Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 5/5/12
ANAHEIM, Calif. Seven days is a long time. For Jordan Walden, it must have felt like an eternity. That's how long it had been since he pitched in a game for the Angels. Seven days of torture, seven days of sitting in the bullpen, watching games and waiting for the phone to ring. Walden knew the reason. It was a cruel demotion, handed down after some early season struggles. In one swift motion, he went from closer to a mop-up role, a guy hoping to get in games so he could prove himself again. "There's nothing you can do about it," he said the other day. "You've just got to wait for your opportunity." It came Thursday night, and now Walden thinks he might be on his way back. More important, so does manager Mike Scioscia. Walden lost his job because of an inability to throw his slider for strikes, but after several bullpen sessions and a scoreless inning of work against the Toronto Blue Jays, there is at least a sense that good things might be happening. "It was definitely a step forward," Scioscia said. "His breaking ball was very effective, and it was good to get him back out there. We certainly need Jordan to start to work toward the back end of our bullpen. It'll happen in its own time, but that was encouraging." Walden's problems are just one of several that have beset the Angels' bullpen, which has six blown saves, an 0-6 record and a 4.89 ERA, third worst in the American League. Thursday's trade for right-hander Ernesto Frieri should help. Frieri was acquired from the San Diego Padres for infielder Alexi Amarista and pitcher Donn Roach, and although Scioscia has not yet specified his role, Frieri is likely to be used in late-game situations. To make room, the Angels optioned reliever Kevin Jepsen to Triple-A Salt Lake. Jepsen had a 10.29 ERA in 10 games. Frieri, on the other hand, had a 2.31 ERA with San Diego and struck out 18 batters in 11 23 innings. "I'm just ready to pitch the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth inning," Frieri said. "I'm just going to do my best. I'm here to help the team. It would be great if they give me a (setup) role because I didn't have that opportunity in San Diego. But I'm just here to pitch." He'll get his chances. Presumably, so will Walden, who quickly fell out of favor after giving up a walk-off home run to Tampa Bay's Brandon Allen on April 26. Scioscia sent him to the bullpen to work on his slider and gain more confidence in his changeup. In between appearances, he's been throwing in the bullpen before games to get better control of his slider and sharpen his fastball. Thursday night might have marked a turning point. "It was a while before I got back out there, but I felt good," he said. "I felt like I had the stuff that I had last year. The slider was pretty good and I threw it quite a bit." If that's true, it's an encouraging sign. Walden had 10 blown saves in 2011, but he also finished the season with 32 saves and earned a spot in the All-Star Game. He had problems with his breaking ball in the spring and carried it into the season, so the Angels knew this might happen. But his stuff is good enough that they haven't lost faith. "He battled it in the spring, I understand he battled it a year ago and he's battled it in the early going this year," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "But there is absolutely no reason why he will not ultimately be a big-time contributor to this team in the short term, not just the long term." His older, more experienced teammates have helped. LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen, both 15-year big league veterans, have offered words of advice and encouragement, but in the end, they know only Walden can resolve his issues. "The main thing is to have a short memory," Hawkins said. "Forget what happened yesterday. Today is a new day. You can't control what happened yesterday. You can only control what's going to happen today." Maybe the lesson is taking hold. But in baseball, you're only as good as your last performance. Walden knows he will have to get back on the mound again, and very soon, to show he can duplicate his brief success. "I'm just waiting for the phone to ring," he said. "I just want to get in, show them that I've been working at it and it's back where it needs to be." He's going to get his chance. Whether he returns as the team's closer is the big question. "I full expect at some point you're going to see Jordan at the back end of our pen, either as a closer or pitching deep in a game, and then we can start to get some roles lined up," Scioscis said. "Where it's going to be, we'll have to let the production dictate it right now. But we expect Jordan to be big for us again."
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