Reliever Scot Shields made a slight adjustment in his delivery during a 15-pitch bullpen workout over the weekend and is confident he has ironed out a mechanical flaw that may have led to his early-season struggles.
The veteran setup man begins tonight's game against Detroit with an 0-1 record and 7.20 earned-run average, having given up four runs, four hits and five walks in five innings.
In his last outing, Friday in Minnesota, Shields gave up a run-scoring single, a walk and a two-run double, part of an eighth-inning meltdown in which the Angels blew a five-run lead.
"I felt good; the ball just wasn't going where I wanted it to go," Shields said. "The last 10 pitches [of the bullpen session], I put the ball where I wanted, and I'm encouraged by that."
Shields said his arm is fine, and the shin splints that bothered him in spring training "are not an issue." He just has a very high-maintenance delivery that "with a couple of clicks, can go awry," he said. "It's something I have to work on daily."
Mechanical problems and the loss of his release point have led to some lengthy slumps for Shields, though in 2006 and 2007 those struggles didn't come until August.
Shields, who has thrown more innings since 2004 than any reliever in baseball, had a lighter workload in 2008 -- he threw 63 1/3 innings after averaging 90 innings the previous four years -- and was consistent through a season in which he was 6-4 with a 2.70 ERA.
Getting Shields right is a priority for an unsettled bullpen that has been highly ineffective in the first 12 games -- relievers have combined for an 0-5 record and 8.31 ERA, and just about everyone, except veteran left-hander Darren Oliver, has struggled.
An effective Shields would solidify the eighth inning of games the Angels lead and allow some of the younger relievers, such as Jose Arredondo and Kevin Jepsen, to remain in roles they are more suited for.
"Physically, he feels fine," pitching coach Mike Butcher said of Shields. "Do I think he's going to be fine? Yes. He has great stuff. He competes. He will get on track. . . . He just has to get in a groove."
Butcher's job has never been more challenging. He has had to patch a rotation that lost Nick Adenhart, the 22-year-old pitcher who was killed in an April 9 traffic accident, and is without the injured John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar and Dustin Moseley.
He has had to guide almost every reliever through a variety of mechanical, mental and physical issues, and try to ease the transition to the big leagues for rookies Jepsen, Rafael Rodriguez and now Daniel Davidson, who joined the team Sunday.
"Butch is working to put some kind of foundation together, and he's going to sort through it one pitcher at a time," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "[The relievers] haven't pitched to their capabilities. Some of the reasons are tangible. Some guys are having trouble making pitches, and we've seen that before.
"Right now, things are unsettled. There are some growing pains that we feel are going to dissipate as guys get into the flow of their roles. But we're confident the bullpen will be every bit as strong as it has been in past seasons."
The Angels rotation, remarkably, has been rock solid, thanks to Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, Shane Loux, Moseley and Oliver, who in a spot start Saturday gave up one run in four innings against Minnesota. Angels starters have combined for a 2.86 ERA.
But the starting staff is also unsettled because of Moseley's elbow injury and Scioscia's reluctance to keep Oliver in the rotation, which the manager said opens too big a void in the bullpen.
If Oliver moves back to the bullpen this week, the Angels will need a starter for Thursday night's game against Detroit and Saturday night's game against Seattle.
Top prospect Anthony Ortega pitched Monday night for triple-A Salt Lake, putting the right-hander in line for a possible start Saturday.
Other candidates for Thursday or Saturday are double-A right-handers Sean O'Sullivan and Jordan Walden or triple-A right-hander Matt Palmer, who has pitched in three big league games for San Francisco.
"We're going to take it day by day, even hour by hour, to see what gives us the best chance to win games," Scioscia said. "More options are evolving."