Angels' bullpen rounding into form
Improvements in rotation paying off for relievers, too
ARLINGTON -- The middle and back end of the Angels' bullpen appear to be taking more solid shape and form, with Matt Palmer, Jose Arredondo, Darren Oliver, Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen stepping forward to get it done in front of closer Brian Fuentes.
For most of the season, owing largely to the instability in the rotation and the absence of Scot Shields, the bullpen has been overtaxed. It has shown in inconsistent performances and inflated earned run averages.
It is no coincidence that, as the rotation stabilized with the arrival of Scott Kazmir and the return to form of Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana behind John Lackey and Jered Weaver, the bullpen's work began to improve measurably.
Bulger's perfect seventh inning in Friday night's 2-0 win over the Rangers was another indication that he's fully recovered from a shoulder issue that flared up recently.
Entering Saturday, the big right-hander had yielded no runs and one hit in five September appearances covering three innings, and his .208 opponents' batting average for the season led the staff.
Manager Mike Sciosica pointed to three questions Bulger needed to answer coming into the season: that he could deliver multiple innings, bounce back strong and pitch toward the back end.
"[Bulger's] done it all," Scioscia said. "We want to make sure he's going to stay effective, [perhaps] limit him to 30 pitches."
Arredondo is 13-for-14 in hold situations, while Palmer has a 2.45 ERA in 21 relief appearances and is working on a stretch of 10 2/3 scoreless innings across six outings.
Quietly delivering another solid, underrated season, Oliver's 2.67 ERA is the best on the staff, and he's 16-for-17 in hold chances.
Jepsen, who pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning on Friday, had a 1.72 ERA in his past 36 2/3 innings, entering Saturday, and had been successful in all 16 hold opportunities since July 1. The right-hander with the big arm, his 95-97 mph heater complemented by an improving cutter that acts as a slider, had stranded 25 of 32 inherited runners.
"It's a tale of two seasons for [Jepsen]," Scioscia said of Jepsen, who has emerged as the eighth-inning stopper, Shields' old role. "His stats for April and May, you've got to crumble 'em up and throw 'em out."
Scioscia likes the depth and feel of his bullpen, and he especially likes the way starters are getting deeper in games -- their collective ERA was 1.94 over the past 20 games coming into Saturday -- and relieving stress on those arms.
"There are a lot of different ways we can go," Scioscia said. "Our starters getting 19 [or] 20 outs for those guys, that's important."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.