Closing time could come quickly for Angels reliever Jordan Walden
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise for the Angels in the waning days of the season has been the performance of reliever Jordan Walden, whose 99-mph fastball and poise since he joined the team on Aug. 22 has put the 22-year-old right-hander on the fast track to the back of the bullpen.
In fact, Manager Mike Scioscia said Wednesday that Walden, who has a 1.59 earned run average in 12 games, with 18 strikeouts and four walks in 11 1/3 innings, could emerge as the team's closer sometime next season.
"He has more growth that we'd like to see, but it's a possibility," Scioscia said. "His presence, his confidence, his poise and his ability to repeat pitches have been a positive. You don't know how a guy is going to react [to the big leagues], but he's been impressive."
Walden played most of this season at double-A Arkansas and spent only three weeks at triple-A Salt Lake before being summoned by the Angels. He was immediately thrust into a setup role, pitching mostly in the seventh and eighth innings of games in which the Angels hold slim leads, and he has thrived, showing good command of his fastball, changeup and slider.
Wednesday night, Walden entered a 1-1 game in the eighth inning and retired the heart of the Texas Rangers lineup--Michael Young, David Murphy and Vladimir Guerrero--in order.
As much as the offense has struggled, the bullpen has been almost as big of a disappointment for the Angels. But Walden could help solidify the relief corps if he continues to develop and improve.
"Game experience is the only thing that is going to get you there," Scioscia said. "And negative game experiences are just as important as positive ones. It's a huge learning experience when you fail at something. Then, when you go achieve, you can bring your confidence level up because through failure you learned."
Whether Walden replaces Fernando Rodney as closer or not next season, he will figure prominently in the Angels' bullpen, "and that's something we're excited about, because we know how tough it is to get those arms to close out games," Scioscia said.
"He's moved up quickly now, but that line from middle relief to setup guy is not as big as setup guy to closer, and that wall is pretty thick. You want to make sure a guy is ready for that. We need depth at the back of the bullpen, and Jordan is quickly showing he's a candidate for that, but some seasoning needs to take place."