Reporting from Kansas City, Mo. — The Angels clubhouse was empty an hour after Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals. But that didn't mean everyone had left.
In a back corner of the trainer's room, outfielder Torii Hunter and pitchers Scott Downs and Michael Kohn sat with reliever Kevin Jepsen, who needed consoling after his second disastrous outing in three days.
Called on to protect a one-run cushion in the eighth inning, Jepsen gave up line-drive hits to four of the first six hitters he faced, surrendering the lead and the game. On Thursday, he had come on the eighth inning of a game the Angels led by three runs, only to give up a leadoff home run and two walks, bringing the winning run to the plate.
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But if Jepsen is having trouble closing out games, his teammates had no problem closing ranks behind him.
"We're a family," closer Fernando Rodney said. "If something happens to one, it happens to all of us."
Said reliever Hisanori Takahashi through an interpreter: "Jepsen is a very good pitcher. He's solid. He'll be fine soon."
Just how soon, however, is the question. Jepsen started the season as Manager Mike Scioscia's preferred setup man, the guy charged with getting the ball — and the lead — to Rodney in the ninth inning. That's a job he's now in danger of losing.
And with the Angels likely to demote a reliever when Downs and Joel Pineiro come off the disabled list this month, a few more bad outings could leave Jepsen in danger of losing his place on the roster as well.
Scioscia isn't looking that far ahead just yet.
"He needs to get his feet on the ground," he said. "He just couldn't get through that one little stretch of guys."
Rodney, who has had his share of trouble protecting leads, said the only option is to trust your talent and move on.
"It's difficult," he said. "But you can't think about it. You have to go out every day with a positive attitude. Everyone knows he has talent. He's a key guy for us."
"It's baseball," said starter Ervin Santana, who was in line for the win after holding the Royals to three runs in 62/3 innings. "Anything can happen."
And on Saturday, just about everything did.
Although the Angels pounded out 11 hits and had every starter reach base at least once, they were three for 14 with runners in scoring position, leaving nine men on base.
And that doesn't count Alberto Callaspo, who was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second base on Erick Aybar's eighth-inning double off the center-field wall.
Then there's the sixth-inning run the Angels gave up when Santana bounced a two-out, two-strike slider to Jeff Francoeur, allowing Billy Butler to score on the wild pitch.
Yet, despite all that, the Angels — and Jepsen — nearly escaped unharmed when second baseman Maicer Izturis made a diving stop of Wilson Betemit's grounder up the middle. Izturis flipped the ball to Aybar, who barehanded it as he went across second base for the force out. However, his throw to first, which could have completed the inning-ending double play, was wide, keeping the inning alive.
Matt Treanor and Chris Getz followed with run-scoring singles and by the time the dust had cleared, Jepsen's line for the young season read: 11/3 innings, five hits, three runs and a 20.25 earned-run average.
"We had a lot of opportunities and couldn't cash in," Scioscia said. "But still it's a lead that we feel confident that we're going to hold. And we didn't get it done."