06/09/11 4:25 PM ET
With arm slot fixed, Walden again closing door
By David Ely / Special to MLB.com
Before Wednesday's extra-inning loss to Tampa Bay -- the club's fifth straight defeat and seventh out of its past eight games -- manager Mike Scioscia spent close to 80 percent of his nearly 25-minute pregame media session discussing the various lineup tweaks he hoped would ignite the bats, and whether or not the lack of production was symptomatic of personnel issues as opposed to just a natural dry spell.
And while the offensive issues are very much real (the Halos went 4-for-27 with runners in scoring position in three games against the Rays and have gone eight straight games with three or fewer runs for the first time since 1992), they can take solace in the fact that it shouldn't take a severe turnaround to change their luck.
The Angels still have one of the top rotations in the American League, with 41 quality starts in 64 games, and closer Jordan Walden has emerged as one of the Halos' most consistent arms in the bullpen since taking over ninth-inning duties from Fernando Rodney after the first week of the season.
But after not giving up a run in his first 11 outings en route to posting a 0.73 ERA in April, Walden hit a wall once the calendar turned.
He picked up his fifth save of the season May 1, but then gave up two runs on three hits in blowing the first save of his career May 4 in Boston. That outing set off a run of up-and-down appearances, as Walden blew three of five saves chances and saw his ERA balloon from 0.68 to 3.26 in just six games.
Walden wasn't quite sure of the cause of his struggles until he watched video and saw that his mechanics had slipped.
"Just little things," Walden said. "Not looking at the target, my arm slot was always off. ... [I was] just getting on the side of the ball a lot. The ball was moving too much. [I was] just trying to throw something that I don't throw, you know, something that's moving out of the strike zone. [I] just couldn't throw strikes."
The difference was so slight, though, that neither catcher Hank Conger nor Scioscia noticed a flaw in Walden's delivery.
"It must have been, for him, his feel," Conger said. "But it was just a little bad stretch."
It didn't take much more than a simple bullpen session and a discussion with pitching coach Mike Butcher to get Walden back on track, and since then, he's returned to his April level of production. Walden has converted his past six save opportunities and has allowed only two runs in his past eight innings.
"Pitchers absolutely are going to be out of sync at times and going to have to struggle to get back into zones and into counts," Scioscia said. "Jordan went through a little bit of that, but he's been lights-out."
Despite being a closer for just about two months, Walden certainly has shown he has the makeup to excel in the role.
"I love the adrenaline rush," he said. "I love to have the game on the line. I love to have the ball in my hands."
His fastball routinely hits the upper 90s, and on occasion, it exceeds 100 mph. Walden's 29 strikeouts rank second among Angels relievers, as does his 9.5 K's per nine innings.
"It's an electric fastball, and I think one of the things is that it's heavy," Conger said. "It's a really heavy fastball -- [has a] really good tilt. [He has] late life on his slider. And now he's incorporating his changeup, too, which is a really good pitch."
Walden's assortment of pitches speak to his days as a starter in the Minors. But after he went 1-5 with a 5.25 ERA in 13 starts with Double-A Arkansas during the 2009 season, the Angels moved him to the bullpen.
Walden quickly took to the new role and sped through the Minor Leagues ranks, making his Major League debut Aug. 22, 2010, against Minnesota.
"[If] you asked me like three years ago where I was going to be at today, I wouldn't know," Walden said. "I did not expect this at all, but I'm glad it happened."
Conger caught Walden when the righty struggled as a starter back in 2009, and he said he's not shocked Walden made such a rapid transformation.
"It's not surprising at all," he said. "When they [moved Walden to the bullpen], you could see that he'd have good success with it. He really took off. He really ran with it."
David Ely is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.