MINNEAPOLIS -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia, pitching coach Mike Butcher and the two catchers, Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger, huddled up with starter Joe Blanton before Tuesday's game in hopes of figuring out why the 32-year-old right-hander has struggled so much after such a lights-out spring.
The meeting was, as Scioscia put it, "routine."
Clearly, though, something needs to be figured out.
After posting a 2.37 ERA and not walking a single batter in 19 Cactus League innings, Blanton has started the regular season giving up at least four runs and throwing no more than five innings in each of his first three starts. Against a Twins team that came in 26th in the Majors in OPS on Monday night, he gave up four runs on nine hits (two of them homers) in 4 2/3 innings, putting his ERA at 8.59.
"He hasn't been able to command counts the way he can, he hasn't been in good zones as often as he needs to be, and when you're aggressive and you go after hitters and you're not really getting the pitches where you need them in a zone, guys are going to have pretty good swings at it," Scioscia said. "And we've seen that. He's also put together pretty good sequences, so it's in him to be a better pitcher. He'll get there."
In his latest outing, Blanton's fastball was mostly in the 87- to 88-mph range, a couple ticks down from his career norm. He said afterwards that he's "mechanically a little bit off," which has affected the fastball location and, to some extent, velocity.
Blanton got ahead on 19 of the 24 batters he faced, and only one of the hits he gave up came on what Pitch F/X identified as a four-seam fastball. But a better fastball, Blanton believes, will allow everything else to fall in line.
"That's kind of the key for a lot of pitchers, is fastball location and working off that," Blanton said. "Right now, fastball location, the quality is just not quite there. I'm just kind of feeling for it."
Madson could be in Angels' bullpen by April's end
MINNEAPOLIS -- Ryan Madson may have finally overcome that last, ever-so-elusive hurdle in his 12-month recovery from Tommy John surgery.
The 32-year-old right-hander threw another 40-pitch, high-intensity session on the Target Field mound early Tuesday afternoon, representing his third session with only one day of rest in between. It was, as he put it, the "closest I've felt to normal," setting him up to throw to hitters when the Angels return home on Friday, probably in a simulated game.
Shortly after that, he'll venture out on a rehab assignment.
And before April comes to an end in two weeks, Madson believes, he should be activated off the disabled list and contributing to a needy bullpen.
"There's no more setbacks," Madson said, "and as long as it stays feeling like it did today, I'll be ready to go."
"He's smiling, and I think that says a lot," Angels manager Mike Scioscia added. "He's always been very candid on how he feels, and when he was stiff and wasn't feeling good and wasn't bouncing back, he would say it. Right now, he's two thumbs up. He feels great."
Madson threw all three of his pitches in his latest session. The cutter was "as good as it gets," the trademark changeup was "pretty good" and "fastball command could be a little bit better."
Most importantly, Madson said: "I let all three pitches go, with conviction, with extension, and didn't feel one bit of pain or restriction."
Upon returning, Scioscia said he'd give Madson a couple outings to get his feet wet before pitching him in a prominent role. The Angels badly need Madson, with Garrett Richards now in the rotation, Kevin Jepsen (right triceps) on the disabled list and the starters averaging fewer than 5 2/3 innings a night.
But Madson isn't sure if he should be the closer right away.
"The way Ernie [Frieri] has thrown, to be thrown right into the fire, I don't know," Madson said. "It's totally up to them at this point. I'll just let it be. I'm here for a reason, but I just want to pitch and get outs. I know they're playing it by ear right now."
Madson was a rock in the back end of the Phillies' bullpen from 2007-11, posting a 2.89 ERA while averaging 62 games per season and saving 32 games in his final year. But on April 11, 2012, nearly four months after signing a one-year deal with the Reds, Madson tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and went through an entire summer of rehab.
The Angels signed him to a one-year, incentive-laden contract -- ranging from $3.5 million to $7 million -- in late November, with the expectation that he'd return by mid- to late-April and the outside hope that it may be sooner. The latter was squashed on Feb. 1, when Madson felt uncommon elbow soreness in his fourth bullpen session of the offseason, keeping him off a mound for 38 days.
Then the process began again in earnest, methodically leading Madson to Tuesday -- the day he finally felt ready.
"I don't foresee [another setback], just by the way I feel," Madson said. "I feel like I can pitch tonight and not hurt anything and not be hurting the next day. I was sore yesterday from the bullpen on Sunday, but it's a good sore, normal soreness, not in my elbow. And then today, I came in and I was like, 'Wow, I feel normal.'"
Settling in: Trout getting back to former self
MINNEAPOLIS -- One of the things that made Mike Trout such an impressive hitter last year -- aside from the gaudy numbers, of course -- was his ability to keep his swing short, let the ball travel deep in the strike zone and show power the other way.
After some struggles early in the season, the Angels' dynamic outfielder is finally getting back to that.
Trout was 10-for-44 with 12 strikeouts through his first 10 games. But he went into Tuesday's contest against the Twins coming off three straight multi-hit games, putting him at a .286/.333/.464 slash line for the season.
The 21-year-old said the improvements have nothing to do with being moved from the leadoff to No. 2 spot, and more to do with "just being more relaxed and not trying to do too much."
"First couple games," Trout added, "I've just been anxious to get out there."
Lately, he's been getting back to what works -- staying back, letting the ball travel and not lunging out in front.
"I was jumping a little bit at the ball, just anxious," Trout said. "Now it's just back to myself, being myself."
• It's a pretty good bet that the Angels and Twins won't be able to play their series finale on Wednesday night, with a 100 percent chance of rain/snow in the forecast. Both teams are off on Thursday, but the weather doesn't look favorable then, either. This is the Angels' only trip to Minnesota.
• An initial MRI on Kevin Jepsen's right triceps, which has him on the disabled list, came back clean. But the Angels' right-handed reliever was undergoing further tests on Tuesday.
• Scioscia, on his team coming in tied for the Major League lead with 12 errors: "Some errors have been really just Mickey Mouse errors that need to be cleaned up, and they will be cleaned up. And some errors have happened that are just part of baseball. I think some guys had a problem with the cold in Cincinnati when we were first there, but we're a strong defensive club, and I think it'll show up as we start to get into our flow."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read 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.