Halos leaning on eclectic mix of relievers in 'pen

Halos leaning on eclectic mix of relievers in 'pen

Halos leaning on eclectic mix of relievers in 'pen
ARLINGTON -- The status of Scott Downs' left shoulder strain is still unclear, Jordan Walden remains on the shelf and there are no signs of any fresh blood coming from outside the organization to help. Knowing this, one of the Angels' sage relievers, LaTroy Hawkins, has been asking Kevin Jepsen the same question each of the last three days.

"Did you do your sit-ups today?" he yells as soon as he spots Jepsen from across the visiting clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark.

"Because we're going to ride his back," Hawkins then says in a low voice, before turning his attention to Jepsen again. "Get strong, young man!"

Yes, since the ever-crucial Downs was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, Jepsen's role has picked up, because he's relatively young (28), because he throws hard (upper 90s) and because he's been good (12 straight scoreless outings before Wednesday's extra-inning loss).

With Downs out, Jepsen appears to be Mike Scioscia's setup man for closer Ernesto Frieri. That was his role Wednesday, when he gave up a run in the eighth, just before Frieri and Jason Isringhausen failed to hold leads of one and three in a 10-inning, 11-10 defeat.

"Any time you lose a guy like [Downs], it's a big deal," Jepsen said. "But we'll be fine. We have plenty of good arms down there. We'll right the ship, and when he gets back, it'll just be that much better."

The Angels' bullpen had a rough April, then scorched through May and June, with the Frieri acquisition playing a major role. Since the start of the second half, though, the bullpen has given up 38 runs (36 earned) in 56 innings, good for a 5.79 ERA. And over their last two losses against the Rangers, Angels relievers combined to give up 13 runs (11 earned) in 6 1/3 innings.

There are few signs of it getting any better, either.

The Angels won't know when Downs can start throwing again for another week, when the inflammation in his shoulder subsides. Walden continues to feel good with his throwing sessions, but there's still no indication of when he'll get back on the mound. And though general manager Jerry Dipoto will continue his search for relief help in August, there's no guarantee he can acquire a major upgrade.

Translation: It'll be up to two 39-year-olds (Hawkins and Isringhausen), one guy who was in Triple-A a month ago (Jepsen) and one few had ever heard of at the start of this season (Frieri) to hold down leads as the Angels' season reaches its most critical juncture yet.

The Angels have an off-day on Thursday, which means fifth starter Ervin Santana could get skipped. But Scioscia said he isn't considering him a temporary bullpen option just yet.

"There's a number of things we're trying to sort through," Scioscia said. "Right now our best rotation is Ervin pitching to his potential."