It’s like old-home week for several of the Tampa Bay Rays, who open a three-game series in Angel Stadium on Monday night. There are four former Angels on the Rays roster, relievers Kevin Jepsen, Ernesto Frieri and Steve Geltz and catcher Bobby Wilson.
“It’s a little different coming back and being on the opposite side,” said Jepsen, a key late-inning reliever for six seasons (2009 to 2014) in Anaheim. “But it’s nice to be back.”
Jepsen didn’t exactly get the warmest welcome. He drove to the park Monday afternoon with several teammates and tried to enter the Angels players’ parking lot “just to see if I had enough pull to still get in there,” he said.
The parking-lot attendant “knew me, and she was happy to see me and say, ‘Hi,’ and then once I asked if we could park there, she quickly said no,” Jepsen said. “They kicked us out.”
Jepsen made his way to the visiting clubhouse and to the field to meet several ex-teammates. He should have left a trail of bread crumbs.
“I got lost [on my way back to the clubhouse] and ended up in the dugout suites and the batting cage,” Jepsen said. “I didn't even know how to get back up to the locker room. It's a little different.”
The Angels have an effective back-of-the-bullpen tandem in setup man Joe Smith and closer Huston Street, but they have struggled to fill the seventh-inning role Jepsen filled so capably, going 0-2 with a 2.63 earned-run average in 74 games last season.
Jepsen, who entered Monday night’s game with a 1-3 record and 2.11 ERA in 23 games for the Rays, was traded for left fielder Matt Joyce last December.
Joyce struggled for most of April and May but is 12 for 38 with three homers and seven runs batted in over his last 13 games, raising his average from .137 to .186.
“It was tough to give up Jepsen, but to get something that’s going to help you, you have to give something up,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “You can see the potential over the last 10 games or so that Matt Joyce brings. He was an important piece for us, and they needed someone like Jepsen.”
Frieri was a very important piece for the Angels after being acquired from San Diego in May of 2012, quickly emerging as a closer and going 4-2 with a 2.32 ERA and 27 saves in 56 games that season.
The right-hander went 2-4 with a 3.80 ERA and 37 saves in 2013 but struggled badly in 2014. He suffered several meltdowns in April, lost his closer job and went 0-3 with a 6.39 ERA and 11 saves in 34 games before being traded to Pittsburgh in June. He has a 4.84 ERA in 21 games in mostly a mop-up role for Tampa Bay.
“When he first came, he was one-dimensional but had an explosive fastball with good life, and when he needed to make a pitch, he was able to,” Scioscia said. “He didn’t start last year off with that same command. He was not able to get into good counts and put guys away like he did before. He has it in him, his arm is good, but it just didn’t materialize last year.”