SEATTLE -- For the first time in his 13-year reign as Angels manager, Mike Scioscia is using a closer-by-committee strategy. It's not really by choice -- slotting relievers, and having a clear-cut closer, is usually the ideal scenario -- but it is working.
Essentially, this is what it boils down to for the Angels: Scioscia knows lefty Scott Downs can be an effective closer, but he also knows his bullpen is better if Downs is able to match up more freely, and he isn't quite sure yet if his two young righties, Ernesto Frieri and Jordan Walden, can handle the ninth inning on a consistent basis.
The closer-by-committee has been met with mixed results in the past. It worked for the 1990 Reds, who had the "Nasty Boys" of Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers in the late innings of an eventual World Series run. And it didn't work so well for the 2003 Red Sox, who went into the season with a collection of arms in the ninth before relenting and turning Byung-Hyun Kim into the closer by June.
"I think it can absolutely work for a team," said Scioscia, who has previously had Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes, Fernando Rodney (very briefly) and Walden (last year) as defined closers.
"I think the optimum is to get roles. But if you force roles and have a less-effective bullpen, it doesn't make any sense. So you do what you have to do. I think we eventually will have more defined roles where guys will be slotted, as this thing keeps evolving and getting more clarity. Right now, we're going to just slot them in when they have a chance to get outs."
Regardless of who's getting outs, the Angels' 'pen has done a 180, going from one of the worst in baseball to giving up just three runs over its past 34 1/3 innings.
Walden began the year as the closer, but was removed after an April 26 blown save. That paved the way for Downs, who has yet to give up a run in 14 innings, has four saves and closed out Friday night's 6-4 comeback victory. But the lights-out Frieri was getting ready to record his first save against the Padres on May 19 -- before the Angels scored three runs in the top of the ninth to rule that out -- and finally got it in Wednesday's 11-inning victory over the A's.
Downs, owner of a 2.07 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over the last six years, can no doubt handle the ninth.
But he has only one real preference.
"I just like being in games that matter," Downs said. "Sometimes the seventh inning or eighth inning is more important than the ninth. So, mentality-wise, you just have to keep it at that. You realize what your job is, and that's just to get three outs as quickly and as best you can. Either get the ball to the next guy or end the game."
Morales' power key to protecting Pujols
SEATTLE -- The hotter Albert Pujols gets as the No. 3 hitter, the more important it's going to be for Kendrys Morales to produce from the cleanup spot.
It's the switch-hitting Morales, who bats fourth for the Angels against right-handed starters, who can limit how drastically pitchers work around Pujols, who has homered in three straight games and has 22 RBIs in May.
Morales, however, hasn't been driving the ball like he did before his injury. Heading into Saturday's game against the Mariners, the Angels' designated hitter had hit just three homers all season and notched just one extra-base hit in May.
But Angels manager Mike Scioscia chalked that up to a small sample size and said he doesn't notice any rust from the slugger, who missed almost two full seasons with a left ankle injury that required two surgeries.
"We really don't," Scioscia said of Morales, who went into Saturday batting .285 with three homers and 12 RBIs. "It takes him maybe a little more prep time in the cage to get where he needs to be to play, and also I think eventually, if he gets to play a little first base, he'll feel better. There's a lot of things he's dealing with, getting used to just being a DH. But this guy can hit, he will hit, and there's no doubt, physically, everything he did a couple years ago is still there with him."
Calhoun amazed at meteoric rise, figures to stick
SEATTLE -- It's not just that Kole Calhoun has jumped three levels in one year. It's that he's gone from Class A to the Majors, that he's now started in back-to-back games and that he looks like he could be staying in the big leagues for a while.
"The last six days, they've been the fastest six days of my life," the Angels' rookie outfielder said. "It's just been awesome. Every day we go out there, I'm just like, 'Wow, this is the big leagues. You're getting to take BP in these fields, and you face Felix Hernandez tonight.' It's cool. Stepping back and looking at it, it's amazing, being from where I was last year to where I am now. It's a crazy game, man."
Calhoun, 24, was picked in the eighth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and was the Angels' Minor League Player of the Year at Class A Inland Empire last season. He began 2012 in Triple-A, but was called up Monday after an array of circumstances pointed in his favor -- Vernon Wells (right thumb surgery) and Ryan Langerhans (right shoulder separation) both on the disabled list and Torii Hunter still on the restricted list.
Since coming up, Calhoun has started three games -- taking playing time away from Peter Bourjos -- had reached base four times in nine plate appearances going into Saturday's action and made a clutch lunging grab on Friday night, reaching over his shoulder to rob an extra-base hit from Brendan Ryan to help Scott Downs close out the ninth.
Hunter is expected to return for next week's homestand, with Angels manager Mike Scioscia saying Hunter will be in California in a couple days. But even when he does return, Calhoun, who can play all three outfield spots, bats left-handed and has a veteran makeup, figures to stick.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.