The Angels reportedly whiffed in their attempt to pry away Kelvin Herrera from the Kansas City Royals, who dealt the relief ace to the Washington Nationals last week.
That shouldn’t discourage general manager Billy Eppler, who will have plenty of opportunities before the July 31 trade deadline to upgrade the team’s most glaring weakness, one that was exposed again in Sunday’s 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Toronto Blue Jays before 33,102 at Angel Stadium.
Right-hander Noe Ramirez entered in the sixth inning of a 3-3 game. He gave up a leadoff homer to Aledmys Diaz and a two-out homer to Curtis Granderson for a 5-3 Blue Jays lead.
Hansel Robles, making his Angels debut after being claimed off waivers from the New York Mets on Saturday, entered in the 10th inning with the score tied 6-6. The right-hander left a 2-and-1 slider over the heart of the plate to Kendrys Morales, who cranked a two-out, pinch-hit solo homer to right field for a 7-6 lead.
Angels relievers have combined for a 14-14 record and 3.92 ERA, seventh best in the American League. They’ve given up a league-high 43 homers in 291 1/3 innings. Their 15 blown saves are tied with Detroit for most in the AL.
Late-inning relievers Blake Parker (3.32 ERA in 36 games) and Cam Bedrosian (3.53 ERA in 38 games) have pitched well in recent weeks after struggling early in the season, and left-hander Jose Alvarez (2.65 ERA in 39 games) has been reliable all year.
But a bullpen that lost closer Keynan Middleton and Blake Wood to season-ending elbow injuries has softened in the middle and become almost unrecognizable at the back.
Jim Johnson (3.93 ERA in 33 games) struggled before going on the disabled list because of a lumbar strain on June 15. Justin Anderson (4.00 ERA in 27 games) has shown flashes of brilliance with his 99-mph fastball and nasty slider, but his command has been spotty, leading to many high-pitch appearances.
Ramirez (4.14 ERA in 37 games) has been inconsistent. The final three spots are currently being held by Robles, Deck McGuire — who was recently acquired from Texas for cash and gave up an unearned run in the eighth inning Sunday — and triple-A call-up Akeel Morris.
Asked how important it is for the Angels to add another arm or two to bolster the bullpen, manager Mike Scioscia said, “We have eight arms down there right now.”
This is true, but the quantity of arms is not the issue. The quality is.
If the Angels, who are six games behind Seattle in the race for the second wild-card spot, are to make a playoff push, they must bolster their bullpen. On the plus side, relievers are probably the easiest assets to acquire during the season.
Baltimore’s Zach Britton and Brad Bach could be available, and Texas is reportedly listening to offers for Keone Kela and Jake Diekman. Toronto’s Aaron Loup and the Chicago White Sox’s Joakim Soria are other possible targets. More arms should become available as teams drop out of playoff contention.
If the Angels can add one or two dominant relievers, they could push their current relievers into lower-leverage roles and have a bigger pool of late-inning candidates available. Anderson, for instance, wasn’t available Sunday because he threw 28 pitches Saturday night.
“One of the things is to keep the guys who are pitching well well-rested, and we have to get our rotation back in order — hopefully, that will happen on this next road trip,” Scioscia said. “There are a lot of positives going on, but there are some things we know we can do better, and we’re gonna work hard at it.”
Right-hander Felix Pena, making his second career start, gave the Angels a chance on Sunday by throwing three scoreless innings after giving up Devon Travis’ three-run homer in the second.
Justin Upton’s solo homer — his 17th of the season — in the fourth and RBI singles by Martin Maldonado and Ian Kinsler in the fifth pulled the Angels even 3-3.
After Ramirez gave up the two homers in the sixth, McGuire threw wildly past first on Diaz’s chopper to the mound for a three-base error in the eighth. Diaz scored on Luke Maile’s sacrifice fly for a 6-3 Toronto lead.
The Blue Jays gifted the Angels three unearned runs in the bottom of the eighth. Throwing errors by second baseman Travis and third baseman Yangervis Solarte and a walk to Kole Calhoun allowed the Angels to load the bases with two out.
Toronto manager John Gibbons summoned right-hander Ryan Tepera to face Maldonado, who hammered a three-run double over the head of left fielder Teoscar Hernandez for a 6-6 tie. Parker threw a scoreless ninth, but Robles couldn’t escape the 10th after getting two quick outs.
“We’ve hit a rough patch,” Ramirez said of the bullpen’s struggles, “but I think we’ll bounce back. We still have good, solid guys.”
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