Middle relievers are the offensive linemen of baseball, guys who toil in relative anonymity until something goes wrong, like a holding penalty on a key fourth-quarter play or a seventh-inning meltdown that turns a one-run game into a blowout loss.
"I have absolutely no problem with that," said reliever Kevin Jepsen, the pulling guard of the Angels bullpen. "If you don't know I was in the game, it means I did my job. If I'm getting exposure on television or in the paper, that means I blew the game. I don't need that attention."
For six weeks, no news was good news for Jepsen, who did not give up a run in 19 appearances from May 7-June 20, a span covering 15 innings in which he struck out 14 and walked seven.
Then Ernesto Frieri lost his grip on the closer job by blowing a four-run, ninth-inning lead in Atlanta on June 14 and giving up a walk-off grand slam to Nick Swisher in Cleveland on Thursday. And setup man Joe Smith's neck stiffened, making him unavailable Saturday night against Texas.
With a 2-1 lead in the ninth, Manager Mike Scioscia summoned Jepsen for a rare closing opportunity, only hours after saying the 29-year-old right-hander was "the best equipped he's ever been to pitch in the back end" of the bullpen.
But Jepsen put a knee-high fastball into the swing path of Shin-Soo Choo, who drove a solo homer to center field to tie the score, 2-2. Jepsen struck out two of the next three batters, and the Angels won on Howie Kendrick's run-scoring double in the 10th. The next day, Jepsen sought out pitching coach Mike Butcher.
"I told Butch, 'Don't let that one outing change your decisions,' I want that opportunity," Jepsen said. "In that situation, I'm coming right after guys. I'm not going to walk a guy or shy away from contact."
Jepsen has been charged with runs only three times in 34 appearances. He gave up three hits and five runs in two-thirds of an inning in a season-opening loss to Seattle on March 31, and two hits and three runs in 11/3 innings against Texas on May 4.
He has allowed 11 of 28 (39%) inherited runners to score, a figure he knows should be better, but has held batters to a career-low .189 average. Thanks in part to an improved changeup, he has held left-handers to a .250 mark, 43 points lower than his career average.
"I always have rough starts," Jepsen said. "For whatever reason, I come out of April with an enormous ERA and spend rest of the year getting it down."
Jepsen, in his sixth season, has a 2.96 earned-run average. In his career, he has a 7.29 ERA in April and May and a 3.10 ERA in June, July, August and September.
"I tried throwing more bullpens in the off-season to avoid that first month of giving up runs," he said. "That didn't work."
He has an idea why. It may have something to do with the transition from spring training to the regular season.
"In spring training, you know when you're throwing, you have days off, but once you get into the season, it's a different animal," Jepsen said. "You try to get by until your body and mechanics feel comfortable.
"Some guys cruise right through spring training and into the season and everything feels good. For me, it's always tough to get into that routine, the rhythm of being live every day."
No matter how well he pitches, Jepsen knows heavy criticism is one blown save around the corner. It's part of the territory.
"It's a six-month season, and people can jump on and off the bandwagon from day to day," he said. "You never want to get off to a bad start, but it happens. You have two options. You can either battle back from it or you can give in. I've battled to get back."
The Angels-Cleveland Indians game scheduled for June 18 that was rained out in Cleveland has been rescheduled for Monday, Sept. 8, at 10 a.m. PDT at Progressive Field. The date was originally an off day for the Angels between a Sept. 7 game at Minnesota and a Sept. 9 game at Texas. A three-city, nine-game trip to Houston, Minnesota and Texas will now be a four-city, 10-game trip.
Left-hander C.J. Wilson (7-6, 3.34 ERA) will oppose Minnesota right-hander Kyle Gibson (6-3, 3.25) at Angel Stadium on Tuesday at 7 p.m. On the air: TV: FS West. Radio: 830.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times