Jepsen, Bulger a lethal Halos combo
Relievers started slow but finished hot last season
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Their names -- Jepsen and Bulger -- surface so often in the same sentence, it's almost as if they're as inseparable as Burns and Allen, Martin and Lewis, Aykroyd and Belushi.
For all of you kids out there, those were comedy acts from bygone eras, their combined talents bringing laughter to millions.
Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger are a different kind of act. There's nothing funny about them if you have a bat in your hands. Both bring extreme heat, complemented by quality breaking pitches, and they were two of the more valuable -- if less heralded -- members of the Angels' 2009 American League West championship cast.
They combined to produce 12 wins (six apiece) against five losses, appearing in 118 games (64 by Bulger) and delivering 120 1/3 innings (65 2/3 by Bulger).
They added a total of nine appearances and 8 1/3 postseason innings (five in each category by Jepsen) as the Angels took the Yankees to six games in the American League Championship Series after sweeping the Red Sox in the AL Division Series.
"It was a long year," Jepsen said, "but a real good year, for both of us."
Both rebounded from dismal beginnings -- Bulger's April ERA was 11.74 and Jepsen took a 19.29 ERA to the disabled list with lower back pain on April 19 -- to deliver handsomely for the balance of the season, especially down the stretch.
Bulger authored 10 consecutive scoreless efforts from Aug. 23-Sept. 23, and from Aug. 30-Sept. 13, Jepsen held opponents scoreless in eight appearances.
It was during that crucial period that the Angels put together a sizzling stretch that left Texas, a serious challenger all season, in the rearview mirror.
"The bullpen was under a lot of stress at the beginning of the season," Bulger said, not stating that the duress resulted largely from an unstable, patchwork rotation. "The bullpen was a strength at the end of the season.
"Jep and I took it to heart. We wanted to do our part. This team is built on pitching and defense. Jep and I feed off each other. It's competitive, and it drives us to be on top of our games. It's picking each other up on the mound, getting the job done."
An infielder into his senior year at Valdosta [Ga.] State University, Bulger, 31, is by his own definition a "late bloomer."
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Taken in the first round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft by Arizona almost entirely on his ability to approach triple digits with his heater, Bulger needed years to command his overpowering fastball and big curveball and acquire the confidence necessary to put away big league hitters.
After meeting mixed results for parts of four Major League seasons, it all came together for Bulger in 2009.
The road traveled by Jepsen, 25, also has presented detours and obstacles. He was still pitching in Class A in his sixth professional season, seemingly going nowhere, when everything fell almost magically into place in 2008.
"An amazing year," he called it, in reflection, one taking him from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Salt Lake to the Beijing Olympics and, finally, to Anaheim for his first nine appearances in a big league environment.
Jepsen made such an impression during September that he was kept on the postseason roster.
While he didn't appear in the 2008 AL Division Series against Boston, Jepsen was a workhorse a year later with five appearances in the Halos nine postseason games.
After back issues set him back early in 2009, Jepsen made a breakthrough with the discovery of a cut fastball that acted like a slider, giving him a complement to his 94-98 mph heater.
"That was a big pitch for me," Jepsen said. "I developed confidence as the season went on to throw the cutter in any situation."
Pitching coach Mike Butcher watched the two hurlers' confidence levels rise as they gained success over the course of breakthrough seasons.
"Jep and Bulg came through for us in a big way," Butcher said. "I can only see them benefitting from the experience and getting better. You can never have enough good arms in your bullpen, and I'm really liking what I see."
The heavy workload last season by both pitchers was followed by several weeks of relaxation -- right up until both were married, eight days apart, in November.
If that seemed to be taking this team-within-a-team business to an extreme, Bulger and Jepsen didn't mind at all.
Jepsen took the vows first, marrying Andrea Foisy in front of 55 family members and friends in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on Nov. 13. They'd met in 2006 at Gold's Gym, just a few miles from Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Eight days later, Bulger tied the knot with Janice Lindsey at St. Joan of Arc Church in North Scottsdale.
"A bunch of players were there, about 130 people," Bulger said. "I don't think we had a single problem."
With bullpen catcher Steve Soliz marrying Heather Butler one day after Jepsen's wedding, Bulger jokingly referred to it as "the marrying season."
Jepsen is about ready to get on the mound in game conditions after experiencing shoulder stiffness early in camp, while Bulger has thrown one scoreless Cactus League inning.
"I got to know Jeppy a couple years ago, and we started hitting it off last year," Bulger said. "There are a lot of parallels in our careers."
Not to mention their personal lives.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.