As Akeel Morris, the latest bullpen call-up, put the finishing touches on the Angels’ three-game sweep of the Orioles, he will be the Angels’ 125th relief appearance this season, easily the most in the major leagues, and unsustainably brutal for a pen that has already started losing arms. Mike Scioscia’s worn out a path between the dugout and the mound, trying to juggle a rotation that can’t go deep into games with a bullpen that can’t reliably get guys out. With the relief appearances mounting, the only way to gain some stability is to get better starts from his rotation.
For the moment, there is no calvary, no free agents or big trades lining up to bring another starter to Anaheim. Critics who questioned Billy Eppler’s decision to rely on starters with significant injury histories can point to Shoemaker and Ramirez as proof that this was a mistake, and it’s very possible they’ll get even more right as the season goes on.
That said, Heaney, Skaggs, Richards, and Tropeano are all back and at least somewhat healthy. The Angels have invested heavily in these young arms and suffered through their surgeries and recoveries, and at some point, an organization has to push their chits into the middle of the table. The working assumption is that if just three of the six returning starters are able to stay healthy and effective, there’s reason to be optimistic about the rotation’s performance.
Heaney and Skaggs were both among the best prospects in their classes, and Tropeano has found success at every level thus far. Richards still has some of the best raw stuff of any pitcher in baseball, and has had points where he was among the best pitchers in baseball. These guys know how to pitch. If they’re healthy, they’re going to get better as the season goes on. If they stay healthy, they’re the gunslingers who can save the day.
IF they’re healthy.
It’s a big IF, and it turns out that IF becomes IF NOT, the Angels won’t have many options. There’s no cavalry coming. The rotation is going to have to save itself.