03/01/12 7:51 PM EST
Hawkins, Isringhausen ready to tutor Walden
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
Not like he needed to anyway.
"I didn't tell you you're going?" Hawkins told Walden on Thursday morning. "My bad!"
In the very early stages of Spring Training, it was actually Walden -- the young flame-thrower on whom so much is riding this season -- who reached out to Hawkins, letting the sage right-hander know he'd be seeking him out for guidance through his second year as a full-time closer in the Majors.
"He came up to me, probably the second day, and told me, 'I'm going to be picking your brain this year,'" Hawkins recalled. "I said, 'I'm an open book, brother.' He made the initial move, which was pretty cool."
Ever since then, Hawkins and Walden have been buddies.
They may not be in the same group during Spring Training workouts, but they've been like two peas in a pod off the field. They went to Gallagher's in Phoenix to watch the Mavericks play on Wednesday night, saw City Hall together, and even went golfing recently.
"We had a blast," Hawkins said. "He's a good dude. We're going to have some fun this year."
Good times aside, it's all part of the process of mentoring the 24-year-old Walden, who's taking on a job many will tell you is a lot more mental than it is physical.
This spring, Walden has two very experienced, 39-year-old mentors in Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen. Together, they have 32 years in the big leagues, countless experiences in all the trials and tribulations a reliever can go through and, most importantly, a willingness to help.
"We need him," Hawkins said of Walden. "We need him as much as we need Albert Pujols. People probably don't believe that, but I know that for a fact."
Walden made the All-Star team in 2011, and finished the season with a 2.98 ERA and 32 saves, but he blew 10 of those save chances and posted a 4.35 ERA in September -- a month someone like Walden isn't really used to pitching in.
The Angels were tied for the American League lead in blown saves in 2011, but didn't have the financial flexibility to add a whole lot to the relief corps. They got Hawkins for $3 million in early December, but after signing Pujols and C.J. Wilson the next day, they watched many a free-agent reliever come off the board and go elsewhere. The only other bullpen addition they made was Isringhausen, who signed a Minor League contract last week.
In other words, the potential improvement of the Angels' bullpen will rest heavily on Walden's own ability to take the next step forward.
In hopes of helping him do that, the Angels are surrounding him in a cocoon of wisdom and moxie.
"If I can make the team and everything, it should be great [to mentor Walden]," said Isringhausen, who is third among active pitchers in career saves, with an even 300. "It'd be good for him. Good for us. Everyone knows he's got the stuff to do it, has the arm. You have to work on the mental side."
That mental side, Isringhausen will tell you, is "90 percent" of being a closer.
The veteran right-hander hasn't had a chance to chat much with Walden just yet, but he already realizes he'll need to calm down a bit.
"You can just tell," Isringhausen said. "He's a little high-strung. You have to be able to slow it down, be a little more easy-going. It's kind of hard to do anything when you're holding your breath the whole time, so you have to just relax and breathe. I think he holds his breath a lot."
On the more tangible side of things, Walden will be looking to incorporate a changeup into his arsenal a little more, combining it with his hard fastball and biting slider in hopes of becoming a rare three-pitch closer.
"He threw in the 'pen early on, and it was really good," new catcher Chris Iannetta said of the changeup. "I was impressed with his presence, even in the bullpen; his awareness of what he needed to do."
Now Walden needs to carry that presence into the regular season, maintain it despite blowing a save the previous night, keep it going as the season stretches into September and, perhaps, channel it when games matter most in the playoffs.
Hawkins and Isringhausen think they can help him through that.
"His main job is to flip the page as much as possible, because obviously he has the stuff -- obviously he knows he has the stuff, because he made the All-Star team last year -- so everything is there," Hawkins said. "We just have to build on what he did last year and help him try not to make as many mistakes as last year, and build off that."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and 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.