It’s deja vu all over again for the Angels. Just like in 2009, the Halos entered the 2010 season believing the one aspect of their roster that they wouldn’t have to worry about would be the bullpen and just like in in 2009, the 2010 Angel bullpen is a blazing grease fire and one of the biggest reasons the Angels are off to a slow start. The question though is when (or if?) the bullpen will get their act together because the longer they flounder, the more the Angels will find themselves in some deep bull.
The scary part is that Brian Fuentes isn’t even part of the problem… yet.
Seven games into the regular season and the Angels are already sporting the second-worst bullpen ERA in the American League and have two blown saves on their record. Not exactly the stuff that championship pitching staffs are made of, especially when the team has a floundering offense that needs all the pitching support that it can get.
It is probably too early to panic about the bullpen, but it definitely isn’t too early to start getting very anxious about them. Instead of conjuring up memories of the great bullpens of Angel teams past, the current crop of relievers is giving me nightmares. Fernando Rodney is doing his best impression of Justin Speier circa 2009. Scot Shields can’t find the strike zone or the two missing miles per hour on his fastball. Kevin Jepsen has been underwhelming. Jason Bulger continues to be feast or famine and Brian Stokes is reminding us all of why he was nothing more than a throw in for the Gary Matthews trade. The scariest part of it all though is that the rest of the relievers have been so bad that I actually found myself hoping Mike Scioscia would bring Brian Fuentes into the game.
Angel management would have us all believe that this is some kind of fluke, an aberration of bad luck and bad timing that will go away soon enough. I would like to respectfully disagree. Every single Angel reliever certainly has the ability to turn things around and start dominating, but they also have the very real chance of remaining stuck in this decrepit state.
Fernando Rodney is supposed to be so good that he might even unseat Brian Fuentes as closer (which actually isn’t as impressive as it sounds), but his resume isn’t that of a dominant reliever but rather that of an inconsistent middle reliever with command problems that is seldom ever trustworthy for long periods of time… kind of like he is pitching right now.
Nor should we believe that Scot Shields is destined to return to top form. How quickly everyone seems to forget that Shields missed most of last season due to injury and may never fully recover. Thus far Shields can’t top 91 miles per hour on the radar gun whereas his heater averaged 92 MPH prior to the 2009 season. To count on Shields to revert back to being an elite set-up man when his best pitch is operating at diminished capacity hardly seems logical.
And then there is Kevin Jepsen who was supposed to be a luxury working the middle innings even though he has the stuff of a dominant closer. That stuff has been good thus far, but far from dominant. Jepsen has been better than the rest of the relievers, but he also hasn’t worked a clean inning yet in four appearances, the most recent of which was a blown save.
We might have to get used to seeing dejected Angel relievers walking off the field.
If Mike Scioscia can’t trust those three guys to bridge the gap from the starting pitcher to Brian Fuentes, the Angels are in deep trouble. Nothing against Jason Bulger, Matt Palmer or Brian Stokes, but none of them are really high leverage inning material (even Bulger, whose career has been marked by constant battles with preventing big innings and stranding inherited runners), making it absolutely imperative that the trio of Rodney, Shields and Jepsen settle down and stabilize the relief corps. It certainly could happen, but it isn’t nearly the sure thing that we might want to believe.