An­gels bal­ance out the bullpen

Al­varez and Ramos give them some­thing they lacked — re­li­able left-handed re­lief.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike DiGio­vanna

HOUS­TON — An­gels Manager Mike Scios­cia sum­moned left-han­der Jose Al­varez to face Eric Hos­mer and Kendrys Mo­rales in the eighth in­ning of a one-run game against the Kansas City Roy­als last Fri­day night.

Al­varez re­tired Hos­mer, the left-handed cleanup hit­ter, and Mo­rales, a switch­hit­ter who is more pow­er­ful from the left side, on ground balls to third base.

The same two slug­gers came up again in the ninth with the bases loaded and one out. This time, Scios­cia turned to left-han­der Ce­sar Ramos, who struck out Hos­mer and got Mo­rales to ground out.

It has been two years since the An­gels had a re­li­able left-handed re­liever, though Scott Downs was slowed by in­juries and ap­peared in 43 games with a 3.15 earned-run av­er­age in 2013, the end of a solid three­year run.

You have to go back to 2009 for the last time the An­gels had two strong left­handers in the bullpen, but Brian Fuentes was the closer that sea­son, and Dar­ren Oliver was more of a mid­dle re­liever than a spe­cial­ist.

Nei­ther Ramos, a mid­dle re­liever and spot starter for

four years in Tampa Bay, nor Al­varez, a starter for most of his nine-year mi­nor league ca­reer, were left-handed spe­cial­ists be­fore this sea­son. But their abil­ity to adapt to the role could add more depth and ver­sa­til­ity to a strong An­gels bullpen.

“Sta­tis­ti­cally, they’re both fine,” Scios­cia said, when asked which player matches up bet­ter against left-handed hit­ters. “I think they both have the abil­ity to neu­tral­ize some left­handers and take some power away. I don’t know that it has to be one or the other. We’re go­ing to need them both.”

Scios­cia has al­ways pre­ferred dom­i­nant righthanders who are ef­fec­tive against all bat­ters — think Scot Shields, Fran­cisco Ro­driguez, Bren­dan Donnelly — over medi­ocre left­handers, which is why he has gone full sea­sons with­out a left-han­der in the bullpen.

But with right-handed setup man Joe Smith and closer Hus­ton Street cov­er­ing the eighth and ninth innings, Al­varez and Ramos give Scios­cia the luxury of match­ing up against left­handers in the mid­dle innings while still re­tain­ing Mike Morin, Vin­nie Pes­tano and Fer­nando Salas for right-han­ders.

“It’s great to have bal­ance, it’s great to have two left-han­ders, and that should help take some pres­sure off the ro­ta­tion,” Scios­cia said.

“The bot­tom line is you have to have arms to hold leads, and we feel both of th­ese guys will do that.”

With a siz­able pack of left-handed hit­ters in the Amer­i­can League West, a group that in­cludes Seat­tle’s Robin­son Cano and Kyle Sea­ger, Texas’ Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and Oak­land’s Ike Davis and Josh Red­dick — there should be plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for the An­gels left­handers.

“It’s un­be­liev­able,” Ramos said. “I thought be­ing in the AL East, there were some big left-han­ders, but I feel like they’re all in the AL West now. Seat­tle is full of them, the same with Texas, even play­ing Kansas City, they have some big left-handed bats. It’s fun go­ing up against them, testing each other out.”

Ramos and Al­varez throw 90-mph fast­balls and curves, but Ramos throws from a lower arm slot with more of a cut­ting ac­tion on his fast­ball, and Al­varez has more of an over­hand curve and changeup, so they give dif­fer­ent looks to hit­ters.

Ramos, the more ex­pe­ri­enced and ac­com­plished of the two, will draw the higher-lever­age as­sign­ments. He has given up no runs and three hits in 22⁄3 innings of four ap­pear­ances, strik­ing out four and walk­ing one.

Al­varez, 25, al­lowed one hit in two score­less innings of his first three games be­fore giv­ing up four runs in 21⁄3 innings in a mop-up role Tues­day in Texas.

“So far, the way I’ve been used, it hasn’t been how it was in Tampa Bay,” Ramos, 30, said. “It’s def­i­nitely a good thing. I’m get­ting in mean­ing­ful games, build­ing that trust in Scios­cia. Hope­fully I can keep build­ing it and he keeps run­ning me out there.”

Ramos has found one con­sid­er­able ben­e­fit to be­ing more of a spe­cial­ist than a long man.

“You’re a lot more fresh the next day,” he said. “I’m able to re­cover bet­ter than when I’d go mul­ti­ple innings and be ex­pected to do it again the next night. That’s a lit­tle more tax­ing on the arm.” Up next

Right-han­der Jered Weaver (0-2, 8.71 ERA) will op­pose Astros right-han­der Roberto Her­nan­dez (0-1, 1.93) at Minute Maid Park on Fri­day at 5 p.m. PDT. On the air: TV: FS West; Ra­dio: 830.

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