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Angels reliever Jordan Walden aims to sharpen repertoire

The 2011 All-Star game selection, recently demoted from his closer role, strives to gain better command of slider and more confidence in changeup.

April 29, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Jordan Walden pitches against the New York Yankees at a game earlier this month in New York.
Jordan Walden pitches against the New York Yankees at a game earlier this… (Nick Laham / Getty Images )

CLEVELAND — When Jordan Walden lost his closer job after giving up a walk-off home run to Tampa Bay's Brandon Allen on Thursday, he was not demoted to a seventh- or eighth-inning role.

The right-hander whose 98-mph fastball earned him a trip to the All-Star game last season has been reduced, at least temporarily, to a mop-up guy until he can start throwing his slider for a strike.

"Our preference is to get him into a low-profile inning and let him work on some stuff," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He can make adjustments working in the bullpen and pitching some innings that aren't going to be as critical, where he can experiment with a pitch to get a better feel."

Walden threw an aggressive bullpen session Friday and was not available for that night's game. He had a lighter pregame workout Sunday and was available to pitch.

"Mike [Butcher, Angels pitching coach] feels it could be more of a quicker fix than a long, detailed project," Scioscia said.

The goal is for Walden to gain better command of his slider and more confidence in his changeup.

"Right now, if a hitter sees anything but a fastball, he's taking," Walden said. "I have to get the slider in there for a strike."

A demotion from the closer job could be a blow to a reliever's ego, but Walden is taking it in stride.

"It's not a bad thing at all," said Walden, who has an 8.31 earned-run average in 41/3 innings. "It shows I need to work on stuff and get better. Whatever helps the team is what I'm all about."

Hatcher job

Fans howling for the Angels to fire hitting coach Mickey Hatcher will probably roll their eyes when they hear this Scioscia quote about struggling first baseman Albert Pujols.

"He and Mickey have shared a lot of information," the manager said.

That's exactly what concerns critics of Hatcher, who can do no right in the eyes of fans who have called for his head virtually every time the Angels have gone into a hitting funk since 2000.

Hatcher has survived for 12 years, but with the Angels falling spectacularly short of expectations this season and a new general manager (Jerry Dipoto) who showed with Friday's release of Bobby Abreu and promotion of Mike Trout that he's not afraid to take quick, decisive action, Hatcher could be even more of a target if the Angels don't turn things around soon.

"We need to hit better pitches," right fielder Torii Hunter said when asked if there was a common thread to the team's at-bats. "You look at video, and it's not your mechanics, it's where ball is. It's out of the zone, a pitcher's pitch. We're fouling off mistake pitches down the middle and swinging at balls."

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