Angels bullpen gives Scioscia lots to “sort out”

After the Angels bullpen coughed up three leads over the weekend, manager Mike Scioscia told reporters that the team was “going to sort some things out.” No word on whether he also told starters Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana to get ready to put in some overtime. If this weekend was any indication, L.A.’s top three may have to work long into the night if the Angels are going to be successful.

Scioscia wouldn’t say if he was going to make changes to the roster or just reshuffle how people are used. But after losing three of four due to late-inning collapses, there’s little doubt the manager’s worst fears about his relief corps were laid bare in Missouri.

  • In Thursday’s season opener, Weaver leaves after 6 1/3 scoreless innings with a 4-0 lead. Five Angels relievers combine to give up two runs on five hits – including a pair of solo home runs – while walking four. Fernando Rodney gets the save in L.A.’s 4-2 victory, but not before putting the tying runs on base.
  • On Friday, Haren goes seven innings, allowing just one run on six hits. That’s all forgotten when Michael Kohn‘s second pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning is sent over the right center field wall by Kila Ka’aihue to walk-off a 2-1 Royals win.
  • Saturday, it was Santana’s turn to feel the burn, handing over a 4-3 lead after 6 2/3 innings of work. In the bottom of the eighth, Kansas City scored two runs on four hits off Kevin Jepsen, leading to a 5-4 victory.
  • Sunday’s loss may have been the most painful. Despite a poor start by Scott Kazmir, the Angels rallied from a five-run deficit to take a 9-7 lead to the ninth. Rodney gets the call and walks the bases loaded before giving up a two-run, game-tying double to Wilson Betemit. Fast-forward to the 13th inning, where Jason Bulger – the eighth Angels pitcher of the day – gives up a three-run, walk-off homer to Matt Treanor.

In all, the bullpen was torched for nine earned runs in 16 innings, good for a 5.06 ERA. That number would have been worse except the runs charged to Bulger for allowing the home run to Treanor were unearned – thanks to Bulger’s own error to start the inning. Nonetheless, Angels relievers combined to give up 19 hits and 13 walks over the course of four games.

That’s not to suggest that relief pitching was the only reason the Angels lost three of four in Kansas City. The Halos were just 7-for-42 with runners in scoring position and stranded 34 men on base during the series. Then there was Scott Kazmir‘s start on Sunday. The biggest question mark in the Angels rotation didn’t instill any confidence when he struggled through a 63-pitch outing, getting tapped for five runs on five hits before getting the hook just two outs into the second inning.

But right now, the elephant in the clubhouse is the bullpen. A struggling offense and a struggling relief corps don’t make good bedfellows. The Angels’ deficiencies look even worse when you consider the fireworks show the Texas Rangers put on during their three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox.

Things don’t get any easier. The Angels limp into Tampa Bay to face a Rays team that’s licking its wounds after being swept by Baltimore to start the season. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the normally potent Tampa Bay lineup was held in check by the trio of Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton. So we’ll have to see which struggling unit gets healthy first.

While pitching coach Rob Butcher and bullpen coach Steve Soliz go to work fixing any mental and mechanical issues with their relievers, Scioscia has some serious decisions to make early in the season. There had been trepidation over which Fernando Rodney would show up to start the season. Unfortunately for Scioscia, it’s the Rodney that sported a 5.65 earned run average with four blown saves for the final month of 2010. Except, along with worrying about who gets the ball in the ninth, the Halos now need to worry about how to even get the ball to the ninth inning with a lead.

Two names that will get a long look are veteran Matt Palmer and pitching prospect Trevor Bell. Palmer is more likely to get the early call because of his ability to work out of the bullpen and be a spot starter. Bell only threw 30 innings last season and is being groomed strictly as a starter, which makes it unlikely he’ll make an appearance with the big club unless there is a major reshuffling with the rotation.

Of course, (say it with me) it’s early and there’s a lot that has to happen before anything can be declared with any certainty. But already playing with a short deck while waiting for Kendrys Morales to return from the disabled list, Scioscia had to be hoping something would go right in Kansas City just so he’d have one less headache.

Hey, at least you won Opening Day.

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