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OC Register: Angels cautiously optimistic with early bullpen success

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CHICAGO — In the second game of the Angels’ season, Matt Harvey had sailed through four innings before getting into a jam in the fifth. As the Oakland A’s were on their way to filling the bases in a scoreless game, Ty Buttrey got up in the bullpen.

Just like that, it was clear Brad Ausmus was not Mike Scioscia.

By getting one of his best relievers up in the fifth inning, Ausmus demonstrated he’s not going to stick to traditional bullpen roles. Although Scioscia evolved as a manager in many ways throughout his 19-year tenure, at the end he was still reluctant to use his best relievers early in games or without the lead.

Ausmus has since explained that Buttrey is his high-leverage pitcher. When Ausmus feels the game is on the line, he prefers to use Buttrey, regardless of the inning.

“I would imagine back over time there was a manager that did something similar, but it’s more of a new tactic,” Ausmus said this week. “The one guy who really stands out is how Cleveland used Andrew Miller. I’ve talked to Buttrey about being used in that type of role, so he can be ready in the middle of the game to the end of the game.”

Buttrey, a 26-year-old with all of 22 major league innings under his belt, is down with the role.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s awesome. I feel like I bring the same intensity to the mound whether we’re up 10 or down 10, but I love coming in when the game is on the line and I’m trying to protect some guy’s run or protect the lead.”

So far it’s worked. Buttrey has not allowed a run in 5 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts and no walks. Including last season, he has a career 2.45 ERA with 29 strikeouts and five walks. He’s succeeded thanks to a 96 mph fastball and a sharp slider, along with an emerging changeup.

Having the ability to get strikeouts is especially valuable when entering with runners on base. On Sunday, Buttrey came to the mound with one out and the bases loaded against the Texas Rangers. Although the Angels had a five-run cushion in the eighth, the game had the potential to get tight at that moment. Buttrey got dangerous power hitter Joey Gallo on a popup and then struck out Asdrubal Cabrera.

By preserving all of the five-run lead, Buttrey also allowed the Angels to give the day off to closer Cody Allen. Noé Ramírez pitched the ninth instead. As a result of having the day off, Allen was able to pitch each of the next two days, recording a pair of saves.

Just 13 games into the season, the Angels bullpen has been a puzzle of perfect fitting pieces, mostly because all of the pitchers have pitched so well.

So far, the Angels’ bullpen leads the majors with a 1.69 ERA and a WHIP of 0.958. They have allowed just four of 19 inherited runners to score, tied for the fifth-best percentage in the majors.

Their 48 relief innings, however, are the seventh most, which is a function of starters not getting as deep as they’d like.

The Angels have been able to spread that workload only because all of the pitchers have pitched well enough that Ausmus could stick to the freshest relievers each day.

But that may not last.

“That’s a balance, for sure,” Ausmus said. “We’ve gone to our pen quite a bit so far in a week and a half we’ve been here. We can’t, quite frankly, continue to use the guys at the pace we’re using them. We’re aware of it. We’ve also had a lot of close games. There will be spells when you don’t have so many close games. That’s the ebb and flow of the season.”

Managers are now more careful with their relievers than ever. Last year there were 266 instances of a pitcher working on three consecutive days, about nine per team. In 2013, there were 379. In 2008, there were 416.

Ausmus said if a reliever has pitched two days in a row, there is “a big yellow flag” warning not to use him on the third day. Teams now closely monitor the number of times a pitcher simply warms up.

The managerial tightrope walk was evident Wednesday night. Ausmus hoped to stay away from his two best relievers. Allen had pitched two days in a row and Buttrey had pitched three of the previous five. Still, the Angels had a two-run lead in the seventh.

Ausmus got away with it because Cam Bedrosian recorded four outs and Hansel Robles pitched a perfect ninth. Buttrey warmed up just briefly, in case he was needed for the final out of the eighth.

For his part, Buttrey said he’s already developed a routine to help him get ready quickly if he is needed, but not burn out if he’s not.

“I start stretching and getting ready, and if I don’t come in the fifth, then I see how the sixth and seventh go, and if I’m not in then, and we have the lead, I figure they’ll bring me in the eighth,” he said. “I don’t really care. Wherever they want me to go or whatever they want me to do is fine. I’m cool with it.”

Although workload management is worth watching closest with Buttrey, because he is Ausmus’ current choice for game-on-the-line situations, it’s an issue for the entire bullpen.

As the Angels open a stretch of 17 games before their next off day, they will need the starters to go a little deeper if they are going to maintain the bullpen’s effectiveness. Otherwise, relievers are going to find themselves being sent to Triple-A temporarily simply because the Angels need to bring up a fresh arm. It happened to Justin Anderson and Luke Bard this week.

“I don’t want to keep using them every day or else they’d be tired at the end of the season,” Ausmus said. “We had some tight games early on. The game kind of dictates when you use them. You hope to have some games with wider margins so you don’t have to use the same guys all the time.”

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"Just like that, it was clear Brad Ausmus was not Mike Scioscia."

This is all you need to take from this. Its amazing that with nearly the same pieces he's able to manipulate and control a bullpen that Scioscia could not. That was by far Scioscias biggest issue. He could not manage that bullpen. I'm also cautiously optimistic that other than Cody Allen there really aren't any standout pitchers in there, yet Ausmus/Doug White have such a firm understanding of what each person brings to the table and seemingly utilize them to accentuate their strengths.

For Gods sake Bedrosian looks like a major leaguer again!

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29 minutes ago, Angelsfan1984 said:

 

Justin Anderson

Hansel Robles

Buttrey

Noe Ramirez

Luke Bard

Bedrosian

All on the 2018 roster...

Robles wasn't acquired until the last week of June.
Bard was sent back to Minnesota in April
Buttrey wasn't acquired until the deadline, didn't debut until August

Anderson had an ERA of 0.00 last April.   Didn't make his debut until April 23rd.
Ramirez had an ERA of 2.70 through the same period last year
Bedrosian had an ERA of 3.20.

Robles and Buttrey both pitched well upon arrival as did Blake Wood until he was hurt.    Akeel Morris, Jim Johnson, Eduardo Paredes and Felix Pena (he was relieving at the time)...   not so much...

By May when the SP was averaging 5 IP a game and Middleton/Wood were gone for the year.. those guys all went in the tank hard.

 

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Anyone who paid attention to the bullpen after, say, June or so would have noticed that we were going to have an entirely different Opening Day pen in '19 that would have been MUCH more promising than the Opening Day '18 pen. 

They were a pretty good unit last year throughout the second half, with little reason to doubt it'd carry over into 2019.

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3 hours ago, Angelsfan1984 said:

"Just like that, it was clear Brad Ausmus was not Mike Scioscia."

This is all you need to take from this. Its amazing that with nearly the same pieces he's able to manipulate and control a bullpen that Scioscia could not. That was by far Scioscias biggest issue. He could not manage that bullpen. 

Hopefully what you took from the story is that what Ausmus is doing has risks too.

Buttrey could burn out or get hurt from being used in so many high leverage spots. Or they could lose games because Ausmus wouldn’t use Buttrey or another high leverage reliever because he wanted to rest him. 

The point is that bullpens are tricky and managers can get burned no matter what they do. 

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The two quickest things that kill a pen are an unhealthy rotation and not enough depth. 
We have a good pen right now and still have Middleton, Cole, Jewell, Curtiss, Freeman, Rhoades looming as real and likely talented help, and potentially JC Ramirez, Suarez, Canning, Meyer all potentially in the mix as well. 

That's a lot better than the pen depth has been anytime in recent memory.

It's also why the Barria vs. Stratton thread is dumb. It's SP depth. We need it. We need all the SP depth we can get, because it keeps us from having to burn up the pen, convert guys to the rotation, or bump guys out of roles. 

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1 hour ago, Jeff Fletcher said:

Hopefully what you took from the story is that what Ausmus is doing has risks too.

Buttrey could burn out or get hurt from being used in so many high leverage spots. Or they could lose games because Ausmus wouldn’t use Buttrey or another high leverage reliever because he wanted to rest him. 

The point is that bullpens are tricky and managers can get burned no matter what they do. 

Absolutely. Of course there are risks associated with the way he uses them, however I as a fan can appreciate the fact that with Ausmus I haven't felt confused by what hes doing. Hes not overthinking the situations or scenarios. The old adage keep it simple stupid resonates with me and so far so good from Ausmus.

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3 minutes ago, Angelsfan1984 said:

Absolutely. Of course there are risks associated with the way he uses them, however I as a fan can appreciate the fact that with Ausmus I haven't felt confused by what hes doing. Hes not overthinking the situations or scenarios. The old adage keep it simple stupid resonates with me and so far so good from Ausmus.

I’m going to check back with you on that one. 

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25 minutes ago, Jeff Fletcher said:

I’m going to check back with you on that one. 

Where do you stand on how he’s handled the pen? Would you consider the pieces he’s working with better the same or worse than what scioscia had last year? I would say then pen is about the same in terms of expectations and up to this point the lineup outside of trout is a bunch of mediocre pieces. 

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5 hours ago, Angelsfan1984 said:

Where do you stand on how he’s handled the pen? Would you consider the pieces he’s working with better the same or worse than what scioscia had last year? I would say then pen is about the same in terms of expectations and up to this point the lineup outside of trout is a bunch of mediocre pieces. 

I think it’s too early to say. 

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58 minutes ago, Jeff Fletcher said:

I think it’s too early to say. 

Fair enough. I’m optimistic based on what he’s done with what I perceive an average surrounding cast (outside of trout and Simmons)

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12 hours ago, Angelsfan1984 said:

"Just like that, it was clear Brad Ausmus was not Mike Scioscia."

This is all you need to take from this. Its amazing that with nearly the same pieces he's able to manipulate and control a bullpen that Scioscia could not. That was by far Scioscias biggest issue. He could not manage that bullpen. I'm also cautiously optimistic that other than Cody Allen there really aren't any standout pitchers in there, yet Ausmus/Doug White have such a firm understanding of what each person brings to the table and seemingly utilize them to accentuate their strengths.

For Gods sake Bedrosian looks like a major leaguer again!

I had a very different take. For all the crap Scioscia got on here his pen usage was excellent... it was the arms he had that sucked.  

Mike held guys like Buttrey out of games because he knew he only had so many bullets. When you manage 162 games you don't have the luxury of putting your best guys in every night and Scioscia made a conscious decision to use them in games he thought he could win. Yeah it was frustrating at times but he was also aware that in a 3-3 game in the 5th inning you are going to need a starter or a lesser pen arm to step up at some point or you are going to lose. No point in using your best reliever in the 5th only to have your last guy in the pen blow the game in the 6th. 

Hopefully the monitoring of pitcher fatigue is going to help Ausmus squeeze a little more high leverage outs from our best guys, but it is just as likely that the extra ask of warming up in the 5th, 6th and 7th constantly is going to wear guys down. Having a lot of quality pen arms makes this a lot easier and it makes managers look a lot smarter than they really are.

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Just to start off with, I like the arms we have now in BP and it will be nice to have the depth incoming from IL returnees and minor leaguers.

That said, so far, the BP has pitched 48 innings in 13 games for around an average of 3.2 IP per game...guys like Buttrey, Bedrosian, Robles and Garcia are already on pace for 70-80 appearances.

Eppler is going to have to utilize options with players that have them to offset some of this workload like he did with Anderson and Bard.

"So far, so good" with the arms acquired by Eppler but some guys in the starting rotation are going to have to start going deeper into games...maybe a 6th man or swing starter to use with a 10 day option to SLC.

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