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Rookie gives Angels a big hand

Arredondo has quickly rebounded from minor league troubles last year to be an important part of Scioscia's bullpen in late innings.

June 06, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND -- Nothing about Jose Arredondo, the 6-foot, 175-pound Angels reliever, seems physically imposing until you see his hands, which look like they belong to an NBA power forward.

"He's like E.T.," Manager Mike Scioscia said, "only he has five fingers."

And they do more than phone home.

"I've got big hands, monkey hands," Arredondo said with a chuckle. "That helps me throw the split-fingered fastball, which is a good pitch to have."

The 24-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic has used that hard-sinking pitch, along with a slider and 94-mph fastball, to zoom into a prominent late-inning relief role since his May 13 recall from triple-A Salt Lake.

After giving up a home run to his first batter, Nick Swisher of the White Sox on May 14, Arredondo has thrown 9 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up five hits, striking out eight and walking none in eight appearances. He has an earned-run average of 0.93.

"I thought, 'Wow, a home run to your first hitter, Oh my God,' " Arredondo said. "But now, I feel a lot more comfortable. It's still the same baseball game. Throw strikes, and you'll be fine."

Arredondo has been so dominant he has moved into the No. 3 bullpen slot, behind closer Francisco Rodriguez and setup man Scot Shields and ahead of veteran Justin Speier.

"It's really remarkable how this kid has turned it around in the last year, both in his makeup, the way he goes about his business, and the way he's evolved as a pitcher," Scioscia said. "He's certainly where he needs to be right now."

He wasn't last June. Pitching for double-A Arkansas, Arredondo stormed off the mound after being replaced in a game and got into an altercation with teammate Curtis Pride, who was trying to calm him in the clubhouse afterward. The Angels suspended Arredondo and demoted him to Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.

Preston Gomez, the Angels' special assistant to the general manager, "had some candid talks with this kid in spring training, and I mean candid," Scioscia said. "And I think he responded well."

Said Arredondo of Gomez: "I love the guy. He talked to me every day and said to calm down, play baseball, don't worry about anything else. . . . I feel like I've grown up a lot."

Gomez is in a rehabilitation center, recovering from injuries sustained in late March after being struck by a pickup truck, but Arredondo is still being mentored by Rodriguez, the closer Arredondo calls "my little daddy."

Rodriguez, who made an even bigger splash as a 20-year-old phenom in 2002, is trying to make Arredondo feel comfortable.

"When I came up, no one took me under their wing, and it doesn't feel right," Rodriguez said. "So I try to do whatever I can to make him feel comfortable and have confidence in himself every time he goes out to the mound.

"He has great stuff, great velocity, a great split, but he's a human being. Eventually things aren't going to go the way you expect them, and that's when you have to be mentally prepared."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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