Though the official end of spring it still over a month away, the baseball version ends within just a few days and teams are scrambling to finalize their rosters. For the Angels, it all comes down to two spots in their bullpen, with three viable candidates following Friday night's exhibition game at Angel Stadium.
A trio of arms took the mound for the Angels in the latter stages of the game, all hoping to hear their names called on Opening Day, and a pair broke away from the crowd. One an old foe, and a pair being someone the team's representatives only had small reports on when they arrived to camp just over a month ago.
Bud Norris took over for a departing Garrett Richards, who pitched in the game's first four innings, with Norris taking the fifth. The eight-year veteran did what he's done all spring, not allowing a hit in his load of work, despite working around an error and walk. He has held bats to a .153 average over the spring, while possessing a 2.52 ERA. A new pitch has come in to play for the 32-year-old.
Over a career that has seen over 1,000 innings of work, Norris only began utilizing a cutter in 2012, and has thrown it less than 1% of the time he's pitched. Last season saw an increase from prior years to 4%. On Friday night, he went to the low 90's offering seven times in his 20-pitch outing.
"He's probably balanced that in his repertoire to compliment his slider and fastball but he's thrown it a lot this spring," said Angels' manager, Mike Scioscia.
Reaching two strikes on all six batters faced, Kirby Yates just couldn't find the put away pitch he possessed in the early stages of Spring Training. Two of the Dodgers' three runs came across home plate during Yates' performance, with both coming from doubles. He allowed three of such hits to the six batters.
"I think Kirby is trying to get settled in with what his best stuff is," continued Scioscia. "He's shown some signs - there's times he's thrown the ball well this spring - tonight wasn't one of those nights. He has a good arm and we'll have more decisions to come tomorrow and we'll narrow it down and see where we're going."
Out of options, Yates would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors prior to Opening Day, which may be the result caused by the success of a current non-roster pitcher.
Blake Parker has been on a role of late, recording his last 17 outs via strikeout. The feat has not been done in the regular season since at least 1974 (via Stats Inc.), and is a shocking revelation in a pitcher who saw waivers four times over the off-season.
"It's uplifting when teams show interest and claim you," said Parker. "To me it says they've seen what I can do and know what I can do and want to take a chance on me."
Seeing a rise in his fastball velocity, Parker has now struck out 27 of the 50 batters he faced over Spring Training. An opportunity to earn a job is all Parker desired when arriving to Tempe in late February.
"I worked really hard this off-season to get my body where I wanted it and the arm just kind of followed. Normally in past springs, I've been 90 to 92. I've been feeling good and my arm feels good, but I guess I attribute it to working hard this off-season and coming in ready to pitch. (Charles Nagy) has really got my breaking ball where I want it to be. Just a few tips, just back to the basic stuff of mechanically taking the ball out of the glove. I just feel more powerful with it and I feel like that's a pitch I had in 13, it was a big weapon for me. That and the (split-finger), and I feel like they're back. I can throw them in any count and put guys away with them."
The performances, particularly his last two where he struck out the side in back-to-back nights, has impressed the Angels' coaching staff. It may possibly enough to turn that opportunity into a reality of a roster spot on Opening Day.
"No doubt he's put his best foot forward," said Scioscia. "Right now, he may have four good feet."
The Angels optioned Mike Morin, who has one year of options remaining, to Triple-A Salt Lake following Friday's game, leaving just the trio to fight for a spot on the Opening Day roster come Monday. With Nick Tropeano and Andrew Heaney going to the 60-day disabled list at season's beginning, and Yusmeiro Petit filling one of those voids, one spot will be available on the 40-man for either Norris or Parker.
The question will be whether Yates has earned his spot in the bullpen, or if he'll once again have to go through waiver claims and stick in the Angels' organization by Monday afternoon.
"There's some tough decisions which bodes well for our depth," Scioscia stated. "There's still some determinations for a couple spots in our bullpen, but we'll have that all announced in the next day."