NEW YORK — “No. Moral. Victories.” Kevin Jepsen made his point perfectly clear Saturday after the Angels lost a 4-3 thriller to the New York Yankees in which managers Mike Scioscia of the Angels and Joe Girardi of the Yankees matched wits like Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.
It was nice for the Angels that their bullpen, which has been a source of stress for Scioscia, provided actual relief, with Jepsen, Nick Maronde, Michael Kohn and Ernesto Frieri combining for 3 2/3 scoreless, one-hit innings to give the offense a chance to come back.
The Angels put the go-ahead or tying run on second with one out in four of the last five innings but went hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position, including weak fly balls to left by hot-hitting Albert Pujols and strikeouts by Howie Kendrick to end both the seventh and ninth innings.
A relief corps that entered with a 4.84 earned-run average and four blown saves while allowing 15 of 25 inherited runners to score in the first 22 games shined in Game No. 23.
Jepsen, who was rocked for five runs in the season opener, replaced wobbly starter Hector Santiago with two on in the fifth and got Alfonso Soriano to fly to right and struck out Mark Teixeira with a 95-mph fastball for his ninth straight scoreless outing.
Maronde, the young left-hander, gave up a leadoff single to Brett Gardner in the seventh but struck out Brian Roberts and got Kelly Johnson to ground out before yielding to Kohn, who got John Ryan Murphy to fly to right with a runner on third to end the inning. Murphy hit a two-run single in the second and a score-tying, solo homer in the fifth.
Kohn retired the side in order in the seventh, and Frieri, the deposed closer who was supposed to pitch in low-leverage situations until he regained his command and confidence, retired three of the four batters he faced in the eighth.
All in all, it seemed like an encouraging day for the Angels’ bullpen, but there were no silver linings in Jepsen’s playbook.
“That’s more for you guys to write about,” Jepsen said. “Whether it’s encouraging, or if we’re turning things around, we know how good we are. When the phone rings, we try to throw up zeros every time. It doesn’t always happen. That’s the nature of the beast.
“Everyone’s has had their one outing where they’ve been beat up a bit, and the numbers fluctuate early in the season. But overall, whether we’re up or down, our job is to keep the score right where it’s at, and that’s what we did today.”
The bullpen, expected to be a strength, has been hit hard by injuries to Sean Burnett and Dane De La Rosa and by opponents. Through Friday, relievers yielded a .779 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage), the third-worst mark in the American League, and 11 homers, second-most in the league.
“We feed off each other’s energy,” Kohn said. “If a couple of guys are scuffling, we try to pick each other up. We’re all brothers down there. When one guy does bad, we all feel bad. We feel everybody’s pain.”
Conversely, four relievers pitching well, all in tight, game-on-the-line situations, could provide a shot in the arm.
“For the ‘pen to put up four zeroes is huge,” Kohn said. “It’s a big momentum thing to carry forward.”
Especially for Frieri, who acknowledged he was “a mess” after giving up four runs in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 5-4 walk-off loss in Washington. Frieri’s second loss and second blown save boosted his ERA to 9.35, but he has retired six of seven batters in two outings in New York, lowering his ERA to 7.59.
“We all think of Ernie as our closer,” Kohn said. “He’s done so well in that job. He’s had a couple of rough patches, but for him to get outs helps us as a team.”