ARLINGTON -- When the Angels landed southpaw relievers Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi as their free-agent targets this past offseason, losing out on bigger names with much higher price tags, the prevailing reaction among media and fans was, "Is that all there is?"
In reflection, the moves were at the very least important -- and possibly season-saving. The two veterans have used their guile and skills to produce big outs, giving the Angels bullpen balance they've been lacking since lefty Darren Oliver departed for Texas.
Downs, who'd toiled under the radar in Toronto as an elite reliever for five seasons, has been as consistently effective as any late-game weapon in the Majors.
Rebounding from hamstring tightness with another perfect inning in Saturday night's 8-4 win over the Rangers, Downs shaved his ERA to 1.28 in 47 appearances. He has 27 strikeouts against nine walks.
Downs is 6-2 with 21 holds, stranding 21 of 25 inherited baserunners. Critically, he has held the Rangers scoreless in 22 of his past 23 outings and has not allowed a run in 23 Angel Stadium appearances, covering 20 2/3 innings.
Takahashi, available from the fifth inning to the final out, has delivered in a broader role. He's 3-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 49 appearances, and his background as a starter in Japan clearly shows in how he gets stronger the longer he's in the game. With his first 25 pitches, opponents are hitting .264 with a .402 slugging mark. From 26 on, those numbers plunge to .120 and .240.
Summoned with one out in the ninth on Saturday night, bases loaded and sizzling David Murphy representing the tying run at the plate, Takahashi ended the threat with a fastball that became two outs on a double-play ball to second baseman Howard Kendrick.
Takahashi's second save was his biggest moment in an Angels uniform, but the stylish lefty figures to have more. He's signed through next season, with Downs in the fold for two more seasons.
"We've been using Hisanori in a variety of roles," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "and he's been pitching well. We've gotten a lot of good work out of Downs and Takahashi."
Wells researches, gets his groove back
ARLINGTON -- Vernon Wells was 24 and in his second full Major League season in Toronto when he had what turned out to be his career year. He hit .317 with 33 homers and 117 RBIs, leading the American League with 49 doubles and 215 hits.
Three years later, in 2006, he approached those numbers, batting .303 with 40 doubles, 32 homers, 106 RBIs and a career-high 17 steals.
Perplexed by his inability to recreate his youthful performance, Wells, at 32, recently went into the archives for video from that '06 season. He picked up a few clues involving his stance and weight distribution, went into the batting-cage lab to do some testing and came out with what he hopes was the solution to his season-long struggles with the Angels.
"I was more on my back side," Wells said, finding that by closing his stance he was able to "get my weight in the center of my body. This gave me a better path to the ball."
Focusing on driving the ball through the middle of the field, Wells found that line drives were starting to take off again and carry long distances.
"When I'm where I should be," he said, "staying through the middle, I should be hitting more doubles. And the home runs will come on elevated line drives."
In Saturday night's pivotal 8-4 victory, giving the Angels a shot at taking the series from the Rangers on Sunday night, Wells was a force against Texas ace C.J. Wilson.
Wells powered a 408-foot home run to dead center and a triple to deepest right-center along with a walk. He is 10-for-20 during a modest six-game hitting streak, lifting his average to .215. That's still a long way from where the .275 career hitter used to reside, but he's moving on up at the right time.
The research is paying off for the three-time All-Star who grew up a few miles away from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Walden secure in closing role
ARLINGTON -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia made it clear after Jordan Walden's command issues on Saturday night that the young Texan is still the team's closer and is not bowing to late-season pressures.
"It's not about pressure at all," Scioscia said. "This guy has the makeup to put it all on the line. He's had success and a few that fell through the cracks. It's all part of the process. You have to understand hitters and how they adjust to you.
"We'll monitor some things. We have guys in the back of the bullpen who are important to us, and we're going to go to them."
That back-end unit is comprised of veteran southpaws Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi, veteran right-hander Fernando Rodney and Walden.
An All-Star choice in his first season as a closer, Walden has had his ups and downs. He blew consecutive save opportunities, six days apart against the Blue Jays and Orioles, and is 26-for-35 for the season in rescue attempts. He departed Saturday night's game with a four-run lead after loading the bases with one out in the ninth, Takahashi claiming the save.
"He was caught between being too fine early and getting aggressive early in counts," Scioscia said. "It's a little different thing throwing 97 to contact than throwing 87. He's got a little more margin for error, but he still has to get in the zone in decent spots. He has to be able to make pitches with his secondary pitches."
Walden's toughness under pressure is underscored by his performance with two outs and runners in scoring position. Hitters are 4-for-28 (.143) against him. He has struck out 12 and walked one in those high-leverage situations.
When he's putting his 97-100 mph heater in good spots and complementing it with his biting slider and occasional changeup, he is as dominant as any closer in the game.
"I always have confidence in my ability," Walden said. "That's not going to change."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.