Jordan Walden hasn't pitched for the Angels since July 8. He has missed… (Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles…)
There is relief in sight for a beleaguered Angels bullpen that through Wednesday had struggled to the tune of a 6.35 earned-run average since the All-Star break and an 8.39 ERA (41 runs in 44 innings) and 14 homers given up in 16 games since July 30.
Left-hander Scott Downs threw 19 pitches in a simulated-game inning Thursday and expects to be activated Saturday, and hard-throwing right-hander Jordan Walden threw a 1-2-3 inning in his third triple-A rehabilitation appearance Thursday and could be activated this weekend.
"Some guys in the bullpen are throwing well," Manager Mike Scioscia said, "but the depth we're trying to establish is squarely on the shoulders of Scott Downs and Jordan Walden."
Without Downs, sidelined since July 28 because of a shoulder strain, and Walden, out since July 15 because of a nerve problem in his neck and biceps strain, the bullpen has been reduced to two reliable relievers — Ernesto Frieri and Kevin Jepsen.
Scioscia has had to use LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Isringhausen, Hisanori Takahashi and David Carpenter in the later innings of tie games, or games in which the Angels were leading or trailing by a run or two.
The results have usually been disastrous, those four pitchers combining for a 13.75 ERA, five losses and six blown saves in 17 2/3 innings in August. Carpenter was demoted to Salt Lake on Aug. 10.
The lack of depth was highlighted again this week. After Albert Pujols' two-run homer pulled the Angels to within 3-2 against Cleveland in the eighth inning Monday, Scioscia turned to Takahashi, who gave up three hits and three runs in the ninth.
The Angels lost, 6-2, but after putting two on in the bottom of the ninth, they would have approached that inning a lot differently if it had been 3-2.
The Angels won, 9-6, Tuesday and 8-4 Wednesday, but when Hawkins gave up a two-run homer to Casey Kotchman in the eighth inning Tuesday and Isringhausen gave up a three-run homer to Shin-Soo Choo in the eighth Wednesday, Scioscia was forced to use Jepsen in both games, perhaps limiting his availability for the series against the Rays.
If Downs, 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA in 38 games, and Walden, 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 31 games, regain their form, Scioscia will be able to use both, as well as Jepsen, in more high-leverage situations.
"There are certain players that would be crippling to lose for any significant period of time, your starting shortstop, catcher and, for us, Scott Downs," General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. "The importance of Scott on this team transcends him being a left-hander, so it's encouraging to see him throwing the ball pain-free."
Smile for camera
Film crews are embedded with the Angels and Rays this weekend to shoot behind-the-scenes footage for a new series called "Caught Looking," which will air on the NBC Sports Network next Thursday night. A different series with playoff implications will be featured each week for the rest of the season.