Scioscia high on Jepsen's future

Scioscia high on Jepsen's future

ANAHEIM -- Kevin Jepsen, whose season began with back pain, a trip to the disabled list and another trip, to Triple-A Salt Lake, gave Angels manager Mike Scioscia what he's been looking for in the final inning of Monday night's victory over the Rangers.

"He's starting to make some progress," Scioscia said. "That's a big arm that plays in the back end of a championship-level bullpen. That's Kevin's potential. Last night, that stuff was electric."

Jepsen, a right-hander, jumped on the Angels' radar with a breakthrough 2008 that featured a starring role on the U.S. Olympic team's bronze-medal-winning performance in Beijing.

Jepsen was lights-out in the Summer Games (no earned runs in 5 2/3 innings with a save) and at two Minor League levels, controlling hitters at Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Salt Lake. His mid-90s fastball was supplemented by a curveball designed to keep hitters off stride.

In nine appearances and 8 1/3 innings with the Angels, Jepsen fashioned a 4.32 ERA and made enough of an impression to claim a postseason roster spot.

His struggles, with his back and his command, across the first half of this season haven't prevented Jepsen from adding a new wrinkle to his repertoire.

"He's coming up with a little cutter that's turning into a real slider that complements his fastball and curveball," Scioscia said. "This gives him three legitimate out pitches.

"If he can command two of his three pitches, he's tough. If he's got three working, he's going to be real tough."

Scioscia favors power arms at the back end of the bullpen, having leaned with success on the likes of Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez and Scot Shields.

While Darren Oliver, Justin Speier and Brian Fuentes are the veteran anchors in the bullpen, the Angels are integrating a trio of hard-throwing right-handers -- Jepsen, Jason Bulger and Rich Thompson -- into the mix.

They could emerge as significant factors in the second half in front of the All-Star closer, Fuentes, with Shields out for the season with knee surgery.

Bulger hasn't yielded a run in 23 of his past 26 appearances and has held right-handers to a .194 batting average. His ERA after a rough April is 2.30 in 25 games.

Jepsen and Thompson are hoping to follow Bulger's lead and settle into roles as reliable sources of outs from the sixth through eighth innings.

Jepsen hasn't given up a hit or a run in his past three outings, an inning each, walking three and striking out two hitters.

Thompson, Australia's gift to the Angels' bullpen, hasn't yielded a run in his past 3 1/3 innings covering two outings. He has allowed five hits, walking none and striking out three.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.