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As Angels shuffle bullpen, Jordan Walden just waits

ANGELS FYI

Struggling Rich Thompson is cut loose, Brad Mills is called up (but only for a day) and Scott Downs progresses toward a return. Meanwhile, closer Jordan Walden still hasn't had a save opportunity.

April 14, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels closer Jordan Walden celebrates with catcher Chris Iannetta after their 7-1 victory over the Yankees on Saturday afternoon in New York.
Angels closer Jordan Walden celebrates with catcher Chris Iannetta after… (Bill Kostroun / Associated…)

NEW YORK — There was a flurry of activity in the Angels bullpen Saturday, with Rich Thompson getting designated for assignment, Brad Mills getting called up from triple A before the game and sent back to Salt Lake afterward, and setup man Scott Downs taking significant strides in his return from a bruised right ankle.

Closer Jordan Walden, meanwhile, is looking for meaningful work. Through eight games, Walden still hasn't entered in a save situation, throwing one inning at the end of a lopsided loss to Kansas City last Sunday and another in Saturday's 7-1 win over the New York Yankees.

"I'm ready to pitch," Walden said. "I'm locked in. I'm just waiting for the phone to ring. But I'm not worried. It's a long season. I'll get plenty of opportunities."

Manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday morning that "we're at a point now where we're going to have to force him into a game," and when he did that Saturday afternoon, Walden looked sharp, striking out two of the four batters he faced, including Nick Swisher with a 99-mph fastball to end the game.

There was also encouraging news regarding Downs, who was on crutches after Thursday's game in Minnesota but did agility drills, played catch and threw a dozen or so pitches off a mound Saturday. He could be ready to pitch Monday or Tuesday.

"I'm making progress — every day it gets better," said Downs, the team's most reliable reliever. "Realistically, I'd like to say I'm ready right now, but these things take time."

Thompson's time with the Angels is probably up after he was tagged for four runs and five hits in 11/3 innings of Thursday's 10-9 loss to the Twins. The Angels have 10 days to trade the right-hander, pass him through waivers or release him.

Thompson's 94-mph fastball and big curve could be attractive enough for another team to claim him, but if he clears waivers, Thompson might have the option of returning to triple A with the Angels.

Thompson went 3-3 with a 3.98 earned-run average in 79 games since 2007, but he seemed to do his best work in mop-up situations and his worst work with the game on the line.

According to baseball-reference.com, Thompson yielded a .280 average, eight walks and seven strikeouts in "high-leverage" situations and a .212 average, 10 walks and 43 strikeouts in "low-leverage" situations.

"He admitted his stuff was not as crisp, and we don't have time to use that one spot to get him where he needs to be," Scioscia said. "He pitched well for us at times last year, but he needs to find some things."

Mills was sent out after the game to clear a roster spot for Jerome Williams, who will come off the disabled list to pitch against the Yankees on Sunday night.

Hitting the skids

The left ankle of Kendrys Morales looks sound, but the swing of the switch-hitter, who missed nearly two seasons after fracturing the ankle in May 2010, does not.

Morales was hitless in five at-bats Saturday, and since his four-hit game against Kansas City on April 7, he has one hit and seven strikeouts in 23 at-bats, his average falling to .200.

"At times he looked a little tentative and caught some balls deep, and he expanded the zone in his first at-bat," Scioscia said. "I know he's going to be fine. Right now, like a lot of guys, he's got to get simple. He's trying to do too many things in the batter's box right now."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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