Halos hope Jepsen can help steady 'pen
Right-hander returns from DL to struggling relief corps
ST. PETERSBURG -- If Angels manager Mike Scioscia is having a hard time locating silver linings when he studies bullpen conditions, it's not because his team is playing indoors. Those dark clouds simply won't disperse, even under the big top of Tropicana Field.
The revolving door to the Angels' bullpen swung open again on Tuesday, and in walked a familiar figure.
"It's great to be back," said Kevin Jepsen, who left for the 15-day disabled list on April 20 with a strained lower back and feels he found a groove in his recent outings at Triple-A Salt Lake.
"I've been throwing better, feeling much better," Jepsen added. "I'm looking forward to helping out down there."
To make room for Jepsen, Jose Arredondo was sent to Salt Lake after Tuesday night's win over the Rays to search for the stuff that made him a rookie sensation in 2008.
Jepsen, who excelled last season for the Angels and for his country at the Beijing Summer Games, had inflated earned run averages in the American and Pacific Coast leagues this season. But it's what he can do now that concerns Scioscia, whose bullpen was last in the AL in earned run average at 5.82 entering Wednesday.
"Kevin's a guy, we really like his arm," Scioscia said. "He's throwing better than his numbers show. I think he learned a lot the first time around."
Jepsen was 0-2 with a 19.29 ERA -- 10 earned runs, 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings -- when he went to the DL nursing the back strain.
His numbers at Salt Lake -- 18 earned runs, 30 hits in 18 innings (9.00) -- haven't been appreciably better, but the PCL is a hitters' haven, and his stuff has picked up lately, according to the reports on Scioscia's desk.
The manager is looking for stability in the innings between the starter and the closer. The seventh and eighth innings have been full of turbulence most of the season, a cloudy situation compounded by the question mark surrounding Scot Shields.
Arguably the game's premier eighth-inning operator the past four seasons, Shields has patellar tendinitis in his left knee and is home in Michigan recuperating. The durable reliever does not know when he'll be able to resume throwing.
"The knee will tell me," he said, and it hasn't been making any encouraging statements lately.
Asked to identify his eighth-inning man before Wednesday night's game, Scioscia paused in thought -- never a good sign -- and put together a combination of three or four names.
"We're searching," he finally said. "As of late, Jason Bulger is pitching well."
Bulger had 13 scoreless outings in his previous 14 appearances before yielding a grand slam on Sunday in Detroit to Clete Thomas and a solo homer on Tuesday night to Ben Zobrist. His ERA has escalated from 4.24 to 5.40 in those two outings.
The best ERA among Angels relievers is Rich Thompson's 1.80, but he has worked only five innings. The Aussie has yielded four hits and two walks while striking out four hitters.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.