LaTroy Hawkins came off the disabled list in early June and has an ERA of 0.66… (Dustin Bradford / Getty…)
Every conversation about the Angels' robust rebound from a 6-14 start begins with Mike Trout, whose blazing speed, ability to get on base and power have sent a jolt of energy through the club.
There is usually mention of Mark Trumbo's power, Albert Pujols finding his swing after a dreadful April, the May 3 trade for reliever Ernesto Frieri and the excellence of several starting pitchers.
Rarely does talk turn to the bullpen as a whole, a group that combined to go 1-6 with a 4.70 earned-run average, five saves and a .273 average against in the first 32 games but went 6-2 with a 1.92 ERA, 11 saves and a .201 average against in the next 39 games entering Saturday.
"That depth in the bullpen has as much to do with our turnaround as anything we've talked about on the offensive side," Manager Mike Scioscia said.
And it's not just Frieri, who has given up no runs and three hits, struck out 36 in 20 2/3 innings and is eight for eight in save opportunities since being acquired from San Diego.
LaTroy Hawkins came off the disabled list in early June and has an ERA of 0.66 in 16 games. Jason Isringhausen, relegated to low-leverage situations for most of April and May, has emerged as a late-inning option, with a 1.73 ERA in 27 games. Demoted closer Jordan Walden (2.86 ERA in 25 games) is pitching better.
With four dependable right-handers, Scioscia can use veteran left-hander Scott Downs (0.37 ERA in 27 games) as a late-inning wild-card depending on when the opponent's best left-handed hitters are up.
Downs has pitched enough in the ninth inning to record six saves. The bulk of his work has come in the eighth. Friday night, with the left-handed Andre Ethier and Bobby Abreu due up for the Dodgers, Downs pitched the seventh.
"We're going to match up until we get some roles that are in concrete," Scioscia said. "Roles are more defined now, but being flexible makes the bullpen better."
Most teams have regimented bullpens, with clear-cut closers, setup men and long men, and some relievers get anxious when they don't know their roles. That doesn't seem to be the case with the Angels.
"One of the beauties of a group that has risen to the occasion is there is very little in the way of egos, other than they have a job to do," General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. "It's like a tag team; you're passing the baton to the next guy."
The Angels have gotten little production out of their third basemen — primarily Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis — who entered Saturday with a combined .245 average, .310 slugging percentage, three homers and 20 runs batted in.
But Dipoto made it clear Saturday that he has no interest in veteran third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who is reportedly on the verge of being traded by the Boston Red Sox.
"We're not involved with Youkilis," Dipoto said.
Asked if he'd like to upgrade the position before the July 31 trade deadline, the GM said, "I don't know that there's an overwhelming market for power-hitting third basemen."