TEMPE – One of the more stressful moments for any baseball fan is when the manager picks up the phone in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. Which relief pitcher is going to get the call to come in and shut down a potential rally, or give up the lead?
Los Angeles Angels fans experienced that uncertainty all throughout the 2017 season, as the team’s 43 saves were doled out between eight different relief pitchers, three of who are no longer with the team. Three who remain — Blake Parker, Cam Bedrosian and Keynan Middleton — accounted for 17 saves last year and each are aiming for a high-pressure spot in the bullpen.
“You always want to be in the back end of that (relief) rotation, of course,” Bedrosian said. “We have a lot of guys who can do the job. Like last year, I think there’s going to be a lot of guys competing for those jobs.”
Bedrosian, whose father, Steve, finished with 184 saves during big league stints with the Braves, Phillies, Giants and Twins, nursed a groin injury at points during his 2017 campaign. When he was healthy, the right-handed pitcher had six saves and five blown saves with a 4.43 ERA. Bedrosian will be entering his fifth year in the big leagues and said he’s ready to fight for any spot in the back-end of the bullpen.
“I’m going to be battling all spring for a position, and a lot of other guys will be, as well,” Bedrosian said. “The big thing is to stay healthy, and let my stuff do the work.”
Bedrosian noted that the biggest thing pitchers need to work on is keeping the ball down in the strike zone, and that would be his point-of-focus during spring training.
Although it’s not a stretch to think that all relief pitchers want to secure an important spot in the bullpen, some are less intense about what specific position they’d like to hold.
Middleton is aiming to build on a rookie year in which he converted three out of five save opportunities and held a 3.86 ERA in 64 appearances. The right-handed pitcher shows fire on the mound with a 100-plus mph fastball, but he was much more reserved when it came to gunning for a specific role in the bullpen.
“It doesn’t really matter to me at all,” Middleton said. “I’m just buying into whatever the team wants to do. Going out there and getting outs is the only thing I’m concerned about.”
Middleton expressed that although he wasn’t concerned with what innings he would pitch coming out of the bullpen, he believed that he has the stuff to get through any position Angels manager Mike Scioscia would put him in. He even mentioned that he believes he has the stuff to become closer.
“I think I would handle (the ninth inning) well very,” Middleton said.
Although the ninth inning is the point in the game that many would point to as the most high-stress situation in a close game, the seventh and eighth innings can be just as stressful depending on number of outs, runners on base and what hitters a pitcher is set to face. Parker, who posted a career best 2.54 ERA in 71 appearances in 2017, agreed with the sentiment that everyone in the bullpen plays a pivotal role.
“When you’re the seventh inning, eighth inning or pressure type guy, you might be coming in to face the middle of the lineup,” Parker said. “I think they’re all equally important. Obviously you have to hand off the baton to the next guy and focus on your inning, whether that be the seventh, eighth or ninth.”
Parker pointed out that the Angels relief staff is full of arms that he said could get key outs any time they’re called upon.
“I think we have a lot of good arms,” he said. “We added Jim Johnson who has done it for years. Cam proved he could do it last year. Obviously Middleton and Wood have the power type stuff to do it. I think we’ll have to see whenever the season comes around, but I think we have a couple of guys who can finish out games.”
Bud Norris, who was the Angels closer for the first half of the 2017 season, was injured for much of the second half and is now a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Scioscia went with a closer-by-committee approach during the second half of last season, and Parker said it just puts relief pitchers into a different type of mentality.
“When you don’t have a defined closer, it kind of keeps you on your toes a little bit more,” Parker said. “You’re always into the game and you’re watching every pitch, and you’re following along. Just knowing you might be called at any time keeps you more mentally on edge and on point.”
Scioscia hasn’t given any word on who will be competing for the closer role, or if he’ll continue to go with the committee approach. He did say that he thinks the relief staff is up to the task.
“We’re going to have a good core of high-leverage pitchers who will be holding leads and pitching late in games,” Scioscia said.