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Angels closer Jordan Walden looks to change things up

January 25, 2012 |  5:13 pm

A top priority for Angels closer Jordan Walden this spring will be to improve a changeup he had very little confidence in and rarely threw last season, when the rookie right-hander was 5-5 with a 2.98 earned-run average, 32 saves and 10 blown saves in 62 games.

"I showed bits and pieces of it last year, but I'm going to really work on getting a feel for it in spring-training games," Walden told play-by-play man Terry Smith on Wednesday's broadcast of Angels Talk. "Me and [pitching coach Mike Butcher] have been working on that and my slider."

Walden, one of baseball's hardest throwers, had an average fastball velocity of 97.5 mph last season, but he may have leaned too heavily on his best pitch. Of the 1,089 pitches he threw, 885, or 81.3%, were fastballs. He threw 172 sliders (15.8%) and only 32 changeups (2.9%).

If he can polish his two off-speed pitches to the point where he can use them more regularly in games, opposing hitters would not be able to sit on his fastball as much. Get a hitter looking for an off-speed pitch, and Walden can blow his fastball by him.

"I still have a lot of learning to do," Walden, 24, said, "but I think I have a way better understanding of what it takes to be a closer at the major league level."

There was heavy speculation the Angels would sign a veteran closer during the off-season, and they were linked in rumors to Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero and Joe Nathan.

But new General Manager Jerry Dipoto maintained that he was not looking to replace Walden, and he remained true to his word. All of the free-agent closers signed elsewhere, and barring a trade, Walden will begin the season as the Angels' closer.

"It's huge, [Manager Mike] Scioscia and everybody having that confidence in me," Walden said. "It's a big role, and I'm ready for it."


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Photo: Angels closer Jordan Walden. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times