Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bullpen Struggling - K-Rod Blows Game for Saunders

Joe Saunders made a great first impression on the Angels and their fans Tuesday night. Unfortunately the suddenly struggling Halo bullpen coughed up a one run lead and the game in the ninth inning to deny Saunders his first big league victory and, more importantly, for the Angels to extend their lead in the AL West to 3 full games over the stumbling A's.

Saunders scattered five hits over 7.1 innings, allowing just two runs to the Blue Jays. Along the way he struck out two and walked a pair in his first start. Saunders left the game with the Angels leading 3-2 in the eighty. Scot Shields finished off the last two batters and then the game was turned over to Francisco Rodriguez. But Rodriguez, who looked ragged the night before when he walked two and gave up a hit before escaping a bases loaded jam in the ninth. On Tuesday control problems plagued the Angel closer again as he walked two and gave up two hits and two runs before being pulled by Mike Scioscia for Kevin Gregg who recorded the final two outs in the ninth with no more damage inflicted. The Angels tried to rally against Jays closer Miguel Batista, starting the bottom of the ninth with a walk to Juan Rivera. But Casey Kotchman hit into a fielder's choice and Steve Finley flied out leaving it up to red-hot Adam Kennedy to try and extend the game. But Kennedy grounded out to the second baseman and the Halos were left frustrated.

The big question is how big a deal is the recent trouble in the pen? A few games are no big deal. But the Angels have blown 8 of their past 16 save chances which is absolutely unacceptable. The Angels thanked Joe Saunders for his fine effort by immediately sending him back to Triple A after the game and recalling reliever Greg Jones. A move meant to fortify a bullpen that has seen the three premier relievers on the team (Rodriguez, Sheilds and Donnelly) all struggle in recent weeks. Of the three it appears that Shields is the most steady right now having given up 4 earned runs on 13 hits over his past 12 innings pitched. But if you take out one appearance against Oakland where he surrendered 3 runs then Shields has only given up one earned run over his past 11 innings pitched. Similarly Donnelly has given-up 7 runs on 11 hits over his past 9.1 innings of work but 4 of those runs came in one inning against Oakland. Donnelly has not given up a run in his last three appearances (two against Seattle and one against Toronto). But most troubling is Frankie Rodriguez with his 7 earned runs allowed on 7 hits over his last 6.2 innings pitched. Equally alarming are the high number of walks BB-Rod is giving-up: 10 over his last 6.2 innings to go with his 11 strikeouts. Compare that to his 2004 numbers where he pitched 84 innings and walked 33 batters while striking out 123. Scioscia's explanation for K-Rod's collapse:

"He's got a complicated delivery with amazing stuff," the Halo manager said, "and when that gets a little out of whack, there's gonna be a price to pay."

Yeah, OK Mike. But maybe he should not be closing one-run games until he works the kinks out, eh? If the Angels are going to open this race up and take advantage of Oakland's struggling then they have to close out teams like Toronto. I can sort of understand Shields and Donnelly pinching against Oakland since they are in the midst of a division race. But the closer has to be unflappable -- particularly against teams from other countries. If Rodriguez is hurt then he needs to let Scioscia know so everyone else can get bumped up in the pecking order with Shields closing. Otherwise Bud Black needs to spend every waking moment trying to figure out where K-Rod's mechanics are off and fix them.

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