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Angels' Kevin Jepsen ready to weigh in as potential setup man

Kevin Jepsen, a key reliever in 2009 but slowed by knee issues the last two years, appears sound after surgery, is back up to his original playing weight and hopes to regain his high-90s velocity.

February 24, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels reliever Kevin Jepsen listens to catcher Hank Conger during a spring training game against the Milwaukee Brewers last year.
Angels reliever Kevin Jepsen listens to catcher Hank Conger during a spring… (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press )

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — You can see it in the ease and comfort of his delivery, his explosive thrust toward the plate and the way the ball comes out of his hand. You can hear it in the loud pop of the catcher's mitt.

"He looks like a different guy this spring," Manager Mike Scioscia said of Angels reliever Kevin Jepsen, whose once-promising career was derailed by injury and ineffectiveness. "He looks strong, healthy."

It's too early for Jepsen, the team's primary setup man during the Angels' run to the 2009 American League Championship Series, to declare himself back.

But after undergoing surgery last summer to repair a right knee that had bothered him for more than a year and regaining the 20 pounds he lost last winter, the hard-throwing right-hander says he has given himself a chance.

"The knee feels great, my body feels great, my arm feels fresh," Jepsen said. "I'm healthy. There's nothing in the back of my mind wondering, 'Am I going to get hurt today?' The knee is taken care of, ready to go."

After a rocky start and demotion to triple A early in 2009, Jepsen returned to Anaheim and was dominant that July, compiling a 1.35 earned-run average in 13 games and taking over as setup man for the injured Scot Shields.

But Jepsen's push-off knee began bothering him 2010 — he wore a bulky knee brace for much of the season, going 2-4 with a 3.97 ERA in 68 games — and worsened in 2011, when was demoted twice and shut down in July.

"It was awful," Jepsen said. "There were a lot of ups and downs, physically and emotionally. I got hurt, tried to throw through it, and it got to the point where I couldn't throw."

Jepsen, who went 1-2 with a 7.62 ERA in 16 games for the Angels, was put on the triple-A disabled list in July. He tried rehabilitating the knee for six weeks but in late August underwent surgery to remove debris and relieve arthritis in the joint.

While recovering, the 6-foot-3 Jepsen bulked up to his previous playing weight of 243 pounds. He was in the 220 range last season.

"I'm a drop-and-drive guy, and I didn't have any legs last year," Jepsen said. "It sapped my strength and energy. I just have to accept the fact I'm not going to be that guy with a six-pack [of abs]."

Jepsen, 27, will have to be extremely sharp this spring to win a spot in a bullpen that features numerous veterans — Scott Downs, LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Isringhausen, Hisanori Takahashi — in front of closer Jordan Walden.

But he still has one minor league option left, so the Angels could start him at triple A and summon him in case another reliever struggles or is hurt. Their thinking: You can never have enough guys who throw 98 mph.

"I have to throw my way back into that [2009] role," Jepsen said. "If I pitch the way I can, the way I have before, everything will take care of itself."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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