There have been so many early speed bumps for the Los Angeles Angels, general manager Jerry Dipoto said over the phone Monday, that it would be hard to pinpoint any one of them as the reason for the club's early struggles. But the Angels knew that the bullpen would be a work in progress early on, as relievers performed -- or didn't -- and roles were defined.
But just as the Angels thought their bullpen was starting to settle in, they lost two relievers within the span of three pitches Sunday. First, Scott Downs twisted his knee, and then LaTroy Hawkins got hurt barehanding the game-ending line drive, which he turned into a double play.
Hawkins suffered a fractured pinky and will be out 4-6 weeks. But Dipoto and the Angels got what they felt was good news on Downs, who left the ballpark on crutches on Sunday but felt better on Monday. He was diagnosed with a bone contusion and doesn't need to go on the disabled list, and he will be monitored day to day. "This was about as good as we could have hoped for," said Dipoto.
So the Angels' bullpen will continue to take shape, with manager Mike Scioscia sorting through the possibilities. Dipoto felt fortunate to be able to land an established reliever last week, in a trade with the San Diego Padres for Ernesto Frieri, who has the ability to miss bats -- he has 141 strikeouts in 110.1 innings in the big leagues -- and Downs has quietly been one of baseball's better left-handers during the past two seasons. Jordan Walden's last save chance was on April 26, and he's had two scoreless outings since then.
"We need to get his confidence back in place," said Dipoto. "We need for Jordan to be good. He's going to be an important part of things here."
Right now, the Angels' bullpen ranks 29th among 30 teams in ERA. But if you don't think a bullpen can evolve over the course of the summer, it's worth remembering that the team with the most relief disasters early last year was the St. Louis Cardinals.
• From time to time, one of the members of Bud Selig's advisory panel says something that may or may not provide a glimpse into the future, and on Monday, Jim Leyland said something interesting.
He wouldn't comment to reporters about Cole Hamels' five-game suspension. But he did comment on the general topic of a starting pitcher getting a five-game suspension after admitting he drilled somebody. (Keep in mind that the impact of the penalty for Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies, as with all starting pitchers, is negligible. Hamels was scheduled to start on Saturday, and after the suspension, he gets bumped back to Sunday, with a fully rested Roy Halladay getting the ball on Saturday.)
This is what Leyland said about the five-game suspensions (and to repeat, he apparently was speaking generally and not about Hamels' suspension specifically):
- "I think five games is way too light," Leyland said. "Personally, if I was making that vote, it would be a 15-game suspension -- at least.
- "I don't know Cole Hamels, so I certainly don't have any qualms with Cole Hamels. I don't know the man. I know he's a very good pitcher, a very talented guy.
- "If my pitcher went out and, almost in a braggadocious way, talked about hitting a guy and that 'I did it on purpose.' (a five-game suspension) is not enough. There's no way.