Scot Shields faded a bit at the end of 2004, giving up nine earned runs in 18 1/3 September innings for a 4.42 ERA and getting nicked for two runs and five hits in three innings of two American League division series appearances against Boston.
There was a concern Shields might be experiencing a similar slippage this month when the right-hander, the release point on his normally nasty slider deserting him, was roughed up for six earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in his first eight September appearances.
But Shields, who will share primary setup duties with Kelvim Escobar for the rest of this season, believes he may have righted himself with a perfect eighth inning Wednesday night, striking out two of three batters to help preserve the Angels’ 6-5 come-from-behind victory over the Texas Rangers.
Shields, who set a club record with his 73rd appearance, threw four sliders, and only one hit the dirt. The three others were close to the strike zone, one resulting in a Mark DeRosa groundout to third. The right-hander struck out Kevin Mench and Adrian Gonzalez looking at fastballs.
“It helps knowing I can get back to the way I was throwing, trusting the slider instead of trying to make it nasty -- that’s when it was going in the dirt,” Shields said. “I was able to spot the fastball better than I have in the past. I got some strikeouts with it. That tells me the movement is coming back.”
No one doubted Francisco Rodriguez had the stuff to be a closer; the only question was whether the 23-year-old right-hander had the mental makeup to handle one of baseball’s most pressure-packed roles.
Those questions have been put to rest -- Rodriguez became only the third Angel to record 40 saves in a season Wednesday night, joining Bryan Harvey and Troy Percival, the closer he replaced. He has a 2.60 ERA and five blown saves in 61 games, with 85 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings.
“Until your first blown save, your first loss, you’re never going to know how a guy is going to react, but he’s been remarkable -- he turns the page as well as anyone,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s had very few streaks of poor games.”
Left fielder and cleanup batter Garret Anderson, suffering from lower-back stiffness, did not start Thursday night for the second straight game, but Scioscia seemed confident Anderson would be able to return as a designated hitter either tonight or Saturday. ... Jarrod Washburn, sidelined since Sept. 10 because of an inflamed forearm, will start Saturday against Tampa Bay, but the Angels haven’t decided whether they will start Bartolo Colon Sunday on regular rest or save their ace for Monday’s series opener at Oakland. If Colon doesn’t pitch Sunday, John Lackey will likely start on three days’ rest.