Angels balance out the bullpen with two left-handed relievers

Left-handed relievers Jose Alvarez and Cesar Ramos give Angels the balance in the bullpen they have lacked

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia summoned left-hander Jose Alvarez to face Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales in the eighth inning of a one-run game against the Kansas City Royals last Friday night.

Alvarez retired Hosmer, the left-handed cleanup hitter, and Morales, a switch-hitter who is more powerful from the left side, on ground balls to third base.

The same two sluggers came up again in the ninth with the bases loaded and one out. This time, Scioscia turned to left-hander Cesar Ramos, who struck out Hosmer and got Morales to ground out.

It has been two years since the Angels had a reliable left-handed reliever, though Scott Downs was slowed by injuries and appeared in 43 games with a 3.15 earned-run average in 2013, the end of a solid three-year run.

You have to go back to 2009 for the last time the Angels had two strong left-handers in the bullpen, but Brian Fuentes was the closer that season, and Darren Oliver was more of a middle reliever than a specialist.

Neither Ramos, a middle reliever and spot starter for four years in Tampa Bay, nor Alvarez, a starter for most of his nine-year minor league career, were left-handed specialists before this season. But their ability to adapt to the role could add more depth and versatility to a strong Angels bullpen.

"Statistically, they're both fine," Scioscia said, when asked which player matches up better against left-handed hitters. "I think they both have the ability to neutralize some left-handers and take some power away. I don't know that it has to be one or the other. We're going to need them both."

Scioscia has always preferred dominant right-handers who are effective against all batters — think Scot Shields, Francisco Rodriguez, Brendan Donnelly — over mediocre left-handers, which is why he has gone full seasons without a left-hander in the bullpen.

But with right-handed setup man Joe Smith and closer Huston Street covering the eighth and ninth innings, Alvarez and Ramos give Scioscia the luxury of matching up against left-handers in the middle innings while still retaining Mike Morin, Vinnie Pestano and Fernando Salas for right-handers.

"It's great to have balance, it's great to have two left-handers, and that should help take some pressure off the rotation," Scioscia said. "The bottom line is you have to have arms to hold leads, and we feel both of these guys will do that."

With a sizable pack of left-handed hitters in the American League West, a group that includes Seattle's Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, Texas' Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and Oakland's Ike Davis and Josh Reddick — there should be plenty of opportunities for the Angels left-handers.

"It's unbelievable," Ramos said. "I thought being in the AL East, there were some big left-handers, but I feel like they're all in the AL West now. Seattle is full of them, the same with Texas, even playing Kansas City, they have some big left-handed bats. It's fun going up against them, testing each other out."

Ramos and Alvarez throw 90-mph fastballs and curves, but Ramos throws from a lower arm slot with more of a cutting action on his fastball, and Alvarez has more of an overhand curve and changeup, so they give different looks to hitters.

Ramos, the more experienced and accomplished of the two, will draw the higher-leverage assignments. He has allowed no runs and three hits in 2 2/3 innings of four appearances, striking out four and walking one.

Alvarez, 25, allowed one hit in two scoreless innings of his first three games before giving up four runs in 2 1/3 innings in a mop-up role Tuesday in Texas.

"So far, the way I've been used, it hasn't been how it was in Tampa Bay," Ramos, 30, said. "It's definitely a good thing. I'm getting in meaningful games, building that trust in Scioscia. Hopefully I can keep building it and he keeps running me out there."

Ramos has found one considerable benefit to being more of a specialist than a long man.

"You're a lot more fresh the next day," he said. "I'm able to recover better than when I'd go multiple innings and be expected to do it again the next night. That's a little more taxing on the arm."

UP NEXT: Right-hander Jered Weaver (0-2, 8.71 ERA) will oppose Astros right-hander Roberto Hernandez (0-1, 1.93) at Minute Maid Park on Friday at 5 p.m. PDT. On the air: TV—FS West; Radio—830.

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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