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Angels pitchers stay loose despite rough stretch

They find comic relief even within their ranks and keep a positive attitude moving forward as the Angels battle for a playoff spot.

August 28, 2012|By Lance Pugmire

DETROIT — — Sometimes the pain is so great that the best thing to do is laugh.

Saturday in Detroit, members of the Angels' beleaguered pitching staff were lounging together in the clubhouse, watching baseball bloopers on television.

Reliever Kevin Jepsen was included in the show, uncorking a wild pitch his catcher couldn't have caught on a 10-foot ladder.

Jepsen is a member of an Angels bullpen that has a 6.05 earned-run average with 10 blown saves in 42 games since the All-Star break. And the starters haven't done much better, with a 5.82 ERA and only six victories in 24 games in August.

Nothing funny about that, yet the room erupted in belly laughter when Jepsen's mistake was shown on the TV. The credo seemed to be: Laugh it off, control what you can moving forward, and hope better days are ahead.

"September is going to be a big month for us; there will be a lot of important outs for us to get," reliever Jason Isringhausen said. "I feel confident we'll get them. Everyone does."

For the Angels to reach the playoffs, the pitchers indeed will have to get those important outs. The Angels started Monday four games out in the American League wild-card race with 34 games to go.

Isringhausen, who turns 40 on Sept. 7 but has more than 300 saves, has given up more than a run per inning this month and suffered two losses. But his words focused on the positive, noting that despite the team's troubles, "Nobody is finger pointing in the media. We know how to get through this."

The return of left-hander Scott Downs from a shoulder strain has at least partially stabilized roles in the bullpen, shifting Isringhausen and veteran LaTroy Hawkins back to middle relief.

"We didn't want it to snowball like it did, where nobody could make the right pitch or get the big out, but we are going to make it out," Downs said.

Downs expanded on why he feels so confident.

"You have to trust the team, trust who's in the clubhouse," Downs said. "That's what being on a baseball team is all about."

There is optimism among the starters too.

"You understand everything is cyclical," said C.J. Wilson, who hasn't won in 11 starts dating to June 26. "We all know how we can get out of our own thing. We're all full-grown adults who've dealt with this stuff before."

For Wilson, breaking his slump might call for less self-analysis and more attention to throwing strikes. Starter Zack Greinke said he won Friday in Detroit after putting less emphasis on throwing "nasty" pitches. Ervin Santana was in a slump before embracing a new delivery that has resulted in six consecutive solid starts. And Dan Haren is concentrating on getting one out at a time.

Haren acknowledges he has had thoughts about the $15-million option the Angels could, if they choose, award him for 2013. The right-hander had been among baseball's most reliable and durable pitchers, but he has an 8-10 record and 4.82 ERA this season.

"Every start is different, but keeping a positive mental attitude is important whether or not there are doubts out there about how I can perform from the fans and the media," Haren said.

It's true that things can turn around quickly in baseball, and Jepsen is a prime example. On Aug. 18, he gave up a two-run home run to Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena as the Angels blew an eight-run lead in a 10-8 loss.

Since then, he has pitched six consecutive scoreless innings.

"It's not going to be the same team or the same batter the next day," Jepsen said. "So you come back ready to help the team win."

The team's slump isn't entirely on the pitchers, either, catcher Bobby Wilson said.

"Everyone to a man can say, 'I need to do a better job of carrying my weight,' " Wilson said.

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