Angels reliever Dane De La Rosa pitches against the Seattle Mariners. (Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images )
OAKLAND — Teams have made a habit of turning Angels castoffs into All-Star closers (Fernando Rodney) and reliable setup men (Darren O'Day, Joel Peralta), but in 6-foot-7 right-hander Dane De La Rosa, the Angels may have a reliever who can turn the talent tide back toward Anaheim.
De La Rosa kicked around the minor leagues for 10 years, playing three seasons of independent-league ball, and Tampa Bay had little need for him when it traded De La Rosa in the final week of spring training to the Angels for Steven Geltz, a pitching prospect with a low ceiling, literally — he's 5-9.
But since his April 9 recall from triple-A, De La Rosa, who mixes a 94-mph fastball with a big curve and changeup, has emerged as a key piece in an injury-ravaged bullpen, taking a 2.31 earned-run average in 11 appearances into Monday night's game.
"He's been amazing," Angels closer Ernesto Frieri said. "He's throwing strikes and gaining more confidence. He's done a great job. Hopefully, he stays like this all year."
With injuries to Sean Burnett, Kevin Jepsen and Mark Lowe and Garrett Richards moving to the rotation, De La Rosa is now third in Manager Mike Scioscia's bullpen pecking order behind Frieri and Scott Downs.
Not only has De La Rosa, 30, been effective, he's been a workhorse, pitching in five games last week, including two hitless innings in last Tuesday's win over Texas. He even warmed up Sunday in Seattle but did not pitch.
"I don't mind it all," said De La Rosa, a Riverside College product. "It's helping me be more consistent. With the Rays, I'd throw one day, get six days off. I get into a rhythm a lot easier when I'm throwing all the time."
De La Rosa took a huge step in that win over the Rangers, rebounding from a rocky outing the night before, when he walked one and gave up a run-scoring single in a three-run seventh that allowed Texas to tie the score in an eventual 7-6 win.
"My nerves got the best of me," De La Rosa said. "I had to relax and know I've done this before. Just trust my ability, be aggressive and get strike one, strike two."
Scioscia said De La Rosa "has the potential to be a very important piece of the bullpen," but Frieri believes his success will hinge on his command.
"Whenever he's ahead in the count, nobody can touch him," Frieri said. "When he's trying to find the strike zone, he gets in trouble."
Shortstop Erick Aybar, on the DL because of a bruised left heel, went two for five in a rehabilitation game for triple-A Salt Lake on Monday night, lining a two-run homer to right field and legging out a double after he chopped a grounder to over the head of the first baseman. There is a good chance Aybar will be activated Tuesday night.... Reliever Mark Lowe, on the disabled list because of a strained neck, and third baseman Alberto Callaspo (right groin injury) will begin rehabilitation assignments with Class-A Inland Empire on Tuesday. Lowe will throw one inning Tuesday and two innings Thursday and should be ready to pitch for the Angels this weekend.