SEATTLE -- For the first time in his 13-year reign as Angels manager, Mike Scioscia is using a closer-by-committee strategy. It's not really by choice -- slotting relievers, and having a clear-cut closer, is usually the ideal scenario -- but it is working.
Essentially, this is what it boils down to for the Angels: Scioscia knows lefty Scott Downs can be an effective closer, but he also knows his bullpen is better if Downs is able to match up more freely, and he isn't quite sure yet if his two young righties, Ernesto Frieri and Jordan Walden, can handle the ninth inning on a consistent basis.
The closer-by-committee has been met with mixed results in the past. It worked for the 1990 Reds, who had the "Nasty Boys" of Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers in the late innings of an eventual World Series run. And it didn't work so well for the 2003 Red Sox, who went into the season with a collection of arms in the ninth before relenting and turning Byung-Hyun Kim into the closer by June.
"I think it can absolutely work for a team," said Scioscia, who has previously had Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes, Fernando Rodney (very briefly) and Walden (last year) as defined closers.
"I think the optimum is to get roles. But if you force roles and have a less-effective bullpen, it doesn't make any sense. So you do what you have to do. I think we eventually will have more defined roles where guys will be slotted, as this thing keeps evolving and getting more clarity. Right now, we're going to just slot them in when they have a chance to get outs."
Regardless of who's getting outs, the Angels' 'pen has done a 180, going from one of the worst in baseball to giving up just three runs over its past 34 1/3 innings.
Walden began the year as the closer, but was removed after an April 26 blown save. That paved the way for Downs, who has yet to give up a run in 14 innings, has four saves and closed out Friday night's 6-4 comeback victory. But the lights-out Frieri was getting ready to record his first save against the Padres on May 19 -- before the Angels scored three runs in the top of the ninth to rule that out -- and finally got it in Wednesday's 11-inning victory over the A's.
Downs, owner of a 2.07 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over the last six years, can no doubt handle the ninth.
But he has only one real preference.
"I just like being in games that matter," Downs said. "Sometimes the seventh inning or eighth inning is more important than the ninth. So, mentality-wise, you just have to keep it at that. You realize what your job is, and that's just to get three outs as quickly and as best you can. Either get the ball to the next guy or end the game."