Angels turn to Jordan Walden to close out 5-3 win over Tampa Bay

Reporting from St. Petersburg, Fla.— Jordan Walden pitched in relief for the first time less than a year ago. Now he’s the Angels’ closer.

Which says a lot about the state of the Angels’ bullpen and the depth of Walden’s talent.

Both were on display Tuesday at Tropicana Field, with Walden pitching a perfect ninth inning to stave off another bullpen implosion and save the Angels’ 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

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All that came just hours after Manager Mike Scioscia said he was taking the closer’s job away from veteran Fernando Rodney and giving it to Walden.

“I was really surprised,” Walden said. “I just didn’t think this day would ever come. I’ve been waiting a long time to do this.”

And that’s true if you define “long time” as 11 months. Drafted as a starter, the 23-year-old had never thrown out the bullpen until last April, when he was still in double A. After watching his bullpen lose three games in their opponents’ final at-bat over the weekend, however, Scioscia had few other options.

“If this lasts the whole season and Jordan takes off and runs with it, fine,” Scioscia said.

Walden’s certainly off to a fast start while the rest of the bullpen is … well, don’t ask. But consider the fact that Walden’s 1-2-3 inning Tuesday was just the second the Angels bullpen has turned in this season.

And while Walden has made four scoreless appearances, allowing just one hit and striking out six of the 10 batters he’s retired, the rest of the relief corps has allowed 14 runs, 14 walks and 20 hits — six of them homers — in 15 innings

For much of the game Tuesday it didn’t look as if the bullpen would be a factor, with Jered Weaver holding the Rays to just two hits — one a Sean Rodriguez home run — over six innings while the Angels were pounding Tampa starter Jeff Niemann for four runs and six hits in the first two innings.

Rodriguez doubled with one out in the seventh, though, and one batter later, Weaver was gone. Hisanori Takahashi, the first man out of the bullpen, retired just one of the four hitters he faced, while Michael Kohn served up a two-run homer in his only inning, threatening to turn a rout into a nail biter.

Then Walden came on and in the span of 13 pitches — 12 of them fastballs — the game was over.

“It was strong,” Weaver said. “That’s what you want coming out of the bullpen. Come in and throw strikes.”

Rodney used to do that. But after surrendering a two-run lead in the ninth inning Sunday in Kansas City, he has given up two hits and walked four in 1 1/3 innings this season. Since taking over as closer last August, he’s 0-2 with a 6.11 earned-run average and five blown saves in 14 chances.

“He needs to reconnect with his delivery to get it back to where it’s compact,” Scioscia said. “To do that, we’ll get him out of the back end of the game.”

As for Walden, after taking the ball to start games for most of his career, he admits getting the chance to end them may be more appealing.

“You always want the ball in your hands the very end of the game,” he said. “When I found out I was the closer, I was really excited.”