A week ago Angels reliever Jason Isringhausen and catcher Chris Iannetta… (Hannah Foslien / Getty Images )
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jason Isringhausen thought he'd have a more prominent role when he signed with the Angels in February, and so did the front office, which envisioned the 39-year-old right-hander as one of three primary short relievers in front of opening-day closer Jordan Walden.
But in 11 appearances before Sunday, Isringhausen, a former closer who has 300 saves, entered a game with the Angels leading only once, when he pitched the ninth inning of an 8-3 win over Minnesota on May 7.
His only "high-leverage" situation was April 25, when he started the eighth inning of a game in which the Angels trailed Tampa Bay, 2-1. Isringhausen walked four, forcing in the eventual winning run in a 3-2 loss.
With Ernesto Frieri emerging as a primary eighth-inning reliever — he threw 41/3 hitless innings with nine strikeouts in his first four appearances — Isringhausen remains stuck in the back of the bullpen.
Not that he's complaining.
"I'm not frustrated, I still have a uniform on," said Isringhausen, who has survived three elbow reconstruction surgeries. "I could be at home doing nothing. This beats digging ditches for a living. I've done both."
Really. When Isringhausen was in the minor leagues in the early 1990s, he spent several off-seasons working on a street-maintenance crew in Brighton, Ill.
"Part of the job was digging ditches," Isringhausen said. "I also worked in a waste-treatment plant. I made $5.25 an hour. Was lots of fun. Been there, done that. This is much better."
Manager Mike Scioscia said Isringhausen's stuff is "close" to what it was in 2011, when Isringhausen was 3-3 with a 4.05 earned-run average in 53 games for the New York Mets. Outside of the Tampa Bay game, Isringhausen has been effective — he began Sunday with a 2.53 ERA and .200 opponents batting average. He feels good physically.
"I'm rested," Isringhausen said. "I pitch once a week."
His biggest challenge is generating the same adrenaline he did as a closer in the fifth inning of a game the Angels are trailing by five runs.
"I have to set that aside and do my job," Isringhausen said. "I'm trying to get ready the same way every day and be ready when the phone rings."
Struggling right fielder Torii Hunter, who has two hits in his last 30 at-bats, and shortstop Erick Aybar, who is hitting .200 this season, were not in the lineup Sunday night, but left fielder Vernon Wells was — again.
Many Angels fans don't understand why Wells, who began Sunday with a .223 average, four home runs and eight runs batted in, continues to start so often ahead of speedy outfielder Peter Bourjos, who has started four of 15 games since Mike Trout was promoted from triple A on April 27.
The fact that Wells is signed through 2014 at $21 million a year is a factor, though the team wouldn't admit that publicly. The Angels are giving Wells, who hit .218 last season, ample time to find his stroke — he has started 30 of 35 games this season. Bourjos, meanwhile, continues to sit.
"We have a lot of confidence in what Vernon can do," Scioscia said. "At times, he's made great strides, and then there are some things he's still trying to work through in his swing and his game."