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Kevin Jepsen looks forward to big league role

Young reliever, a virtual lock to make the team out of spring training, says he can hardly wait.

March 12, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — The closest Kevin Jepsen came to pitching in the playoffs last season was an order to warm up during Game 3 of the American League division series against the Boston Red Sox.

But the 24-year-old reliever, whose September stuff and poise were impressive enough to bump veteran Justin Speier off the postseason roster, still got enough of a taste of October baseball to know he wants another big helping.

"Being in that atmosphere was unlike anything I've ever been a part of," said Jepsen, a member of the U.S. team that won a bronze medal at last summer's Olympics in Beijing. "The adrenaline, the fans, everything going on . . . it was unbelievable. That's where you want to be."

The Angels seem convinced Jepsen can help get them back there. The right-hander is a virtual lock to make the team this spring, even though he has only nine games of big league appearance.

Mixing a 95-mph fastball with a big overhand curve, Jepsen had a 1.42 earned-run average in 25 games at double-A Arkansas and a 2.35 ERA in 15 games at triple-A Salt Lake before joining the Angels on Sept. 7.

He had a 4.32 ERA in nine September games and looked so good that few were surprised when Manager Mike Scioscia put Jepsen on the playoff roster.

"He opened up a lot of eyes," Scioscia said. "He certainly seems ready for the challenge of pitching in the major leagues and eventually working his way into pitching at the back end of a championship-caliber bullpen."

After undergoing surgery in 2005 to repair a shoulder tear, Jepsen, a second-round pick in 2002, remained stuck at Class-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2006 (3.58 ERA) and 2007 (4.19 ERA).

"Coming off surgery was tough," Jepsen said. "I made a lot of mechanical changes to stay healthy. There were a lot of ups and downs. You'd have a good day and a bad day, and you wouldn't know how you were going to feel until you woke up in the morning.

"But last year I came out and all of a sudden the pain was gone, and I felt great. I don't know whether some scar tissue finally broke up, but it felt great knowing I was pain-free. It was definitely a confidence booster to get back to the way I know I can throw."

Jepsen, who will team with Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo to give the bullpen three power arms from the right side, said his brief major league experience has helped calm his nerves this spring.

He has looked good in four Cactus League games, giving up two earned runs and three hits in four innings.

"It definitely helped being in the big leagues last year," Jepsen said. "It doesn't make it any easier here, but it's helped me focus on what I need to do, which is get ahead of guys and get them out."

Short hops

Kelvim Escobar, far ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery, mixed a few breaking balls into a 55-pitch bullpen workout Wednesday and is scheduled for a 60-pitch workout Saturday. If all goes well, he will begin throwing batting practice to hitters next week. . . . Catcher Mike Napoli, also recovering from shoulder surgery, extended his long-toss program to 150 feet. Once he stretches to 180-200 feet, he will try to throw on consecutive days. . . . The Angels were off Wednesday but resume exhibition play today against Colorado. Ace John Lackey will start for the Angels.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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