This was one loss the Angels couldn’t pin on their bullpen.
Jaime Barria, making his ninth major league start, gave up six runs to the Arizona Diamondbacks in four innings Monday night, a sour note for a starting staff that has generally acquitted itself well despite a baffling array of injuries. By the time Mike Scioscia went to his overworked and lately underachieving bullpen, the Angels were well on their way to a 7-4 loss at Angel Stadium, their seventh defeat in eight games.
The season is getting away from them, and fast. If it’s not over, it’s close. And any chance they have to make the summer months meaningful will hinge on reviving or fortifying their bullpen, which through Sunday had pitched the second-most innings in the major leagues, 264 2/3, behind only Tampa Bay.
Probably the best reliever on the market, right-hander Kelvin Herrera, was traded by Kansas City to Washington on Monday for a trio of minor leaguers, none of them among the Nationals’ top eight prospects.
Think he could have helped the Angels, whose bullpen shared the major league lead in blown saves through Sunday’s games with a not-so-grand total of 15 after back-to-back blown saves charged to Noe Ramirez and Cam Bedrosian over the weekend?
General manager Billy Eppler wouldn’t comment on whether he had been in on trade talks involving Herrera, and when asked about his plans for the bullpen he stuck to generalities. “Wherever we can help this club either score more runs or prevent more runs, that’s a good thing,” he said during Monday’s game. “We’ll see what the next couple weeks brings. The next six weeks, technically. But we’re having conversations with clubs and we’ll see if it leads to anything.”
Eppler improved the Angels’ offense last offseason but didn’t do much related to the bullpen, though he couldn’t have known how badly injuries would strike the pitching staff — and everyone else — this season. Last Friday, the Angels had a franchise-record 15 players on the disabled list, a number that shrank to 13 after infielder Andrelton Simmons was reinstated from the disabled list on Saturday and outfielder Kole Calhoun (oblique muscle) was reinstated on Monday. Like everyone else, Eppler wondered if there was a pattern among all these injuries.
“Funny that you bring that up,” he said, “because I’ve looked for a common thread and I’ve seen that some of our injuries are things that everyday people can associate with: sleeping in beds wrong, falling down stairs or tripping on stairs. You’ve had some circumstance-of-life events. You’ve had others, too, on-field collisions — collisions with another player, collision with the ground. And you had some throwing athlete kind of ‘I’m a pitcher and I throw hard and things happen to my throwing arm.’ You had a number of different areas and as we’ve looked into that, there is no causation because of the variety of life events and the variety of on-field collision and the nature of being a throwing athlete.”
Scioscia acknowledged the bullpen “had a rough week” last week but he wouldn’t throw anyone under the bus. He also noted the relief corps was tested sternly from the outset. “Sometimes our starting pitching was only getting us 14 outs through the first month of the season,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys down there who have been throwing the ball very well and they’re doing the job, but some guys obviously are struggling to get into their game. But we’re not going to hang our hat on injuries. Injuries happen to every club. And if you’re going to be championship caliber you absorb whatever injuries are thrown at you and you keep moving forward, and that’s what our goal is going to be.”
They didn’t have to worry about the bullpen protecting a lead Monday because they never had one. “We’ve had times this year where each unit has performed optimally and carried us and we’ve had times this year where some of those units have performed suboptimally and the other units have kind of picked them up and still put us in a spot to win some games,” Eppler said. “It just so happens over this last week it’s kind of been the bullpen that has, in all reality, performed suboptimally, but it’s the same group that was performing pretty good earlier on in the season. So you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this the new normal or is this a sample-size bias?’ And that’s ultimately what we’re looking into. But I will tell you we are open to improving the club anywhere we can.”