ANAHEIM -- Jordan Walden was hardly surprised that he was removed from the closer's role, even though he had only pitched in six games and all it took was one blown save. Deep down inside, the hard-throwing right-hander knew he simply wasn't right.
"I knew I wasn't set in stone [as the closer]," Walden said. "And I know how good [Scott] Downs is."
One day after he surrendered a two-run, walk-off homer to the Rays' Brandon Allen on Thursday, Angels manager Mike Scioscia pulled the trigger, replacing Walden with Downs, the standout left-hander who converted a clean save in his debut as closer Saturday.
The move is expected to be temporary, with Walden working in less-stressful situations in hopes of improving his slider -- a crucial pitch to offset his blistering fastball.
While posting a 2.08 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in 4 1/3 innings, resulting in an 8.31 ERA, Walden has thrown sliders for only 11 of 104 pitches (10.6 percent). Of those 11 sliders, only two have been for strikes, which may tend to make him lose confidence in the pitch and rely too heavily on the fastball.
A perfect example of that came Thursday, when he threw two sliders for balls against B.J. Upton, then hurled five straight fastballs to Allen -- who hit the fifth one out.
"My slider just hasn't been for a strike, so when they see it, they don't swing," Walden said. "I just have to work on throwing it up there for a strike and just give them something else to look at."
More than the slider, though, many will tell you a demotion like this can have a negative effect mentally on a young closer like Walden.
The 24-year-old doesn't see it that way, though.
"I took it well," Walden said. "Downs, his numbers show everything. He pitched lights-out last year, and this year he's our guy. Whatever it takes for our team to win, I'm all about it."