Only one American League bullpen allowed fewer earned runs than the Angels' relievers last year, when closer Francisco Rodriguez notched a single-season record 62 saves and the team lost only four of 90 games they led entering the ninth inning.
But it has been a different story in the early going this spring, with the Angels hitting the road today with the most losses (six) and highest earned-run average (7.24) of any bullpen in the majors.
"Going into the season there was some changes and we were trying to get [pitchers] into some roles. But with some guys maybe not performing the way we had hoped, some guys have been injured, trying to find that balance is a work in progress," Manager Mike Scioscia said.
New closer Brian Fuentes got off to a slow start, blowing his second save opportunity and allowing runs in two of his first three appearances.
Left-hander Darren Oliver was shuttled from the bullpen to the rotation to the disabled list while three other relievers -- setup man Scot Shields, Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen, who is now on the disabled list -- are a combined 0-5 with a 13.75 ERA.
"We're having trouble minimizing damage and keeping ourselves in games," said Scioscia, whose seven-man bullpen includes four pitchers who were in the minors at this time last season.
"It's tough to turn a two- or three-run deficit into a six-run deficit and then come back every night. And that's what we've been seeing far too often."
Things may be starting to turn around, however. Shields' scoreless appearance Sunday was his second in a row while Fuentes, who followed by striking out the side in the ninth, hasn't given up a run in three outings. And Jepsen, eligible to come off the disabled list next week, threw a bullpen session Saturday and will begin a rehabilitation assignment in triple-A Salt Lake today.
No knock on Wood
Brandon Wood's start Sunday was his first since being recalled from Salt Lake a week ago. And Scioscia said if he can't find more consistent playing time for the power-hitting infielder, the 24-year-old would be better served by being sent back to the minors.
"If Brandon is a guy who's going to get five or six at-bats every couple of weeks, that's not a role for him," Scioscia said. "Brandon Wood was here to provide depth. He's done that. Moving forward we'll evaluate it to make sure that he keeps in shape and keeps developing.
"You don't want a young player, at any level, rotting on your bench."
Wood, whose start allowed the Angels to rest third baseman Chone Figgins for the first time this season, hit the ball hard all four times Sunday, though he had just a single to show for it, twice losing hits on excellent plays by third baseman Adrian Beltre. And his single would have gone for extra bases had it not struck third-base umpire Tim McClelland on the shin.
Team orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum examined the torn muscle in Vladimir Guerrero's chest over the weekend and said he's hopeful Guerrero can resume baseball activities before the end of the week. . . . The combined base salaries for the seven Angels on the disabled list is approximately $41.8 million, more than the Florida Marlins will pay their entire roster and nearly equal to the payroll of the San Diego Padres. . . . Scioscia took advantage of today's off day to juggle his rotation, skipping Matt Palmer's scheduled turn Wednesday. Palmer is expected to be available out of the bullpen against the Orioles before returning to the rotation Saturday at Yankee Stadium.