7/23/2014 2:48 A.M. ET
Since April, bullpen shows mound of improvement
By Alden Gonzalez and Matthew DeFranks / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- After nearly four months and a handful of other candidates, Joe Smith and Kevin Jepsen have finally found each other. The two Angels relievers are throwing partners now, bonded by the commonality of being two of only three bullpen members -- along with Fernando Salas -- remaining from the Opening Day roster.
Jepsen went through three other throwing partners, Smith had four of his own, and the Angels' front office created a revolving door in the bullpen, using 29 different pitchers through the first 16 weeks and making three critical acquisitions in less than a month.
No one is complaining, though.
With Jason Grilli, Joe Thatcher and Huston Street added to the mix, the Angels' 'pen has been one of the best in baseball this month. Since the start of July, their relief corps ranks second in the Majors in ERA (1.55) and third in WHIP (0.97), while sporting the sixth-best walk rate (1.84) and converting eight of nine save chances heading into Tuesday's game. Since the end of June, the group's ERA has gone from 4.28 to 3.69.
"It's night and day, man," Smith said. "It's definitely a weird feeling. When you see how our bullpen was designed coming out of Spring Training and you see it now, it's nowhere near what we thought it was. It's definitely gotten better."
Jepsen, the longest-tenured Angels reliever, called it "extensively better" and believes it's "the best bullpen I've been a part of," though the 2009 group also got a lot better in the second half.
On June 27, the Angels and Pirates swapped struggling closers, with Ernesto Frieri and his 6.39 ERA going to Pittsburgh for Grilli, who has an ERA and WHIP under 1.00 in his first 11 appearances in Anaheim.
On July 5, the Angels sent a couple of prospects -- outfielder Zach Borenstein and reliever Joey Krehbiel -- to the D-backs for lefty specialist Thatcher, who has given up four hits in 10 at-bats against lefties but had a 2.63 ERA in his first 37 games this season.
And on Friday, four other prospects were sent to the Padres -- shortstop Jose Rondon, second baseman Taylor Lindsey, starter Elliot Morris and reliever R.J. Alvarez -- for Street, who has a 1.06 ERA and is 24 for 25 in saves.
Those three, with Smith, Jepsen, Salas, Mike Morin and Cory Rasmus, have shortened games for Angels manager Mike Scioscia and given the offense plentiful opportunities to come back -- something they've done better than any other team in the Majors.
"We just have so many good arms that have all pitched in the back end of the 'pen," Jepsen said. "Everybody knows what they're doing."
Smith and Jepsen pointed out something else, which often goes overlooked or brushed aside: Thatcher, Grilli and Street are all great teammates, with easygoing personalities that have allowed them to fit in quickly.
On a bullpen, that's important.
"The bullpen, I feel, it's more important with the chemistry of the guys down there because it's just us," Jepsen said. "It's just us."
"We got fortunate," Smith added. "We revamped our whole 'pen with a bunch of good dudes who are pretty darn good. Our bullpen just keeps getting better and better with the additions of guys. It'd be nice to kind of stop that revolving door. I don't think you can have a good bullpen when you've got people coming in and out."
Trout honored as Angels 'Heart & Hustle' recipient
ANAHEIM -- Mike Trout was named the Angels' recipient of the Heart & Hustle Award, presented by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA).
One player from every Major League team won the award and, from the 30 nominees, one winner will be crowned across baseball. The honor, voted on by current and former players, is awarded to the player who demonstrates "a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game."
In 2012, Trout won the Major League-wide award after he hit .326 and led the Majors in both runs (129) and stolen bases (49) while winning the American League Rookie of the Year.
Outfielder J.B. Shuck won the Angels' award last season and two of the last three MLB winners have been Angels. Torii Hunter won in 2011.
This season, Trout is hitting .310 with 23 home runs and 74 RBIs while leading the AL in OPS (1.002).
Hamilton is DH again to stay fresh for stretch
ANAHEIM -- Josh Hamilton started at designated hitter on Tuesday for the second straight day, and third of the last four, due to "a little tightness [in his legs] that we're just trying to get over," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. The veteran outfielder didn't mention an injury when speaking with reporters prior to Scioscia's daily media session, however, saying he felt good enough to play the field and took the start at DH simply because it was available.
"Why not?" Hamilton said before going 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts in the Angels' 4-2 loss to the Orioles. "Get it when you can."
Hamilton, batting .293/.372/.434, has DH'd in seven of his 51 starts this season and sees his recent time there as a preventive measure that can ensure he stays fresh for the stretch run. So, on days like Tuesday, when Albert Pujols doesn't need to DH, Hamilton will oftentimes consider utilizing it to take some of the burden off his lower half.
It's something the 33-year-old has learned to embrace.
"I used to hate it because I didn't know what to do to get ready or prepared [for at-bats], that sort of thing," Hamilton said. "But as you start doing it a little more, you start to get it, figure out what you need to do. It's all good."
• Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the club would keep its current eight-man bullpen until the end of its 10-game homestand.
The Angels are waiting for the bullpen to recover from pitching 16 1/3 innings this weekend, injured starter C.J. Wilson to return and Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago to get back into a regular routine with four days' rest.
"There are some things on the horizon that are probably going to keep us at a 13-man pitching staff definitely through the weekend," Scioscia said. "The off-day's Monday and we'll assess things and see where we are."
• When the Angels traded for closer Huston Street, they opened a roster spot for him by sending first baseman C.J. Cron to Triple-A.
The Angels used Cron mostly as a designated hitter but the 24-year-old rookie also saw time at first base. Cron was batting .295 on July 5 but a 3-for-26 (.115) stretch sent his average plummeting to .269.
"Whether he's an everyday DH or whether he's playing some first base, first and foremost he needs to get comfortable in the batter's box again," Scioscia said. "That's what hopefully, he's going to do down in Triple-A and when he's ready and we have the need for him, he's going to get a chance to come up here and contribute."
• Ian Stewart, who was designated for assignment on Friday, cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A.
Stewart, slowed by a thumb injury, is hitting .176 in 24 Major League games this season.
• Mike Morin said his hamstring felt fine postgame after falling awkwardly in the sixth inning during Tuesday's 4-2 loss to Baltimore.
After Morin's second pitch of the inning to Adam Jones, he landed strangely and fell backward, the product of a tight hamstring, Scioscia said. Scioscia and trainer Rick Smith came out to check on Morin, who stayed in the game after three warmup pitches.
Morin struck out the next two batters before allowing three straight hits that gave Baltimore a 3-0 lead.
• The Orem Owlz, the Angels' Rookie affiliate, won the Pioneer League South division title on Tuesday, clinching a playoff berth in the process. Orem beat Missoula, 8-4, to clinch the title.
The Owlz boast 15 of the Angels' draft picks from this year.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. Matthew DeFranks is an associate reporter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.