ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Justin Speier was in danger of being released in early May when the veteran reliever, coming off a dreadful 2008 season in which he went 2-8 with a 5.03 earned-run average, had an 8.18 ERA in his first nine appearances.
But a rash of bullpen injuries spared Speier, and the right-hander has made the most of his second chance.
Since he gave up five runs, three hits and four walks against Toronto on May 6, Speier has given up only three earned runs and 12 hits in 18 innings of his last 18 appearances, for an ERA of 1.50.
With Scot Shields (knee surgery) out for the season and Jose Arredondo demoted to triple-A Salt Lake, Speier, who lowered his ERA to 4.03, has filled a key setup role and helped solidify a once-struggling bullpen.
The Angels still have the American League's worst bullpen ERA (5.41), but thanks to the efforts of closer Brian Fuentes and relievers Jason Bulger, Darren Oliver and Speier, they entered Tuesday with a 4-0 record and 3.51 ERA in the last 16 games.
"I feel my stuff is the same, but my location is better and I'm being more aggressive," said Speier, who was left off the team's playoff roster in October. "It's always nice to do your job."
Speier said he was not motivated by a fear of losing his job.
"I'm not fighting for my livelihood," Speier said. "I work just as hard, whether I'm pitching well or struggling, and I take the good with the bad. I enjoy baseball, but my life is way more than this game. Any time you have balance in your life, you can get through the tough times."
Odd man out
Ervin Santana said he felt "bueno" after throwing an aggressive 48-pitch bullpen session Tuesday, and Manager Mike Scioscia said the right-hander, on the disabled list because of an inflamed triceps, will return to the rotation this weekend against Baltimore.
That means either Matt Palmer, who is 7-1 with a 5.16 ERA in 12 games, 11 of them starts, or Sean O'Sullivan, who is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts, will be demoted to the bullpen or triple-A.
O'Sullivan appears to have the edge over Palmer because he is throwing the ball better right now. Palmer has a 7.36 ERA in his last four starts and has won in large part because of substantial run support -- the Angels have scored 59 runs in his seven wins.
O'Sullivan has given up only 17 hits in 18 innings of his three starts, striking out 13 and walking six.
The Angels, according to a Foxsports.com report, were rebuffed in their attempts to engage Arizona in serious talks to acquire right-hander Dan Haren, who leads the National League with a 2.25 ERA.
A strong return by Santana would mitigate the need for another starter, but there is no guarantee Santana, who is 1-3 with a 7.47 ERA and missed six weeks because of an elbow ligament sprain, will regain his 2008 All-Star form.
A deal for Haren also makes long-term sense for the Angels, who could lose ace John Lackey to free agency this winter. Haren is signed for $33.75 million through 2012. But the Diamondbacks view Haren as an ace and would have to be overwhelmed with an offer to part with him.