpens, a group — led by Street, sidearm-throwing Joe Smith, hard-throwing Kevin Jepsen and Jason Grilli — that was effective without relying heavily on dominant stuff.
This year’s bullpen, Street said, would do well to reprise that relief effort from 2014, when the Angels won 98 games and a division title.
“I don’t think we’re gonna be in the top echelon of strikeouts, but I frankly believe we have a bullpen that can be like the one we had in 2014,” said Street, who will likely open the season on the disabled list.
“Joe Smith, Jepsen, myself, we all struck out about one guy an inning, and we were one of the better bullpens in baseball. That bullpen had cohesiveness, an understanding of itself, a pull-for-each-other mentality, and we had a rotation that got us deep into games.”
That last element could be tougher to attain this season. Ace Garrett Richards, who missed most of last season, had stem-cell treatment for a torn elbow ligament, and his workload will be monitored closely.
Tyler Skaggs, who missed most of the last two seasons because of elbow surgery and shoulder problems, was scratched from Friday’s scheduled start because of shoulder weakness. The setback is considered minor, but the Angels are not expecting the left-hander to approach the 200-inning mark this season.
Matt Shoemaker and Ricky Nolasco have the potential to pitch deep into games consistently, but projected No. 5 starter Jesse Chavez has spent only three of his nine big-league seasons as a starter, throwing a career-high 157 innings for Oakland in 2015.
With so many rotation questions, the Angels are expected to carry two or three relievers who are capable of throwing multiple innings, with Ramirez, Bud Norris, Yusmeiro Petit, Deolis Guerra and Brooks Pounders leading the list of candidates.
“If you have a couple of those guys, it helps your starters and your one-inning relievers, because the one-inning guys shouldn’t have to pitch three nights in a row,” General Manager Billy Eppler said.
“We’re looking for guys who are capable of getting outs, whether it’s three outs, one out, eight outs or nine outs. I really don’t care how it’s done. Outs are more valuable than velocity.”
Several relatively inexpensive veteran back-end relievers, such as Joe Blanton and Sergio Romo, were available this winter, but the Angels did not add any significant bullpen pieces through free agency or trade.
“We looked at the entire marketplace,” Eppler said. “That’s all I’d say.”
Manager Mike Scioscia prefers to keep relievers in defined, set roles, but he is prepared to be more flexible this season.
“I think this year we have more candidates who will be multi-inning guys, almost like what Scot Shields did,” Scioscia said, referring to the rubber-armed right-hander who was a key setup man on four Angels playoff teams from 2004-2008.
“Maybe not as dynamic as Shields, but where they’re in games and holding leads and able to pitch the sixth and seventh innings, or the seventh and eighth. It will probably be a little different configuration of our bullpen than we’ve seen, but I think it can be very effective.”
Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles TimesLos Angeles Angels Huston Street Joe Smith (baseball) J.C. Ramirez World Series Cleveland Indians Kevin Jepsen
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