You hate to have your closer on the shelf for too long in a heated pennant race. Holding narrow ninth-inning leads in such important games is tough enough. Battling cobwebs can make the job more difficult.
But Angels rookie Jordan Walden said there have been benefits to appearing in only three of 13 games before getting his 29th save Wednesday night with a perfect ninth inning against Seattle.
For one, Walden's arm feels "as strong as it did in spring training." The 23-year-old right-hander battled what he called "a little dead-arm phase" in late August, when he blew saves in consecutive appearances against Toronto (Aug. 14) and Baltimore (Aug. 20).
"I've got my velocity back," said Walden, whose fastball has touched 100 mph this season. "I'm excited to get on the mound."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, September 10, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Angels FYI: In the Sept. 8 Sports section, a caption for the photo accompanying the Angels FYI column identified the catcher congratulating pitcher Jordan Walden as Bobby Wilson. The catcher was their teammate Jeff Mathis.
Walden, who needed only seven pitches to get three outs Friday, has also taken advantage of the down time to refine his delivery so he can hold runners on more effectively, a problem many closers have. Opponents have been successful on 13 of 14 stolen-base attempts off him.
"I've looked at it, and man, if anyone gets on first, they might as well just walk to second," Walden said. "It was that easy for them."
Walden has been quicker to the plate in recent outings, cutting the time from his first leg movement to when the ball hits the catcher's mitt from the 1.7-second range to the 1.3-second range.
"I haven't gone to a slide-step -- I'm just trying to not be so slow to the plate," Walden said. "I'm working on it."
Catch of the day
The significance of winning Baseball America's minor league player-of-the-year award sank in Wednesday when Mike Trout scanned the list of previous winners, which includes Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, Joe Mauer, Dwight Gooden and Tim Salmon.
"I read that list," Trout said. "Jeter is on it, a guy who just got his 3,000th hit. Salmon got it. It's just a great honor."
Trout won the award by hitting .326 with a .414 on-base percentage, 82 runs, 11 homers, 13 triples and 33 stolen bases in 91 games for double-A Arkansas.
"My goal was to make the playoffs in double A," Trout said. "Now I have a chance to make them in the big leagues."
Trout was called up for the first time July 8 and hit .163 in 14 games. He was sent back to Arkansas on July 31. Since being recalled again Aug. 19, Trout was batting .317 with four homers, 11 runs and eight RBIs in 14 games entering Wednesday.
"When I first got called up I was jittery, nervous, trying to do too much," Trout said. "When I was sent down, I realized this is where I wanted to be. I came up and knew what to expect."
Trout looks like he belongs now. He said the biggest challenge was, "Realizing it's just a game played before more people. You have to take a couple of deep breaths. That was big. My first game I looked up and saw four decks and 40,000 people. It's a little different than high school."
Converted starter Garrett Richards' first relief appearance went pretty well Tuesday, the rookie right-hander giving up two hits but also striking out two in a scoreless seventh inning.
"Warming up quickly was different, but they gave me plenty of time, I didn't feel rushed," Richards said. "I enjoyed not having so much time to think about it. All of a sudden, you're in the game."