When Kevin Jepsen was experiencing severe lower-back spasms in late April and was struggling to get his fastball down in the zone, the reliever received a startling diagnosis from doctors: he had scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine.
"Here I was, 24 years old, and someone tells me my spine is crooked," Jepsen said. "It was kind of weird. But it made sense as far as the back problems I've had over the years."
The condition hasn't slowed the hard-throwing right-hander a bit. After a two-week stint on the disabled list, Jepsen, who had a 19.29 earned-run average in his first five appearances, was sent to triple A to iron out his mechanical problems and strengthen his back.
He returned to the Angels in early June, and in 29 games since then has given up 11 earned runs in 30 innings, striking out 28 and walking seven, for a 3.30 ERA, lowering his season ERA to 5.45.
Mixing his 95-mph fastball with a new cut-fastball and breaking ball, Jepsen has emerged as the Angels' top setup man in front of Brian Fuentes.
All this despite a back condition that can be very painful and sometimes debilitating.
"There are more severe cases where people have to wear braces, but mine isn't that extreme," Jepsen said. "Basically, I just have to keep up with my exercises so the muscles around it are strong. I've been feeling great."
So good, in fact, that Jepsen has thrown two innings in three of his last nine appearances, which is something of a concern for Manager Mike Scioscia, who said, "We're not going to have Jepsen for two innings every game."
Jepsen welcomes the workload, though.
"I feel good, I feel strong; throwing two innings isn't anything abnormal," he said. "I threw anywhere from one to three innings last year, so I can handle it."
Worth a thousand words
With Vladimir Guerrero up in the sixth inning Tuesday night, batting instructor Mickey Hatcher noticed that all nine Angels on the lineup posted on the Progressive Field scoreboard had a batting averages of .300 or more.
"I had a clubhouse guy run up and get a camera to take a picture of it," Hatcher said, "because Izturis and Napoli were coming up, and they were both at .300," Hatcher said, referring to second baseman Maicer Izturis and catcher Mike Napoli.
By the end of their 5-4 victory over the Indians, the Angels became the first team since the 1934 Detroit Tigers to finish a game at least 100 games into the season with every player in the starting lineup hitting .300 or better.
Before Wednesday's game, Hatcher took the picture around the clubhouse to be autographed by those in the lineup.
He plans to make copies of the photo for each player.
"It's awesome for baseball," Hatcher said. "It's awesome for these guys."
Including Hatcher, though you'd never know it talking to him. The man who takes all sorts of criticism when the offense is struggling refuses to take any credit when it is thriving.
"It's no reflection on me; it's these guys," Hatcher said. "They've been wonderful to work with. Put it this way: they make the hitting coach proud."