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The Forgotten Arm

arredondo

Remember that kid who came up last year with that mid-90s fastball and that devastating split-finger fastball?

The kid who was originally drafted as a shortstop but was converted to a pitcher because of his remarkable arm strength despite being only 6’0″ and weighing 175 pounds?

The kid who appeared in 52 games last year, compiled a record of 10-2, and posted a microscopic ERA of 1.62?

The kid who struck out 55 hitters in 61 innings, while holding opposing hitters to a mere .190 average?

The kid who appeared in 3 games against the Red Sox in the 2008 ALDS, and closed the door on them without allowing a run each time?

Well, he’s 25-year-old Jose Arredondo, who electrified the Angels in ’08 with brilliant outing after brilliant outing.

This year has been a different story. In 24 1/3 innings this year, Arredondo has given up 4 more earned runs than he gave up in all of the 61 innings he pitched in last year (15 earned runs in ’09, 11 in ’08).

His ERA ballooned to 5.55. He had a record of 1-3.

“He just wasn’t in sync with his delivery,” Mike Scioscia put it.

All signs pointed to a demotion, and that’s exactly what happened.

Arredondo was sent down to AAA Salt Lake on June 9th while also dealing with an injury in his throwing arm which struck similarities to the injury that Ervin Santana suffered before the start of the ’09 season.

Some are calling it the proverbial “sophomore slump”.

Others are saying that the loss of a mentor may have triggered some old demons that held Arredondo back while in the minor leagues.

This mentor was Preston Gomez, a man who had been working in the Angels organization for 27 years.

When coming up through the minors, people just knew that Arredondo had a major league-caliber arm, but also had a big-time temper that at times, hindered his development.

In 2006 while in single-A ball, Arredondo and his catcher fought in the dugout after mixing up calls.

In 2007 in AA ball, Arredondo got into an altercation with a teammate who tried to cool down his rage in the clubhouse.

This prompted Mike Scioscia to call in Arredondo and have Gomez “drop the hammer on him” as pitching coach Mike Butcher put it.

The turnaround was remarkable, just look at his 2008 season statistics for proof.

But in March of 2008 before the regular season started, Gomez was hit by a truck at a gas station, and never fully recovered, eventually passing away at the age of 85 in January 0f 2009.

You may noticed the black diamond patch with the name “Preston” sewn in white that the Angels have on their jerseys, in memory of the man who spent nearly 3 decades with the organization.

“I love that guy. He taught my everything,” Arredondo said of Gomez. “He was all over me, trying to make me better.”

It’s tough to truly judge the effect that Gomez’s passing had on Arredondo, but clearly something has not been right.

But since his demotion to AAA, Arredondo has appeared in 11 games, while posting a 2.19 ERA for the Bees. And in a year where the Angels bullpen has been rocky, as well as feeling the absence of an 8th inning guy that can bridge the gap to get to Brian Fuentes in the 9th, Arredondo may do what he did last year… make lots of noise down the stretch after being called up to the Halos’ big league squad.

It isn’t too clear when he may be called up, but he’s been making a case to Mike Scioscia to call him up in the near future.

As of yesterday, in his previous 3 outings, Arredondo has gone 3 2/3 innings, giving up only 2 hits, while striking out 4 batters and walking none.

Only time will tell when Arredondo will be ready to pitch back in the big leagues, but when he comes back, let’s not forget the type of pitcher he can be. He will be an instant bullpen bolsterer, and hopefully he can work his way into being a Scot Shields-like reliever (as in bridging the gap from the 8th to 9th inning, not the recently erratic Scot Shields, of course… who wants that?) for the Angels, being a guy the Mike Scioscia can be comfortable giving the ball to in the 8th inning in close games.

But could he possibly crumble twice in two stints for the Angels this season after relatively no meltdowns on the mound last year?

In my honest opinion, no way, Jose.

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Juan Fire!

Dodgers Angels BaseballThe Angels are on fire.

Now 7 wins in a row for the Halos, 7th Heaven if you will.

And there unarguably has not been one hotter Halo hitter than Juan Rivera during this stretch.

Over the Angels’ current 7-game winning streak, Juan has gone 11-29 (.380) with 4 home runs, 2 doubles, and 9 RBI.

Juan has been instant offense over the past 18 games, hitting at that same .380 mark (27-71 overall) with 6 homers, 8 doubles, and 20 RBI. Rivera has an RBI in 15 of his last 18 games he’s appeared in and also has recorded 9 games of 2 or more hits during those 18 contests.

Today’s game against the Dodgers where he blasted a tie-busting solo home run marked the 2nd straight contest where a ball off his bat helped score the go-ahead and eventual game-deciding run.

Juan’s the type of home run hitter who will hit home runs in bunches of games, which is frequently followed by a long power outage of sorts until his next blast. But no doubt, his power is surging at this point of the season.

His average is now up to .316 on the season, the 3rd best mark on the team behind leadoff man Chone Figgins (.324) and the Halos’ Superman of the 1st half in Torii Hunter (.321). He’s also tied with Kendry Morales for 2nd on the Halos for home runs with 10.

Juan has been thriving in his starting role this season, but things have not always been so sweet during his season-by-season rollercoaster tenure in Anaheim.

Juan Rivera came over to the Angels along with current 2nd baseman Maicer Izturis in a deal that sent outfielder Jose Guillen from the Angels to the then-Montreal Expos back in November of 2004.

He would appear in 106 games in his first year as an Angel in 2005, hitting .271 with 15 home runs and 59 RBI on the season.

’06 would be a career year for Juan, where in 124 games, he would post career highs in batting average (.310), hits (139), runs scored (65), doubles (27), home runs (23), and runs batted in (85). Rivera would be an impressive mainstay in Scioscia’s lineup that year, and made the Angels look like geniuses for trading away Jose Guillen after his most impressive offensive year in 2004.

However, toward the end of 2006, his fortunes would change.

While playing Winter League ball in Venezuela, he would need a rod and screws inserted into his tibia bone after he broke his leg in a game.

His prolonged absence prompted the Angels to bring in a new outfielder, lassoing in center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. from the Texas Rangers, who made the All-Star team the year before.

He would only appear in 14 games that year, mustering up 12 hits in 43 at-bats with 2 long-balls and 8 RBI.

His return to an everyday role in the outfield and lineup would take another turn for the worst (for him at least), as the Angels shocked the baseball world by bringing in another center fielder in Torii Hunter, who had spent his whole career in Minnesota prior to the signing.

2008 marked a year where the Angels had an absolute logjam in the outfield with guys like Hunter, Matthews, Vladimir Guerrero, left field mainstay Garret Anderson, and even Reggie Willits who was coming off of a great 2007 rookie year. That put Juan as outfielder #5/maybe even #6 on the depth chart, meaning that in a matter of just about 12 months, he had gone from being an everyday player to even lesser of a situational player. And trust me, it’s not easy for a productive player like him to swallow a situation like that.

But he took it all in stride during the ’08 campaign, getting situational starts in the outfield or DH duty from time to time, appearing in 89 games altogether, his lowest total in the past 4 full years he was able to play. He’d hit at a disappointing career-low .246 mark on the season, while tallying 12 home runs and driving in 45 runs.

I give Juan a lot of credit because he could have gone off and been a baby like Jose Guillen and thrown a tantrum about his playing time, but he didn’t. He stayed within himself and knew that Mike Scioscia and the Angels would give him his chance to be back as an everyday player for the ball club. He took it all in stride like a true professional while trying to make the most out of each opportunity that he was given, knowing that if he continued to work at the level that he had been working at, all while keeping a level head, a bigger and better opportunity would come his way.

2009 would be that opportunity.

Gary Matthews Jr. struggled mightily with the bat in 2008 which carried into Spring Training.

Garret Anderson, who had spent his whole 15-year MLB career in Anaheim with the Angels (he was a member of the Angels when they were referred to as the California Angels, Anaheim Angels and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, so you know he’d been a Halo for quite some time), was not picked up and ended up signing with the Atlanta Braves.

The door opened up for him, and he made sure he seized the opportunity.

Juan landed the Opening Day role for the Halos in 2009, and has been a productive and consistent hitter for the Angels all year long.

It’s been a long time coming since that career year of 2006, but he’s on pace to surpass those numbers as he tries to guide the Halos back in to 1st place in the American League West division and hopefully capture 1 of the 4 available playoff spots in the American League.

After Friday night’s game-deciding solo blast, the fans were in a frenzy, begging Juan to take the curtain call for his late-game heroics.

But I can imagine that at that moment, it was much more than one home run in one brief moment to him. It was years of hard work and sacrifice, mixed in with his fair share of flourishing moments and hardships; going from a nearly indispensable player one year to an almost forgotten player the next.

And as he went to make his way up those steps, I sure hope he felt that he earned the right to bask in that brief moment of glory.

Take your curtain call, Juan, you’ve earned it.

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