When the bullpen began to come apart at the seams last season, and Fernando Rodney wasn’t able to close out games for the Angels, young Jordan Walden stepped up and took over the role of closer. There were some high-points, like a 2.98 ERA and 67 strikouts in his 32 saves, and some low-points, like a league leading 10 blown save opportunities, but Walden looked like the long-term answer to close out games for the Angels.
The team had faith in Walden and brought in veteran closers like LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen to act as set-up guys and mentors to the young hurler. The Angels were hoping the sage wisdom of Hawk and Izzy would help Walden develop as a closer and cut down on those blown save chances. Then they loaded up the offense and starting pitching to make sure he’d have plenty of leads to close out, and everything would work out perfectly.
Unfortunately for all involved, things haven’t gone perfectly. In fact, so far this season it seems that everything has gone terribly wrong. The offense has been pretty terrible for the most part, the starting pitching has been inconsistent, and the middle relief has looked hell-bent on giving away as many leads as humanly possible. Walden has seen just six games, and has struggled through 4.1 innings of work, striking out six, walking four with an 8.31 ERA and a 2.077 WHIP. In all, Walden has seen just two save opportunities through 19 games, including one blown save on Thursday when Walden surrendered a walkoff three-run home run to pinch hitter Brandon Allen of Tampa Bay. Now, it seems Walden will have to wait a while before getting save chance number three because the Angels have seen enough.
According to Mike DiGiovanna’s twitter (@MikeDiGiovanna), the Angels have given Walden the hook as closer and will be replacing him with Scott Downs for the near future. Walden will be transitioned back to a middle relief/set-up role, seeing action in the 7th or 8th innings. Downs has yet to give up a run this year in 7.0 innings of work, striking out three and walking two with a WHIP of 1.000. He’s been one of the few consistent relief options out of the Halos’ bullpen, but hasn’t seen a lot of time as a closer in his career, with just 17 saves over his 11 year career.
Manager Mike Scioscia says he still have faith in Walden, but feels like the young right-hander needs more time to develop his pitches and grow as a pitcher. He recognizes that it’s tough to experiment and find your groove as a pitcher coming in during the ninth inning and wants to get Walden some chances to do different things in situations that aren’t so critical to whether the Angels win or lose. He contends that this demotion is not about Walden developing his “closer mentality,” but more about him learning to execute his pitches more consistently and developing a better breaking ball.
The Angels were forced to drop Walden into the closer spot much sooner than they would have liked and they hoped that he’d able to develop as he went along. While he’s shown flashes of being an excellent closer, the inconsistency from his lack of experience has really shown through and hurt the Angels in some critical spots, and right now, the Angels can’t handle anybody else hurting them. Taking him out of the high pressure situations of closing so that he can grow and learn a little bit will help his development in the long run which will be good because this Angels team can’t afford to let him figure it out as he goes any more.