Walden will look to take the next step as the Angels’ closer in 2012 Photo Credit: Orange County Register, Rose Palmisano
One of the glaring weaknesses in the Angels during the 2011 season was the inconsistency of the bullpen in closing out games. Part of that was the rookie Jordan Walden being forced into the closer role much earlier than the Angels wanted. Walden’s results were mixed, as he did make the All-Star Game as a 23-year old rookie and finished the season with a 2.98 ERA and 32 saves, but his 10 blown save opportunities were the most in the Majors last year. He showed he had a dominant fastball which could hit 100-mph, but he struggled with control and confidence in his secondary pitches. For Walden to continue moving foward as the closer on a team with “World Series or Bust” goals in 2012, he will need to improve his command and become a consistent stopper to finish out games. The Angels have made some moves this off season the help him learn to do that.
One of the first moves new GM Jerry Dipoto did this offseason was to bring in the veteran arm of LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins spent last season with Milwaukee after shoulder surgery in 2010 and was a consistent presence out of the bullpen for the Brewers. He appeared in 52 games, pitching 48.1 innings with a 2.42 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP. Hawkins has spent time during his 17-year career as a starter, a closer, and most recently a middle reflief pitcher who has seen almost every situation a young pitcher might face. He’s looking forward to the chance to teach the young pitcher some of the things he knows.
"There’s nothing he could go through on a baseball field I haven’t gone through,” Hawkins said. “If I can help him avoid some of the mistakes I made, then we’ll be all right. He has the stuff, without a doubt. From what I heard from Torii [Hunter], he has unbelievable stuff. It’s all about honing that in and then doing it day in and day out.”"
To add to the stable of tutors for young Walden, the Angels also signed veteran Jason Isringhausen to a minor-league deal, but figure that he will be a significant contributor in the Halos’ bullpen this season. Isringhausen spent 2011 with the Mets after being out of baseball in 2010 recovering from Tommy John surgery, appearing in 53 games, pitching 46.2 innings with a 4.05 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. Isringhausen saw his lack of conditioning catch up to him (he admits to letting himself go during his year out of baseball), and lost the end of his season to a herniated disc in his back, which he attributes to his heavy frame last year. This off season, Isringhausen has lost 25 pounds and is back to his usual playing weight, and is looking forward to his role coming out of the bullpen.
With the two 39-year old relievers now on the roster, the Angels certainly aren’t getting younger in the bullpen, but it will be for their benefit. Between them, Hawkins and Isringhausen have combined to pitch in 17 postseason series. Last season, the only veteran relievers in the pen last season other than the disappointing Fernando Rodney (whose struggles forced Walden into the closer role) were soft-throwing left-handers Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi, who, in addition to being stylistically opposites of Walden, have zero playoff appearances between them.
By adding veteran arms who have “been there, done that” in almost every situation, the Angels are hoping to help their young closer mature and find the consistency and confidence that was lacking down the stretch in 2011. It’s easy to see that Walden has the physical tools to be a success, and now he has the veteran leadership in the bullpen to help him with the mental aspect of the game and to continue his maturation and growth as a pitcher.