SEATTLE — The Angels barely flinched when American League West rivals Texas and Seattle added powerful left-handed bats this winter, the Rangers acquiring Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and the Mariners signing Robinson Cano.
They had just the antidote in left-handed starters C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs and one-two left-handed relief punch in Sean Burnett, a veteran returning from elbow surgery, and Brian Moran, a Rule 5 pick with a funky delivery and superb minor league track record.
Or so they thought.
The rotation remains intact, but the left side of the bullpen has taken a beating. Burnett hit another snag in a rehabilitation that has dragged on for months, and the Angels announced before Tuesday night's 5-3 loss to the Mariners at Safeco Field that Moran will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.
“Not having that left-handed presence in the bullpen, maybe we'll feel it a little bit more,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “But we have three left-handed starters, so it might not be felt as much against some clubs.”
Burnett, limited to 13 appearances in 2013, recovered from a late-March setback to throw an inning in extended spring-training games in Arizona on Wednesday and Saturday. But he was shut down again this week because of discomfort, with no return date in sight.
“I don't think we're writing anybody off, but certainly, there is a question right now as to when he's going to come back,” Scioscia said. “He's trying to get over the hump of residual soreness that pops up here and there. A lot of times, that last 5% a pitcher needs [for a full recovery] is the toughest to get.”
The 6-foot-3 Moran, who was hurt in mid-March, went 2-5 with a 3.45 earned-run average for triple-A Tacoma last season, limiting left-handers to a .235 average.
He has a below-average fastball, but his herky-jerky delivery helped him hold left-handers to a .591 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) in 2013. Right-handers had an .894 OPS against him.
“There was no doubt he would be vying for a position in our bullpen,” Scioscia said. “It's a tough break for Brian and for us. You could see he had the kind of stuff that could match up well against left-handers.”
The Angels have one left-handed reliever, 24-year-old Nick Maronde, who in his brief career has yielded a .310 average to left-handers and a .167 mark to right-handers.
Sidearm-throwing setup man Joe Smith held left-handers to a .203 average in the previous three seasons. Dane De La Rosa, who is expected to return from a forearm strain this weekend, has held left-handers to a .217 mark, and Michael Kohn has held them to a .214 average.
But the other two short relievers, Kevin Jepsen (.300) and Fernando Salas (.248), have not fared as well against left-handers. The left-handed options in the minor leagues — Buddy Boshers, Robert Carson, Brandon Sisk — are not that attractive.
The Angels have a history of right-handed relievers who were effective against left-handers, including Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez and Scot Shields, “and the way our bullpen sets up, some guys don't have any problem facing left-handers,” Scioscia said.
“But as far as turning some guys around to get better matchups, I think that left-handed presence could be more important to this group of guys than it was in previous years.”
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