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Cam Bedrosian's slider could help him slip into the job as Angels closer

Cam Bedrosian’s fastball hummed in the mid-90s when he was in high school. The son of a former Cy Young winner, Bedrosian did not need a dependable breaking ball to become a top prospect. The Angels selected him 29th overall in the 2010 MLB draft because of the bloodlines, the fastball and a steep curveball he could only occasionally command.

A month after he signed for more than $1 million, his arm began to hurt. He had elbow ligament replacement surgery the following spring and pitched only 12 innings in his first two professional seasons. When he returned, he couldn’t throw the curveball anymore, for reasons he still does not understand. He was still a starting pitcher, but one without any steady secondary offerings, and thus a failing one.

The Angels moved the right-hander to the bullpen the next season, 2013, and he reverted to an old slider grip his father, Steve Bedrosian, taught him in high school. He often failed to throw it where he sought, which produced good and bad results. For three years running, Bedrosian both struck out and walked a dizzying number of hitters. His major league stints were dispiriting. He had a 5.81 earned-run average in 51 appearances.

Then, fighting to make the opening-day roster last spring, Bedrosian decided to change his routine. Rather than warming up by mixing a few sliders in with his firm fastball, he made the breaking ball a focus. Every day he played catch, and after his normal routine he’d add a session of 20 consecutive sliders, always aiming to hit the receiver in the chest.

“That was really where it all began,” he said.

He struck out 17 men in 11 Cactus League innings, sneaked onto the squad, and then pitched like one of baseball’s best relievers for four months while using the slider more than ever before. Over 40 1/3 innings, he struck out 55 and walked 14, his command finally in check. He permitted only four extra-base hits. His ERA was 1.12.

He threw the slider 32% of the time, up from 19% in his rookie season. Hitters slugged .182 against it, down from .595 in 2015. His fastball performed about the same as it always had; the slider was the key reason his results turned.

“As far as mastering it, understanding it and making it functional, it took some time for Cam,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “What he did last year was lights out. I think he’s got the confidence to use it in key situations.”

In August, just as he rose to become the club’s closer, Bedrosian told a trainer his right middle finger was hurting. He soon went on the disabled list with what was called tendinitis. Three weeks later, he was diagnosed with a blood clot in a small artery near his right armpit. On Sept. 6, he had surgery to mend it, and that ended his season.

For about a month thereafter, he did nothing. For the subsequent month, he rehabilitated the injury. And then he resumed a normal off-season.

Now 25, Bedrosian is competing to close again in 2017, and he gained the advantage when incumbent Huston Street strained his back during his first Cactus League appearance. Veteran right-hander Andrew Bailey is the remaining challenger, and he has been unsteady so far this spring. Bedrosian suffered a groin strain in early fielding practice, rested for a week, and on Wednesday threw his third scoreless inning without issue.

One likely effect worth noting: If Bedrosian spends the entire season in the majors, he should qualify to begin arbitration in 2018 as a “Super Two,” one of the annual crop of players who earn the right to go through the process four times. At the expense of rationality, MLB’s arbitration process heavily values saves. As current Washington Nationals assistant general manager Bob Miller told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2013, “First-year arbitration-eligible closers make more than the best starting pitchers.”

It’s particularly important to record saves before the first year of arbitration, when each player’s precedent is set. So even one full season as the Angels’ closer would make Bedrosian millions more over the next four years.

If he is saving games, he’ll be doing it with the fastball-slider combination, nothing more. He once threw the curveball, a cutter and a two-seamer. Most recently, he regularly employed a changeup. No more.

“He doesn’t need it,” Scioscia said.

Short hops

Left-hander John Lamb said he will fly to Los Angeles on Monday for a visit with Dr. Robert Watkins, a back specialist. Lamb underwent surgery to repair a herniated lumbar disk in October and has not thrown a baseball since. He could be cleared to begin a throwing program next week. … Infielder Cliff Pennington, bothered by shoulder soreness in recent days, said he is ready to play. …The Angels reassigned outfielder Michael Hermosillo and infielders David Fletcher and Sherman Johnson to minor league camp, and optioned right-hander Daniel Wright to the same location. … Right-hander Alex Meyer will start Friday, while right-hander Jesse Chavez will pitch in a minor league game. Through the first three rotation cycles this spring, Meyer had relieved Chavez.

pedro.moura@latimes.com

Twitter: @pedromoura

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