For the first half of the season, the Angels' pitching staff was like a deck of cards that was constantly reshuffled. Twenty-nine pitchers made appearances. Remember Rich Hill's zero-inning appearance? What about Jarrett Grube? Jose Alvarez?
With most of the second half remaining, the team has matched the organization's record for pitchers used. Gradually, though, the team has found consistency. And as the pitching staff has stabilized, the bullpen has turned into an asset.
"We're slowly getting into established roles," said right-hander Mike Morin, who pitched 1 2/3 perfect innings in relief Sunday.
The bullpen was perfect in 3 2/3 innings in the Angels' 2-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. David Freese hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning and that was enough.
For much of the season, the pitching staff, and the bullpen in particular, has been suspended in a state of mild chaos. Ernesto Frieri, the closer, couldn't close. He had a 6.39 earned-run average when he was traded to Pittsburgh for Jason Grilli, another struggling former closer.
Joe Smith took over the ninth-inning role until the trade with San Diego for Huston Street after the All-Star break. Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto also added Joe Thatcher in a trade with Arizona. Despite a second-half resurgence, the Angels' bullpen still is 19th in ERA in the majors.
But against Detroit, Angels relievers combined for 12 innings and gave up only two runs. Even though the bats remained cold, the team still won three of four games.
Hector Santiago, who gave up one run in 5 1/3 innings Sunday, left a runner on for the heart of the Tigers lineup. But, he said, the starters' new mantra is, "clear way for the bullpen." So when he exited, he trusted Morin.
Morin struck out Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera to end the inning.
"It's almost guaranteed they're going to come in, put up a zero and keep the game right where it's at," Santiago said.
Manager Mike Scioscia said he doesn't know whether the bullpen has stabilized because the team is winning, or whether it's the other way around. But, he theorized, "I think that we're getting [on] rolls now because our guys are pitching well."
Because of the unstable bullpen, only the injury-ravaged Texas Rangers have used more pitchers. Interestingly, though, no team has used fewer starters than the Angels' six.
"One reason is we don't have many more than that," Scioscia said with a laugh.
Despite a C.J. Wilson ankle sprain and minor injuries to Tyler Skaggs and Jered Weaver, the rotation has stayed steady. Matt Shoemaker and Santiago have plugged holes well and will battle for the final rotation spot when Wilson returns. Both dazzled against Detroit.
The series showcased the remodeled bullpen and also some timely starting pitching performances. The Tigers have one of the best hitters in Cabrera, a dangerous cleanup man in Victor Martinez, a highly productive second baseman in Kinsler, a rejuvenated Austin Jackson in the leadoff spot and an ageless Torii Hunter, who at 39 is on pace to drive in more runs than when he was 10 years younger.
Yet, the Angels' arms limited Detroit to eight runs in four games. Cabrera, who leads the major leagues in runs batted in, was held to three hits in 17 at-bats, though he did hit a home run.
The Angels claimed the season series from the Tigers. That head-to-head record would be the tiebreaker if the teams finished the season with identical records and met in the playoffs as division winners or wild-card teams.
The bottom portion of the rotation — Skaggs, Shoemaker and Santiago — limited the Tigers to one run or less in three consecutive games. No team has done that to the Tigers since 2005, when they finished 20 games under .500.
"The depth of our organizational rotation has been a savior this year," Scioscia said.