7/12/2014 1:40 A.M. ET
Angels bullpen finding consistency
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- A minefield for stretches in recent years, including early this season, the Angels' bullpen has taken on a look of stability and poise under pressure during the club's surge to the second-best record in Major League Baseball.
"It's not the finished product," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "but no doubt it has more consistency than it's had in two or three years."
Joe Smith has moved seamlessly and confidently into departed Ernesto Frieri's role as closer, and the men dealing in front of him -- Kevin Jepsen, Mike Morin, Fernando Salas, Cory Rasmus and recently acquired Jason Grilli and Joe Thatcher -- have been clearing the bridge to the ninth inning with rock-solid work.
"Right now," Scioscia said, "Joe Smith is really comfortable in that last inning. It frees up Grilli and Jep. It's a big difference, the presence Joe has had."
Over the past 15 games, the bullpen owns a collective 1.74 ERA, holding hitters to a .193 batting average. Smith, 3-0 with 13 saves, a 2.43 ERA and 0.912 WHIP, hasn't allowed a hit in eight straight appearances and hasn't yielded a run in 30 of 35 games, converting eight straight saves opportunities since June 24.
A veteran with closing experience who arrived with 11 saves this year for the Pirates, Grilli has blended right in with six scoreless innings. Jepsen has a 2.13 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 44 appearances, limiting hitters to a .175 average.
Morin, a rookie find with his high-quality repertoire and lethal changeup, owns a 2.20 ERA and 1.071 WHIP in 31 games. Salas is 4-0 with a 3.03 ERA in 30 appearances, and Rasmus' ERA is 2.65 in 13 outings. Thatcher, the lefty specialist, has allowed a hit and a walk while getting four outs in three appearances.
While the bullpen's overall 3.93 ERA for the season ranks 12th in the American League, the mood is decidedly upbeat as the outs add up.
Engaging Grilli fitting in with relief corps
ARLINGTON -- Jason Grilli is by no means an introvert. The Angels' new reliever isn't shy about expressing himself.
"I'm a vocal person," said Grilli, a 37-year-old right-hander working for his seventh club in 12 Major League seasons. "I try to add some flavor -- without being annoying."
A setup man and middle reliever before emerging as the Pirates' closer with 33 saves last year, Grilli came to the Angels in exchange for Ernesto Frieri on June 27. He has yielded one unearned run in six innings, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out six.
"My whole thing is getting to know the guys as quick as possible," Grilli said. "They've made me feel like I belong. Guys are flipping up good stuff, pulling on the rope in a good direction. The second half is always what it's about. If there's any time to gain momentum, this is it."
Grilli, 1-3 with 11 saves and a 3.76 ERA overall this season, looks around a clubhouse featuring superstars, stars and quality role players and clearly embraces its immediate possibilities.
"I see this team's built for a championship run -- and the belief here has been nothing but that," Grilli said. "To be able to see the guys hanging out, enjoying each other's company, that's always a good thing."
Grilli, with 413 career appearances, knows that every out is important when you work out of the bullpen -- especially as the long grind of a season heads down the stretch.
"Guys here want to do whatever it takes," he said. "Every role is important. The eighth inning can be more important than the ninth, the way the lineup turns up."
Kevin Jepsen, who turns 30 on July 26, is the senior member of the bullpen in service time. He became a full-time reliever in 2009 Angels in a dynamic bullpen featuring Scot Shields, Francisco Rodriguez and Darren Oliver.
"Jason's a really good guy," Jepsen said. "He's fit in very well, very quickly. You always want good chemistry in your bullpen, and that's what we're building here."
Confident Calhoun keeps sizzling
ARLINGTON -- There's something about Kole Calhoun's personal style that projects a deeply rooted self-confidence. The Angels' 26-year-old right fielder and leadoff man from Buckeye, Ariz., has every reason to feel that way given his performance in a breakout season.
"Any player has to go out there with confidence," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "This game will drag you down and chew you up if you don't have confidence. Kole's had some dry spells, but he knows what he can do. He's given us a big boost."
The Angels' offense has taken flight with the top third -- Calhoun, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols -- driving the machinery. Calhoun, who had four hits and missed a cycle by a home run in Thursday night's rout of the Rangers, is hitting .371 since May 29 -- third in the Majors -- while leading both leagues in runs scored with 36 during the stretch.
Calhoun is hitting .305 overall with a .366 on-base percentage and .542 slugging mark. His 10 home runs are third on the club behind Trout (21) and Pujols (20).
"No doubt he has some pop in his bat," Scioscia said. "He's put together [physically]. Look at the guy."
Scioscia compared Calhoun's compact structure to that of Ron Cey, his former teammate with the Dodgers.
"Kole's not going to hit as many home runs as Penguin did," Scioscia said, "but he can drive the ball."
Two weeks into the season, Calhoun went on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right ankle, missing 31 games. Collin Cowgill flourished in Calhoun's absence, and a platoon formed when they were reunited. Finding Cowgill at-bats might become a challenge if Calhoun continues to bash baseballs, given that Trout and Josh Hamilton don't need many days off in the outfield.
"I don't think it was a total platoon," Scioscia said. "If Kole is swinging to his potential, he's not really a guy you'd platoon. He's hanging in very well against left-handers."
• Since hitting coach Don Baylor returned June 25 from surgery for a fractured femur, the Angels have been in a deep groove. They lead the Majors in runs (102), batting average (.310), doubles (31), RBIs (96), on-base percentage (.361) and slugging (.479) while going 12-4.
• The Angels' 23-4 stretch at Angel Stadium is their best at home across 27 games in franchise history. They've won their past nine series at home.
• Mike Trout, with 21 homers and 68 RBIs, is the first Angels hitter to go 20/60 in the power categories since Vladimir Guerrero (20/77) in his 2004 AL Most Valuable Player Award-winning season.
• Catcher Chris Iannetta has raised his average from .214 to .277 with a .323 stretch over his past 34 games.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.