Angels don’t have a clear-cut closer
Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — It began with Troy Percival, who passed the baton to Francisco Rodriguez, who passed it to Brian Fuentes, who passed it to …
To be determined.
Since he took over as Angels manager in 2000, Mike Scioscia has entered every season knowing exactly who his closer is, but that is not the case this spring.
Scioscia made it clear Tuesday that Fernando Rodney, who had a 5.65 earned-run average and four blown saves after replacing Fuentes for the last month of 2010, is not his clear-cut closer entering 2011.
“We have guys capable of pitching at the back end of games, and Fernando is going to be one of them,” Scioscia said. “If he does what he did in the first half of last season, when he was lights out, then our bullpen will line up the way we need it to. If there are things we need to adjust from, we will.
“We have some power arms from the right side and some balance on the left, and any one of five guys has the ability to get the last out of a game.”
If Rodney struggles, right-hander Kevin Jepsen and left-hander Scott Downs, signed as a free agent from Toronto, would be the next in line to close.
Scioscia thinks right-handers Jordan Walden and Michael Kohn have the potential to close, but they have minimal big-league experience, and it’s doubtful either will be thrust into the role.
Another option would be free agent signee Hisanori Takahashi, a left-hander who saved eight games for the New York Mets last season.
Rodney could have secured the job with a better finish. The hard-throwing right-hander went 4-0 with a 3.57 ERA in the first half and was dominant while filling in for the injured Fuentes in April, saving five of five games.
But Rodney had a 7.84 ERA in 11 games in July, a 2.25 ERA in 12 games in August and saved only six of 10 games after Fuentes was traded in late August.
“Fernando will pitch at the back end of the game, and if that’s as a closer, great,” Scioscia said. “If it’s the eighth inning, like it was for most of last year, so be it.”
His full name is Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, but he goes by Loek, for short.
And that may be the only time the word “short” is used to describe Van Mil, a minor league reliever who, at 7 feet 1, towers over everyone at the Angels’ spring-training facility.
“He’s going to play low-post,” Scioscia joked.
“He had to duck to get into the weight room,” Jepsen marveled.
Van Mil, a 26-year-old right-hander who grew up in the Netherlands, is used to the double takes and one-liners.
“It’s fun; it’s never negative,” said Van Mil, who pitched for the Dutch team in the 2007 World Baseball Classic. “I would say something too, if I saw a guy who was 7 feet tall.”
Van Mil, who has a 95-mph fastball but has been slowed by injuries and mechanical issues, was acquired from Minnesota as the player to be named in the Fuentes deal.
At the time, General Manager Tony Reagins referred to him as “a prospect with upside.” He wasn’t kidding. If Van Mil reaches the big leagues, he’ll be the tallest player in major league history.
“I try to use it to my advantage — I get more of a [downward] angle and I’m closer to the plate when I release the ball,” Van Mil said. “But there are disadvantages. It’s harder to repeat my delivery because there are so many variables.”
Van Mil never played basketball in the Netherlands. He’s played pick-up hoops in the U.S., but is no Pau Gasol.
“I can dunk,” Van Mil said, when asked whether he was any good. “That’s the best description I can give you.”
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