Taking questions from reporters while his team stretched behind him on Tuesday morning, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia recognized the direction of a query before the word "bullpen" was even uttered, based on the inquisitor's citation of the 2016 postseason.
Scioscia knew then that he'd be asked about how he planned to handle his relievers this year, given October's occurrences and the three-man race among Huston Street, Cam Bedrosian and Andrew Bailey to be the Angels' closer.
The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians attracted attention last fall during their runs to the World Series because their best relief pitchers appeared earlier in games than had been traditional. It sparked a common question: Is this going to be the new trend?
"If you watched playoff baseball last year, you got insight into how bullpens will potentially be used down the road," said Bailey, the dark-horse candidate. "Here, someone is probably gonna be named the closer, but who knows?
"Maybe we're going into Seattle and maybe the big guys are coming up in the eighth, so Cam is throwing the eighth, Huston's throwing the ninth, and I got out of the seventh with two outs. Whatever it is, I feel like we're all willing."
Among the Angels' options, Bedrosian throws the hardest, and Street has the most experience. The team does not possess a hard-throwing left-hander, which can be key for matchup purposes.
Scioscia, in his 18th season managing the Angels, hinted at those considerations in his answer.
"Your strategy has to adjust to the talent level of your bullpen," he said to the initial question. "If you have guys that are going to match up, then you can go to them earlier and do what those teams did with deep bullpens, especially Cleveland. It's contingent on your talent. If you've got Mariano Rivera at the back end of your bullpen, your bullpen's gonna shake out a little bit differently."
In years past, Street has said he'd retire if he were asked to handle high-leverage situations rather than one specific role. He is now not quite as vociferous in his dismissal of the idea, but still resistant to an overhaul. As an example, he said, he could see a team committing to greater usage of its best relievers in August and September and succeeding.
But not all year long.
"We talk about it all the time during the season," Street said. "It's pretty circumstantial, like, I haven't pitched in three days, once in my last six days, and we've got an off-day coming up. Or, the bullpen's been completely taxed in the last three days, and I've only thrown once in those three days, so we might need to extend you."
He continued: "I think there is room for interpretation from situation to situation, but that already goes on. It can only stand to get a little bit more flexible, unless you want to totally change roles."
Under Scioscia, the Angels are not going to totally change roles. At least, not for the first six months of the season. He has long embraced the importance of regular-season rigidity.
"Playoffs are a little different way that things are done, because you're not worrying about how the guys will be three months down the road," Scioscia said. "You're seeing how they will be three weeks down the road."
So, how will Scioscia's strategy adjust to the talent level of his 2017 bullpen? Although the group appears already assembled, with only the ordering left to be determined, the manager declined to answer that question.
"Our bullpen is not picked yet," he said. "We're gonna wait and see where we are at the end of March, how guys are throwing and how many outs they have in them. You'll line up your strategy accordingly."
Right-hander Alex Meyer will throw two innings behind right-hander Jesse Chavez in Wednesday's Cactus League game against Texas. The two are competing for the fifth rotation spot. … Right-hander Ricky Nolasco is scheduled to start Thursday against San Francisco. Right-hander Matt Shoemaker said he will start Friday against Milwaukee or Saturday against the White Sox, leaving the other weekend days to be filled by left-hander Tyler Skaggs and right-hander Garrett Richards, after which the rotation should repeat in rough order until the regular season begins.