TEMPE, Ariz. — One constant heading into spring training throughout Mike Scioscia’s 11-year tenure as manager of the Los Angeles Angels has been having an established closer.
The question this year: Who is that going to be?
Scioscia stopped short of choosing Fernando Rodney as his 2011 closer Tuesday, but he also made it clear the 32-year-old right-hander is at least in the picture and the most likely to get the first crack at it.
“If he does what he did in the first half of last season — he was lights out — obviously, it’s going to get a lot of things in our bullpen lined up the way we need them,” Scioscia said. “I think he’s a guy that’s going to pitch in the back end of our game. We need him. If it’s at the end being the closer, great. If he’s in the eighth inning and it progresses, so be it.”
Scioscia also mentioned right-handers Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden and left-handers Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi, both newcomers via free agency, as possible closer candidates.
From an experience perspective, Rodney is the favorite. Last season, he finished 30 games for the Angels, with 14 saves in 21 opportunities, initially setting up Brian Fuentes and then taking over as closer after Fuentes was dealt in late August.
With Detroit in 2008, Rodney saved 38 games in 39 attempts, but finished with a 4.40 ERA. His ERA dropped to 4.24 in 2009.
With Fuentes in Minnesota, Rodney faded when handed the closer’s role. He faced 74 hitters in September and October and posted a 5.65 ERA.
Scioscia noticed a few mechanical problems.
“Certainly (there were) some delivery aspects that, maybe, had him a little more inconsistent,” Scioscia said. “It’s nothing that shouldn’t be able to be handled this spring. Sometimes he got a little long with his kick and a little inconsistent with his tempo. He probably put more variables into his delivery than he needed to. He’s also a veteran. He knows how to make adjustments out there to get back to what he needs to do.”
Downs, 34, one of the game’s top left-handed relievers, notched nine saves in 13 chances with Toronto in 2009. He did not pick up a save in 67 games with Toronto in 2010 but finished the season with a 2.64 ERA, the fourth consecutive season he’s finished with an ERA of 3.09 or lower.
The versatile Takahashi went 10-6 with a 3.61 ERA in 53 appearances, 12 of them starts, with the New York Mets last season. He also finished 21 games with eight saves.
Jepsen, 26, got in 68 games and finished with a 3.97 ERA with the Angels last season. Walden, 23, had one save in 16 games with a 2.35 ERA in 2010. Scioscia referred to both as “terrific power arms.”
Scioscia feels one guy will emerge as closer, something he’d like to see, but admits, “what you want isn’t always what you get.
“One guy makes it simpler. We’re confident somebody is going to be the guy at that back end.”