ANAHEIM -- There was a time when Jordan Walden, the heat-dispensing right-hander from Texas, was one of the brightest lights in the Angels' farm system. His star dimmed as he negotiated his way through arm issues, but his emergence the past weeks has vaulted him into the club's immediate-future designs.
With his 98-101-mph fastball and an improving selection of offspeed stuff, Walden, 22, has the look of a potential closer with his dominant work: 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings, one save, 18 strikeouts against four walks and a .211 batting average allowed. The 6-foot-5 Fort Worth, Texas, product was warming up when Ervin Santana finished his five-hit shutout of the Rangers on Tuesday night.
"He's moved up fairly quickly [on the depth chart]," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That line of crossing from middle [relief] to setup guy is not as big as from setup guy to closer. That wall is pretty thick. You want to make sure a guy's prepared for it."
Veterans Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney have handled the ninth inning this season, but Fuentes was dealt to the Twins and Rodney has been inconsistent closing since the left-hander's departure.
Rodney, with a year left on his contract, appears the front-runner for the job next season, but it's no slam dunk. Walden, who attended the same school (Grayson County College in Texas) that produced John Lackey, could make a case with a strong spring showing.
"We need that depth in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings," Scioscia said. "It's fair to say his power arm can play at the back end of a Major League bullpen if he keeps improving. There's still some work to be done. His presence out there, his poise, ability to repeat pitches, that has been a positive. I don't think you can ever know how a guy's going to react [to ninth-inning pressure]. But he's been impressive."