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09/22/10 10:50 PM ET

Walden works way into Angels' plans

ANAHEIM -- There was a time when Jordan Walden, the heat-dispensing right-hander from Texas, was one of the brightest lights in the Angels' farm system. His star dimmed as he negotiated his way through arm issues, but his emergence the past weeks has vaulted him into the club's immediate-future designs.

With his 98-101-mph fastball and an improving selection of offspeed stuff, Walden, 22, has the look of a potential closer with his dominant work: 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings, one save, 18 strikeouts against four walks and a .211 batting average allowed. The 6-foot-5 Fort Worth, Texas, product was warming up when Ervin Santana finished his five-hit shutout of the Rangers on Tuesday night.

"He's moved up fairly quickly [on the depth chart]," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That line of crossing from middle [relief] to setup guy is not as big as from setup guy to closer. That wall is pretty thick. You want to make sure a guy's prepared for it."

Veterans Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney have handled the ninth inning this season, but Fuentes was dealt to the Twins and Rodney has been inconsistent closing since the left-hander's departure.

Rodney, with a year left on his contract, appears the front-runner for the job next season, but it's no slam dunk. Walden, who attended the same school (Grayson County College in Texas) that produced John Lackey, could make a case with a strong spring showing.

"We need that depth in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings," Scioscia said. "It's fair to say his power arm can play at the back end of a Major League bullpen if he keeps improving. There's still some work to be done. His presence out there, his poise, ability to repeat pitches, that has been a positive. I don't think you can ever know how a guy's going to react [to ninth-inning pressure]. But he's been impressive."

Conger making up for lost time

ANAHEIM -- Hank Conger -- Hyun Choi Conger on his birth certificate -- is moving on up. This has been a breakthrough year for the 22-year-old catcher whose work behind the plate and with the bat has been impressive since his recall from Triple-A Salt Lake.

Conger, most importantly, is 4-0 in his starts with a 1.50 catcher's ERA. He drew Jered Weaver for his Major League debut in Cleveland, driving in a pair of runs with his first big league hit. That was his first shutout. The second arrived on Tuesday night, when he took Ervin Santana through nine high-quality innings against the Rangers. Weaver and Santana both spoke highly about Conger's defense and pitch selection.

"Hank has definitely shown us the ability to do what a catcher needs to do," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, one of the game's definitive authorities on the catching trade. "His next challenge is to do it for a full season and a career. He's shown the tools, caught very well. He's done a great job communicating with the pitchers. He's getting his first taste of it and doing a great job."

Conger's one drawback is his relative lack of professional experience, owing to early-career injuries to his throwing shoulder and back.

"His first couple years, he was banged up," Scioscia said. "He's not even caught 200 games in his career yet. You can have the best instructors in the world, and it's not going to bridge that gap in experience. Hank's going to have to go play winter ball.

"I was 21 when I came up [with the Dodgers in 1980], but I had caught close to 500 games, including winter ball. As he's healed up, he's really emerged into a high-end prospect as a catcher. We'll see where it takes him."

Rivera looking for some luck

ANAHEIM -- In the past month, Juan Rivera has had a walk-off home run stolen by the Rays' B.J. Upton and a grand slam taken away by the Rangers' Julio Borbon, both at Angel Stadium.

"Not much luck," Rivera said, grinning. "It hasn't been a lucky year for the whole team, not just me."

Rivera was back in the lineup on Wednesday night in the series finale against the Rangers and southpaw C.J. Wilson. Rivera came into the game batting .429 against Wilson with a homer in 14 at-bats.

"I've been feeling pretty good, confident," Rivera said. His comfort level is reflected in a 7-for-19 surge that pulled him out of a 2-for-33 skid. His .249 batting average is a long way from his .285 career average coming into the season. He batted .285 last season with 25 homers and 88 RBIs. He has 13 homers and 50 RBIs this season.

Rivera has been better in right field than left this season, showing off his strong arm with eight assists. He was in right for the series finale, with Torii Hunter taking the designated-hitter spot in an all-righty lineup.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.