ANAHEIM -- Jordan Walden, fresh off a three-outing rehab assignment for Triple-A Salt Lake, was back with the Angels on Friday, set to throw a bullpen session in front of pitching coach Mike Butcher and hopeful of a weekend return.
The Angels' bullpen, owner of the worst second-half ERA in the Majors, will get lefty Scott Downs back from a strained left shoulder on Saturday, with Steve Geltz optioned after Friday night's 12-3 loss to the Rays to create roster space. Walden, meanwhile, could follow on Sunday.
Walden struggled in his first rehab outing -- "I threw a first one?" he joked -- giving up four runs (two earned) on three hits while recording just two outs. But in his last two, he breezed through 1-2-3 innings, needing only nine pitches in his most recent one on Thursday.
Now Walden, out since July 8 with a nerve problem in his neck that helped cause a right biceps strain, is ready to return to a bullpen that sorely needs him in the back end.
"I'm excited, just to be part of the team again," said Walden, with a 3.86 ERA in 28 innings this year. "I feel good. ... My stuff feels strong."
Walden's average fastball velocity last season, when he posted a 2.98 ERA and compiled 32 saves, was 97.5 mph. This year, it's 96.5 and he's hardly touched triple digits, which he seemed to do routinely in 2011. But the 24-year-old right-hander felt getting shut down to heal up his nagging injuries would get him back in his usual range.
"I think it'll be back," Walden said. "We'll see."
To make room for Walden, the Angels could send down Hisanori Takahashi, or perhaps end Jason Isringhausen's tenure with the team -- and possibly his career. The 39-year-old right-hander surrendered a solo homer to the Rays' Jose Molina in the eighth inning on Friday and has given up seven runs in 5 1/3 innings this month, putting his ERA at 4.02.
Angels to give Haren long rest before next start
ANAHEIM -- With the benefit of Monday's off day, the Angels are buying Dan Haren eight days between starts, pushing him back to next Saturday's game against the Tigers in Comerica Park. The hope is that he'll use that time to get his release point back and perhaps revert to the pitcher they're used to seeing.
"I think he is past the physical ailment," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Friday, referencing the stiff lower back that placed him on the disabled list for the first time in his career in early July. "This is a mechanical thing, and it could've arisen from trying to make some adjustments in his delivery to get pitches in places when his back was bothering him."
Haren has given up five earned runs while failing to pitch through the fourth inning in each of his last two starts against the Mariners and Rays, two of the bottom four offenses in the American League, putting him at 8-10 with a 4.90 ERA on the year.
In those outings, Haren has hardly reached 90 mph with his fastball, has constantly been in unfavorable counts, has mostly abandoned a splitter that tails and doesn't sink and has tried to compensate for it all with a heavy dose of cutters.
"A cutter is only going to be effective if you have that fastball combo working," Scioscia said. "It's tough to just go out there and pound the cutter."
Barring "extreme circumstances," Haren won't be available to pitch out of the bullpen in between starts, Scioscia said. Another option could've been to go with Jerome Williams on Saturday and skip Haren yet another turn.
"But right now," Scioscia added, "we feel it's definitely worth seeing if Dan can get back on board. And it makes sense just to push him back to that spot and give him some time to work on some things."
Ervin Santana will pitch on five days' rest on Tuesday, with Jered Weaver (Wednesday), C.J. Wilson (Thursday) and Zack Greinke (Friday) lining up on schedule the rest of the week.
A four-man rotation is "no doubt" a possibility once the Angels work themselves into September, but they feel their best current option is still to try to get Haren back on track.
"I have to be better," Haren said after Thursday's 7-0 loss to the Rays. "It's kind of been a broken record for me. I've just been too inconsistent this season. I'll have a couple good starts, and then I'll disappear for a while. I have to be more consistent. I have to give the team a better chance to win."
Wells finds contentment in new role
ANAHEIM -- For essentially the first time in his baseball-playing life, Vernon Wells is a part-time player. So, since being activated from the disabled list exactly three weeks ago, the 33-year-old Angels outfielder has tried to adjust to an entirely different way of life, with regards to his preparation, his role and his overall importance.
How has this new life been?
"Good, actually," Wells said on Friday. "The only thing I'm focused on is us winning games. I'm at the point now where I'm not really concerned with when I'm not in the lineup. I'm more concerned at what the outcome of each game is. When I'm on the bench, it's trying to help out as much as you can. If you see something, communicating with guys when they're playing, trying to do what you can to help the team win. The adjustment, at first, was difficult. But now, I'm enjoying it as much as I can."
The Angels have played 21 games since Wells' July 27 return, and the much-maligned player has started eight of them, getting playing time ahead of Peter Bourjos on nights when the opposing starter throws left-handed. He started off 0-for-16, then went 3-for-3 with a homer last Saturday and has gone 0-for-8 since.
That's life on baseball's bench, where hot streaks die fast and rhythm is almost impossible to attain.
No complaints from Wells, though.
"I know this is what this time is," said Wells, out of the lineup against the Rays' James Shields on Friday. "This is a unique opportunity to be on a very good team, and you have to take advantage of it no matter what your role is. For the next, hopefully 2 1/2, three months, this is what this is. You just worry about the here and now. You can't control what's going to happen in the offseason, or what's going to happen next year. But I think everyone knows I can still play every day. There's just no room right now."
Erick Aybar's third-inning homer on Friday snapped the Angels' 34-inning scoreless streak against the Rays. It was the longest scoreless streak against one opponent since the 2004 Montreal Expos went 42 straight against the Marlins, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Angels will be featured in a new national TV series called "Caught Looking," which is produced by Major League Baseball Productions and will air on the NBC Sports Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. PT. Camera crews have been following around the Angels and Rays this series to "give viewers an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes during a pennant race," according to a release. A different series with playoff implications will be featured each week for the rest of the season.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.