Angels reliever Hisanori Takahashi hands the ball to Manager Mike Scioscia… (Jim Cowsert / US Presswire )
Reporting from Arlington, Texas
Only one American League rotation has a better earned-run average than the Angels' quintet. And no American League rookie has more saves than the Angels' Jordan Walden.
But the bridge linking one to the other remains under construction, as Sunday's 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers proved once again.
The Angels have tried half of their bullpen in the eighth-inning role this season, with the result being a league-high eight blown saves and seven losses.
Sunday it was Rich Thompson's chance to pitch there — and he, too, spit the bit.
"He's been terrific," Manager Mike Scioscia said of Thompson, who was emerging as a potential pillar in the bridge he's been trying to build.
Thompson, in fact, was the only AL reliever to retire the leadoff batter in all his appearances this season. And he hadn't given up a run in his last seven games.
The first streak ended when he walked the first two Rangers he faced on full-count pitches, the second when Mike Napoli and Chris Davis followed with bloop singles — the first against Thompson, the second against Hisanori Takahashi — to drive in the winning run.
"You can't walk the first two guys in an inning," Thompson said. "That's basically what it comes down to."
What it also comes down to is that the Angels' bullpen remains a work in progress — which is either good or bad, depending on your point of view.
"It is what it is," said left-hander Scott Downs, the most experienced Angels reliever. "With our bullpen, everybody's ready when asked to be ready. That's the most important thing.
"Roles are going to be defined. Some might not."
Fernando Rodney, for example, started the season as the closer, lost the job to Walden and now with blown saves in two of his last four appearances, is being forced to share the set-up role.
Downs has been used as a situational lefty and in a save situation — and many of the other relievers have pitched in everything from blowouts to extra-inning nail-biters.
"We're definitely trying to form a little broader group to get to Jordan," Scioscia said.
But although some may see the Angels' lack of a defined set-up man as a weakness, Downs sees the number of candidates for the job as a strength.
"You'd rather have more than not enough," he said. "Sometimes it's good to have defined roles, yet sometimes it's not. It makes you stay focused …until you bridge that gap. I want the ball when the game's on the line. And I'm sure the other guys feel the same way."
It was Thompson who got the ball Sunday after his teammates had clawed back from a 4-1 deficit the Rangers built on Adrian Beltre's three-run homer in the third and Davis' solo shot an inning later.
Erick Aybar, who had three hits and drove in three runs, started the comeback with a solo homer in the fifth, then tied the score with a two-run, bases-loaded single in the sixth.
But Thompson's wildness made that all for naught, with the Angels' final chance ending when Alberto Callaspo struck out and Howie Kendrick was thrown out at second for a game-ending double play.
"We didn't play our best ballgame," Scioscia said of the offense, which was one for 11 with runners in scoring position, stranding 11. "We had a lot of opportunities. We just didn't do enough."