Angels feel lucky to have two lefty relievers
Mike Scioscia used to go entire seasons without a left-handed reliever, so having two capable lefties in Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi is something of a luxury for the Angels manager.
“You don’t have to save your one lefty for that perfect matchup,” said Downs, who was activated off the disabled list Monday after sitting out a month because of a broken left big toe.
“If you need that big out [against a left-handed slugger] in the sixth inning, you can use a lefty there. And if you need it again in the seventh or eighth, it gives you that extra arm to help in between some of the right-handers.”
Having two lefties could come in handy this weekend, with the Angels opening a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox on Friday in U.S. Cellular Field, one of baseball’s best home run parks.
White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn returned Tuesday after sitting out six games because of an appendectomy, and he is one of baseball’s most lethal left-handed hitters, averaging 40 homers a season since 2004.
It should also help against teams such as the Minnesota Twins, who have potent lefties in Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jim Thome, and the New York Yankees, whose switch-hitters — Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher — have more power from the left side.
“It’s going to add a lot of depth,” Scioscia said. “You’re going to see Takahashi and Downs early in games at times. Maybe you’ll see them pitching at the back end of games if some guys are down or some matchups come up. These guys have that versatility.”
Neither Downs, a former Toronto reliever who signed a three-year, $15-million deal in December, nor Takahashi is considered a lefty specialist, that guy who is usually summoned to face one hitter.
Downs, 35, was a starter in his first four big league seasons, and since moving to the bullpen in 2006, he has averaged an inning per appearance. He went 5-5 with a 2.64 earned-run average in 67 games (611/3 innings) last season.
Takahashi, 36, was a 10-year starter in Japan and served as a starter, long reliever, setup man and closer for the Mets in 2010.
Both have been tough on lefties, Downs holding them to a .152 mark in 2010 and a .223 average in his career, and Takahashi holding them to a .217 average with no homers last season.
“Whatever I can do to help the team win, that’s what I’ll do,” Downs said, “whether it’s throwing one inning or to one hitter.”
Scioscia gave Downs an inning “to get his feet on the ground” Monday, and Downs threw a one-two-three eighth in a 4-0 loss to Cleveland.
Wednesday, Scioscia threw Downs into the fire, summoning him with a runner on first and no outs in the eighth, with the Angels leading the Indians, 3-2.
Downs gave up a single to Michael Brantley that advanced Adam Everett to third. Asdrubal Cabrera hit into a fielder’s choice, Everett tagged out in a rundown between third and home.
The runners advanced on a wild pitch, and Brantley scored the tying run on a groundout to second. Fernando Rodney came on and struck out Carlos Santana to end the inning, so if Downs hadn’t thrown the wild pitch, he would have escaped the jam.
Takahashi came on in the 11th and threw two perfect innings to gain the victory in a 4-3 win. After a rocky start, in which he gave up runs in three of his first four games, Takahashi has not given up a hit in his three appearances.
On Sunday, he relieved Jered Weaver with two on in the eighth and got Toronto’s Adam Lind to ground out to end the inning. The Angels won, 3-1.
“Hisanori’s stuff was a little better [Wednesday], he’s starting to feel more comfortable,” Scioscia said. “He went two strong innings and was ready for a third. That’s what makes him so valuable. He get one out, like he did [Sunday]. He can go two innings.”
The Angels expect Downs, who mixes an 89-mph fastball with a curve and slider, to be more effective as he gets into the flow of the season.
“My mentality is to attack, and whatever happens, happens,” Downs said. “I’d rather have them put the ball in play than throw 25 pitches in an inning. I’ve never been a velocity guy. It’s about locating, good movement and getting ahead of guys.”
At this stage of his career, it’s about pitching in the playoffs. Downs never got a whiff of the postseason in Toronto, which shares the American League East with two beasts, the Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
“It wears on you because it’s tough knowing there’s a good chance you’re going to finish third,” Downs said. “It helps you grow mentally because you have to be on your game, and you find out if you have what it takes to stay in this league.
“That’s the part I liked, but I want a chance to win. That’s one of the reasons I came here.”
The Angels had two lefties — Brian Fuentes and Darren Oliver — in the bullpen in 2009, but Fuentes was the closer. They went without a lefty in 2004 and 2005 and had one in 2006 (J.C. Romero) and 2007-08 (Oliver).
The last time they had two non-closing lefty relievers for most of a season was 2002, with Dennis Cook and Scott Schoeneweis.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun having two lefties,” Downs said. “I think it will be a good balance with the power arms we have.”
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