Manager Mike Scioscia lumbered into the Angels’ dugout on the final Wednesday afternoon of the 2018 season and heaved a playful, conversation-starting huff.
“What could have possibly happened?” he asked those gathered for his pregame session. Before a reporter could interject, Scioscia continued, “Besides Robles throwing the crap out of the ball last night?”
Perhaps it was a coincidence. The reliever in question, Hansel Robles, had just finished warming up for the night’s series finale against the Rangers and was looking for somewhere to sit. Robles crossed right through Scioscia’s field of vision.
Still, it was timely to begin one of the final bench chats of the year with Robles, the 28-year-old whose contract will be out of minor league options after this season. His recent strides on the mound culminated Tuesday night in an opportunity to close out the Angels’ 4-1 win. He recorded his first major league save since Sept. 23, 2016, after facing four batters in a scoreless inning.
“How do you say ‘Throw the crap out of the ball last night’?” Scioscia asked Spanish-speaking players in the dugout. No one provided an audible response, but the point was clear.
Since being cast off by the team that signed him to his first professional contract 10 years ago in the Dominican Republic, Robles has made himself worthy of consideration for a permanent spot in the Angels’ 2019 bullpen.
Robles’ blurb in the Angels’ game notes is bereft of bold bullet points screaming “Success!” His journey in a Halos uniform, which began June 23 when he was claimed off waivers from the Mets, has been mostly limited to mop-up appearances in which he’s stranded 10 of 17 inherited runners.
Yet he’s quietly put together a string of effective outings. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 11 of his last 12 appearances.
The Angels already knew when they added the right-hander that he could throw a 97-mph fastball with life and an 88-mph swing-and-a-miss slider. But in recent weeks he’s re-embraced his changeup, a pitch he threw 8.4% of the time while logging 77 2/3 innings for the Mets in 2016. He had let his usage of the changeup lapse to just 2.6% this season, according to MLB’s Statcast system.
Robles has significantly cut down successful contact since changing course.
Opponents were hitting Robles at a .343 clip in seven August outings before he landed on the disabled list with right-shoulder impingement for nine games. Batters have registered a mere .147 average over his last 9 1/3 innings of work spanning 10 games this month. His season ERA has dropped about one-half of a run to 3.76 since he rejoined the bullpen on Aug. 26.
“I think he’s understanding the ability to change speeds, how effective it is when you throw 97,” Scioscia said Wednesday. “I think he’s really progressing with that. He’s using everything. He’s throwing sliders, changeups, fastball in good location. He’s doing great.”