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Troy Percival likes what he sees in Angels' bullpen

The retired reliever, who holds Angels' saves record, expresses confidence in Fernando Rodney's ability to handle closer's role, despite his struggles last season. Percival is also impressed with several hard-throwing youngsters on the roster.

March 08, 2011|By Kevin Baxter

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — No one has saved more games in an Angels uniform than Troy Percival, who also happened to be standing on the mound when the franchise won its only World Series in 2002.

So the man knows what it takes to be a closer.

And when he looks out at the Angels bullpen this spring, it doesn't take him long to identify the guy best suited to follow in his footsteps: Fernando Rodney.

"He's got the experience. He's not afraid of anything. He may scare you once in a while, but I think you hand him the ball 50 times, he's going to get you 45-50 saves," Percival said.

It didn't work out that way last season. When the Angels traded Brian Fuentes to Minnesota in August, Rodney was handed the closer's role and he nearly dropped it, getting tagged with either a loss or a blown save in six of his last 13 appearances.

He hasn't fared much better this spring, allowing nine of the 17 batters he's faced to reach base. But while the best Angels Manager Mike Scioscia has been able to offer is lukewarm support for his closer, Percival is effusive in his.

"Rodney has had some very good success, especially up in Detroit," Percival said of the 33-year-old right-hander, who saved 37 games for the Tigers in 2009. "And I think he'll do real well here. I don't look into spring training at all. Especially with a guy like that, who makes his living with a changeup that has a lot of bite."

Percival spent the last four days in Angels camp, talking to some of the team's relievers, watching their bullpen sessions and working on his tan.

"I'm pretty much just a statue," he joked. "Nothing productive, I don't think."

Hard-throwing right-hander Kevin Jepsen, who is being groomed as a potential closer in the future, disagreed.

"Everybody knows what [Percival] did and what a pitcher he was. So I'm just trying to learn as much as I can from what he has to say," Jepsen said. "He shared, basically, his mentality, when he was out there pitching what he wanted to do as far as attacking hitters. I just want to try to soak in as much as I can from him and, hopefully, apply it myself."

Although Percival wore a uniform during his time in camp, he hasn't pitched since retiring after the 2009 season. And he admits the closer's job looks different from the stands and the sofa than it did from the mound.

"You get a little different perspective on it," he said. "When I was out there, I was completely focused on one thing: Whoever came up to the plate, that was my job to get them out.

"Now you sit out here and one guy gets on base — now I understand why people always used to say, 'Oh, you always had me on the edge of my seat.' There's always that feeling the tying run is coming up."

Especially with Rodney, who isn't exactly a lock-down closer, having allowed nearly 1½ runners per inning in his career. Compare that with Percival's career WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of 1.1 or Mariano Rivera's 1.0.

In Percival's mind, though, giving relievers a role is important and Rodney's role is closing out games.

"It's definitely better to have roles," Percival said. "Guys take pride in 'that's my inning. I handled my inning.' It doesn't always work that way. You've got to mix and match here and there. But I think just having guys that know where their role is, it's always helpful."

When Percival left the Angels as a free agent in 2004, he left behind a deep bullpen anchored by 22-year-old Francisco Rodriguez, who went on to the set the single-season saves record four years later with 62. Percival says this year's bullpen is deep with 20-somethings as well.

"It's only going to get better and better with experience," he said. "You've got [Jordan] Walden throwing very hard, who commands the strike zone. Jepsen throws hard, good breaking ball. With arms like that — and then you've got [Michael] Kohn throwing 94 — all they've got to do is throw the ball over the plate."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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