Beyond choosing which of their five starters will be bumped to the bullpen, the Angels’ toughest playoff roster decision will be who gets the final relief spot, left-hander Jason Christiansen or right-hander Kevin Gregg.
The lack of a situational left-hander hurt the Angels last October, when Manager Mike Scioscia used starter Jarrod Washburn against Boston slugger David Ortiz in the 10th inning of Game 3 of the division series. Ortiz slammed the left-hander’s first pitch for a walk-off, two-run home run, completing the Red Sox’s three-game sweep.
General Manager Bill Stoneman acquired Christiansen from San Francisco on Aug. 30, but not necessarily with the playoffs in mind.
The Angels say they remain confident in the ability of right-handers Scot Shields, Brendan Donnelly and Francisco Rodriguez to retire left-handers and still don’t seem convinced they need a situational left-hander.
“When I came here, I don’t think I came to upgrade what they had,” Christiansen said. “I came to give them a different look.”
Manager Mike Scioscia said he was not using the final five games after the Angels’ division title-clinching win Tuesday night “as a tryout,” but there seems to be some auditioning going on.
Wednesday night, Christiansen pitched a scoreless eighth, retiring Oakland Athletics’ left-handed slugger Eric Chavez on a fly ball to center, and Scioscia summoned Christiansen to face two left-handed hitters in the eighth inning Thursday. Christiansen gave up a single to Mark Kotsay but got Dan Johnson to pop out.
Gregg also threw two scoreless innings Thursday and has given up no runs and three hits in nine innings of his last four appearances, giving him a decided edge over Esteban Yan if Scioscia decides to go with a right-hander.
Christiansen, though, has pitched well enough to warrant strong consideration. The veteran retired Ortiz and Manny Ramirez in Fenway on Sept. 7, struck out left-handed Detroit slugger Carlos Pena on three pitches on Sept. 15 and struck out Hank Blalock, Texas’ left-handed cleanup batter, Sept. 21.
“I don’t look at my outings as a showcase, like it’s a do-or-die situation, and if I pitch well I’ll have the opportunity to pitch later,” Christiansen said. “That decision will come from someone other than me. I just want to get outs.”
Christiansen won’t displace Rodriguez, Shields, Donnelly or Kelvim Escobar in late-inning situations, “but in the playoffs, sometimes that crucial out could come in the sixth inning or even earlier in the game, like the third inning,” Christiansen said. “Hopefully, that situation will arise for me in the postseason.”
Right-hander Paul Byrd had an outstanding season, going 12-10 with a 3.74 earned-run average in 31 starts and ranking second in the league behind Minnesota’s Johan Santana with 22 quality starts, but he said he won’t be disappointed if he’s not one of the Angels’ four playoff starters.
“I’ll do whatever they want me to do,” Byrd said. " ... I would love to contribute to a World Series any way I can, and however I do that will be fine. This team has good chemistry. No one player is bigger than the team. That’s the attitude I’m taking into the playoffs.”