7/9/2014 9:41 P.M. ET
Deeper bullpen thriving as new faces pitch in
By Matthew DeFranks / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- With the Angels riding a hot streak and looking like postseason contenders, their relievers have often been mentioned in trade rumors. But amidst all the talk, the 'pen has quietly put together one of its best stretches of the season.
In its last 12 games, the bullpen has a 1.52 ERA, while opponents are hitting just .185. The Angels are 8-4 over that stretch.
"We've taken some steps forward, and that's not only encouraging, but I think anytime the confidence level of your bullpen is high, it's totally connected to the confidence level of your team," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think we're getting some guys down there that are throwing the ball very well. Some guys have been doing it all year, some guys are starting to throw the ball the way they can."
What's the difference over the last 12 games? The additions of Jason Grilli and Joe Thatcher have certainly helped.
Grilli, acquired from the Pirates on June 27 for struggling closer Ernesto Frieri, has not allowed an earned run in his six appearances, while Thatcher has allowed one hit in two-thirds of an inning. The Angels traded two prospects to Arizona on Saturday to get Thatcher and Minor Leaguer Tony Campana.
Scioscia said Grilli and Thatcher give the bullpen a "deeper look on a daily basis," but reliever Mike Morin said the veterans bring something else.
"Consistency," Morin said. "No one's perfect, but those guys in the latter part of the game, when we're ahead, it's a comforting feeling."
While Grilli and Thatcher have been grabbing the headlines, the other guys -- most notably Morin, Kevin Jepsen and Joe Smith -- have been solid, as well.
Morin has stranded 16 of 17 inherited runners this season. Twenty-seven of Jepsen's last 28 appearances have been scoreless. Smith is 4-for-4 in save opportunities since the Frieri trade and has not allowed a hit in his last six outings.
"It probably has a lot to do with competition," Morin said. "[You think,] 'Jepsen has thrown five scoreless, I'm going to try to throw six.' I think that positive competition helps everyone."
Over a seven-game stretch in mid-June, the bullpen blew four saves, which inflated its total to a league-leading 12. The Angels have not blown a save since.
"Those guys are evolving," Scioscia said.
Pujols moves into tie for 21st on all-time homer list
ANAHEIM -- Albert Pujols' seventh-inning home run Wednesday lifted the Angels to an 8-7 win but also moved him up the all-time home run list.
The two-run smash to center was Pujols' 512th career homer, tying him for 21st all-time with Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews, and his 20th of the season.
"You start to hear the guys that are really the all-time greats in the game that he's right there with," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think Albert's playing this game for the right reasons. He's not playing it to catch the next guy on the home run list, he's not playing it for anything but helping us win and that's why he's so much fun to be around and has so much respect, not only in this clubhouse but in the whole game of baseball."
It is the first time since 2010 that Pujols has reached 20 home runs before the All-Star break, and Wednesday's dinger made the Angels the only team in the Majors with two players with 20 homers. Teammate Mike Trout also has 20.
The home run was Pujols' 31st career go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later. It was his third with the Angels.
"At the end of my career, that's when I'm going to look back and see what I've done," Pujols said. "It's hard for me to get caught up because I'm not a guy that gets caught up with numbers. I respect this game too much and I believe if you try to get caught up too much with that, you forget what you're supposed to do and that's to help this organization to win a championship."
Angels expecting Weaver to make next start
ANAHEIM -- Angels right-hander Jered Weaver, who is recovering from lower back tightness, threw a bullpen session Wednesday morning and said he felt "awesome."
Weaver should not miss his next start and is listed as the probable pitcher for Saturday's game at Texas. The Angels ace left Monday's win over Toronto after just two innings when he injured his back fielding a comebacker from Adam Lind.
Manager Mike Scioscia said the Angels put "a lot of thought" into potentially skipping Weaver's next start and giving him 10-plus days of rest with the All-Star break next week.
"I don't think anything changed from the parameters we put on it a couple days ago," Scioscia said. "Let's wait and see how it lines up. If he can pitch, he'll pitch, and if he's a risk, he won't pitch. Just based on his workout this [morning], he's definitely past that point of being a risk."
Matt Shoemaker relieved Weaver on Monday and threw 3 2/3 innings of two-run ball to pick up the victory.
• Hector Santiago will start Thursday's game at Texas after Shoemaker's emergency relief performance Monday pushed him back.
Santiago was available in the bullpen on Tuesday but was not needed in a 4-0 Angels defeat, freeing him to start Thursday. Santiago started Saturday against the Astros and gave up five runs on six hits in five innings.
The Angels will send Garrett Richards, Weaver and Tyler Skaggs to the mound, in that order, to finish the first half.
Shoemaker is not scheduled to pitch before the break, and Scioscia said he is "in limbo."
• As expected, Mike Trout and David Freese were back in the lineup Wednesday in their usual center field and third base positions, respectively.