The Angels' insertion of rookie right-hander Keynan Middleton into their bullpen hierarchy followed the formula they put into place last season with Cam Bedrosian. At first, he entered games in the lowest-leverage situations possible, never with men on base or the outcome on the line.
Slowly, surely, the importance of situations Middleton was entrusted to handle increased, and his performance improved on a similar scale. This week in Detroit, he recorded the first two holds of his career, a notable step in his ascension.
"The last hurdle for a lot of these guys is: 'I belong,'" pitching coach Charles Nagy said. "'I can get these hitters out.'"
Because of their penchant to play tight games, the Angels have had a heavy load of high-leverage situations. And because of Bedrosian's extended absence, they have had a dearth of men to handle them. So, Middleton moved quickly through the cycle.
"This is the best we've seen him throwing," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Friday. "This is the way he was throwing towards the latter part of last year, when he jumped on everybody's radar."
A 2013 third-round pick as a starter, Middleton's velocity ticked up when he moved to the bullpen last year, attracting league-wide attention.
Scioscia recounted Middleton's path since then, a spring spent "searching for some things," a rough start to the triple-A season, and the adjustment-making process that followed, trying to simplify his delivery.
"Then you saw the stuff appear," the manager said.
Middleton, 23, now throws only two pitches, a flitting fastball most often clocked at 95 and 96 mph, and a sharp, 86-mph slider. He has a 2.51 earned-run average in 17 appearances.
Mike Trout had the stitches taken out of his surgically repaired thumb and is completing physical therapy. He remains weeks away from a return. … Left-hander Tyler Skaggs threw off of a mound for the first time since he went on the disabled list in late April because of an oblique strain. He hopes to return at the end of the month. … Right-hander Huston Street did not pitch in a rehab assignment Friday, as had been scheduled. He had a lat strain, then triceps tightness.