Pitching and Catching and the Angels Slow Start

The Angels’ slow start this season can be directly traced to two vital elements of the team, pitching and catching, but within those elements, the specific individuals who have failed to produce are significant surprises. While the Angels began the season with some question marks on the pitching staff, they figured that two names that they could rely on were veteran ace Jered Weaver and set-up man Joe Smith. As to catching, while depth was

a significant concern, they did begin the year with veteran Chris Iannetta returning for his fourth season as the starter, providing good defense and occasional power. Over the first month of the season, these three have all failed to produce as expected, and as the season is unfolding with the other anticipated AL Western Division contenders all having poor starts, the Angels have missed a major opportunity to gain an advantage over them.
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After last year’s continued lack of pitching depth in the starting rotation, General Manager Jerry DiPoto and the Angels brass knew they needed to address that problem, and one of the team’s assets that they felt was expendable was switch-hitting back-up catcher Hank Conger. Conger had come up to the team with expectations that he would be their full-time catcher of the future, but following a disappointing rookie year in 2011, they signed free-agent Iannetta. After returning to the minos in 2012, Conger was a solid back-up the last two seasons, and at 26 appeared to have a solid future. The rebuilding Houston Astros recognized that, and they were willing to trade top pitching prospect Nick Tropeano AND catching prospect Carlos Perez to the Angels for Conger. While the Angels correctly jumped at the chance to make that deal, they left the team vulnerable going into 2015, with no experienced backup catcher in sight. Feeling that Perez was not ready to make the jump to the majors, they signed former Twins and Dodgers’ backup Drew Butera. However, Butera’s lack of offense (four-for-21, .190 this season, .183 lifetime B.A.) compounded Iannetta’s horrendous start (6-for-64, .094, 0 HR, 1 RBI), and with Perez off to a scintillating start in Triple-A, Butera was released and Perez recalled. And then history was made.

Starting against the Mariners last night in place of Iannetta, Perez got a hit in his first major league at bat, singling in the second inning. But, the best was yet to come: Batting in the bottom of the ninth in a four-four tie, Perez became the fist player since Miguel Cabrera with the 2003 Marlins to hit a walk-off, game-winning home run in his first major league game, giving the Angels a 5-4 victory.

But, there was more to last night’s game than that, some very, very good, and some very, very bad, and that all involves pitching.

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But, there was more to last night's game than that, some very, very good, and some very, very bad, and that all involves pitching.

Coming into 2015, one the team's biggest concerns was the return to action of Garrett Richards, following his season-ending knee injury last August. Question marks abounded as
to when he would be able to return and as to whether he would be as dominating as he had been during his shortened 2014 season. Well, Richards not only made it back to the Angels’ rotation long before most people thought he ever could, April 19, but after his first so-so start, he has been just as spectacular over his next three starts as he was last season, allowing only four earned runs over 20 innings. He came into last nights game having won two in a row, and turned in seven strong innings, leaving with a 4-1 lead. Enter the bad news: The eighth inning was turned over to last year’s outstanding eighth inning set-up guy, Joe Smith. Last year, Smith was exceptional, appearing in 76 games while posting a 1.81 ERA, an outstanding 0.80 WHIP, and a 7-2 won-lost record. Smith had gotten off to another great start this season, but for the second straight time, Smith last night could not hold the lead, letting Seattle tie the game with three eighth-inning runs. In his last appearance, Smith entered a tie game in the night, and allowed the Giants to score the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Granted, it’s only two bad outings, but Mike Scioscia and the Angels need to be able to count on Smith to nail down his key inning in close games.

But the real surprise on the pitching staff has been the total lack of success so far from ace Jered Weaver. In six starts so far, Weaver is 0-4 with a 6.29 ERA, this from a guy who is coming off an 18-9 season, and who had a .655 winning percentage over his first nine seasons. The Angels have won only one of Weaver's six starts; a year ago today Weaver had already posted three victories himself.

While the staff has been boosted considerably
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by the successful and early return of Richards, and the fine performances from another big question mark, C.J. Wilson, if the Angels expect to see post-season play, they need a solid season from Weaver the rest of the way, a turn-around from Smith, and some solid play from the catching position, either from Perez or Iannetta, and hopefully from both.

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