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Oh, What a Relief It Is for Angels

Times Staff Writer

Troy Percival is gone but far from forgotten in the Angel bullpen. The Angels did not invite their veteran closer to return in that capacity this season, so he packed his bags for Detroit, promising to keep in touch with the relievers he had mentored over the past few years.

He spoke to Brendan Donnelly on Friday, asking him to pass along a message to Scot Shields. The message?

“Stop giving up runs,” Shields said.

And, with some good-natured motivation from an old friend, Shields stopped the Boston Red Sox on Saturday. So did closer Francisco Rodriguez, with the Angels’ top two relievers securing the final four outs in Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

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With Percival as the closer and Rodriguez, Donnelly and Shields preceding him, the Angel bullpen posted the best earned-run average in the American League in each of the last three seasons. The bullpen ERA is 3.39 this season, ranking fourth in the league, and the recent weeks have not been pretty.

The Angels have 17 blown saves this season, nine in the past 25 days. Shields, whose ERA dipped below 1.00 in late May, had three losses in six appearances before Saturday’s game, including two on consecutive days in the recent showdown series at Oakland. Rodriguez, after converting 24 of his first 26 save opportunities, had blown three of six before Saturday.

But Shields, after giving up a two-run single to Edgar Renteria, struck out David Ortiz with the potential tying runs on base to end the eighth inning, on a 77-mph curve called by catcher Jose Molina.

“That pitch wasn’t even in my mind,” Shields said. “Give Jose credit for putting down those fingers.”

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And Rodriguez recorded the save with a scoreless ninth inning, after which Manager Mike Scioscia said he had not entertained thoughts of displacing Rodriguez as the closer or Shields as the setup man, even temporarily.

“I don’t think the last three weeks have been a dismal failure,” Scioscia said. “They’ve had bumps in the road. The mental makeup of a late-inning reliever is as important as his stuff. These guys don’t carry any baggage into the next game. These guys do bounce back. That’s why we’re confident they’ll be an exclamation point on what we do.”

Shields has pitched 74 2/3 innings this season, the most of any major league reliever. He is on pace for 98 innings this season after working 105 last season, when he posted a 4.42 ERA in September.

“That’s something we talk about every day. We look at his stuff, and I don’t think there’s any need for alarm at all,” pitching coach Bud Black said.

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Said Shields, “I don’t feel tired, but going back and looking at some of my pitches, they’ve been up in the zone. Where my pitches have been located, you would probably say my arm was a little tired. The last three or four outings, I’ve been getting the ball down again.”

Rodriguez says the diminished speed and erratic location that plagued him earlier in this homestand have been resolved, by working five times in the past seven days to stay sharp and by working with Black before games to recover a consistent landing spot.

“If I go out there 40 times in a row, three or four outings I won’t get people out,” Rodriguez said. “To me, that’s what makes baseball more fun. You can’t predict your future.”


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