ANAHEIM – Jose Arredondo was back on Saturday on the Angel Stadium scene where he made such a dramatic impact in 2008, greeting Angels teammates with a big smile.
After making 12 appearances this season and working through ulna nerve issues in his right elbow at Triple-A Salt Lake, Arredondo has returned to supply middle relief, replacing starter Joe Saunders on the Angels’ 25-man roster with the lefty going on the 15-day disabled list because of left shoulder stiffness.
“It’s better than it was,” Arredondo said of his right arm, which gave the Angels a tremendous lift last season when he was 10-2 with a 1.62 ERA in 52 games as a rookie. “It’s still not perfect, 100 percent, but I’ll do the best I can. I want to help this team again.”
Arredondo was 1-1 with a 2.18 ERA in 19 appearances at Salt Lake. He yielded 13 hits and 14 walks in 20 2/3 innings, striking out 24 hitters.
“The last couple outings, his fastball command was better and his velocity was better,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Last year, the way he pitched was terrific. His stuff isn’t quite there, but it’s much better than it was earlier. He worked a couple things out and pitched with more confidence [at Salt Lake].
“This guy has potential to be a closer. He has that kind of stuff and makeup. He was really searching for some things earlier in the season.”
His primary search was for a healthy elbow, it turns out. If he can cut loose, he can give the Angels some quality work. Scioscia said Arredondo is capable of pitching multiple innings if necessary but won’t be thrust into a setup role right away.
In the absence of Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo — the two set-up artists most responsible for getting the ball to Francisco Rodriguez for 69 save opportunities last season — the Angels suddenly are getting some consistent production.
Veterans Justin Speier and Darren Oliver and right-handers Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen have been solid in the seventh and eighth innings during the Angels’ recent run of high-caliber play, primarily against a National League West that the record shows has been the best of the NL’s three divisions this season.
Bulger, who worked two scoreless innings to wrap up Friday night’s 12-3 decision over the D-backs, has had 20 clean outings — giving up no runs — in his past 23 appearances. The D-backs first-round pick in 2001, Bulger is putting it together this season, finding consistency with his fastball command and his big curveball with an occasional changeup helping keep hitters off balance.
Bulger’s ERA is 4.78 — not where he’d like it to be — but that is mainly a reflection of three grand slams he has yielded. Right-handers are batting only .207 against him.
Speier has shaved his ERA to a more respectable 4.33 by yielding only three earned runs across his past 16 innings (1.69). With 19 of his past 25 outings clean, he has stranded seven of eight inherited runners. That’s always a good way to enhance your popularity among teammates.
Oliver, as cool as any pitcher in the game, owns a 3.09 ERA after his scoreless inning on Friday night. Going back to last season, the classy lefty has kept the opposition scoreless in 41 of 52 appearances.
Jepsen, who lost his rhythm while experiencing back issues early in the season, appears to be back in a nice groove, with five of his past seven appearances scoreless. It will take him several months to get his 11.81 ERA down to a respectable level, but he appears to be moving in that direction.
Hoping to find consistent form are Rich Thompson and Rafael Rodriguez, a pair of talented right-handers. The stuff is excellent. It’s just a matter of putting it together.
It was a glimpse of things to come for Angels fans: Brian Fuentes, facing lefty-swinging Eric Chavez with two on and one out, and down goes Chavez swinging. When another southpaw swinger, Jack Cust, flied to left, Fuentes was out of a jam he’d created for himself with a pair of one-out singles.
Fuentes is the closer, but we can expect to see him in eighth-inning situations occasionally such as this along the way: two on, tough lefty bats coming up. He sees himself as a closer who doesn’t mind coming in for an out now and then in the eighth — as long as he gets to finish. Fuentes gives Mike Scioscia a feared southpaw specialist. As good as Darren Oliver has been, that’s not who he is. Oliver is just as effective against right-handed hitters as lefties, and he’s a guy you want in games for at least an inning.
The Angels’ bullpen will have a different look this season with what Fuentes provides. Scioscia won’t hesitate to let Scot Shields or Jose Arredondo close games if necessary on occasion –the former domain of K-Rod and K-Rod only.
Two essential components in the back end of the Angels’ bullpen appear to be in mid-season form.
Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo make quick work of the White Sox on Wednesday after starter Matt Palmer was touched up for two runs on five hits in two innings.
Shields struck out Jim Thome during a 1-2-3 third inning, and Arredondo fanned Ben Broussard and Chris Getz in the fourth, getting a fine play in the hole by shortstop Hainley Statia to give him a perfect inning.
Brian Fuentes was given permission to return home to Merced. He will make his Angels debut when he returns. Fuentes and Shields are on Team USA’s World Baseball Classic roster, while Arredondo will represent the Dominican Republic.
Rich Thompson, headed to the Classic to pitch for Australia, continued the run of outs by Angels relievers when he set down the White Sox in order in the fifth.