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OC Register: Joe Maddon ‘loves’ Angels’ bullpen despite unknowns


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Steve Cishek vividly remembers the first time that Joe Maddon summoned him from the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen.

“I was in the game in the fourth inning, and it completely took me by surprise,” Cishek recalled during his first week reunited with Maddon as a member of the Angels’ bullpen. “After that, I was like ‘All right, I’m going to be ready to go in the third.’ That just triggered me to be ready, because you never know.”

Cishek said as he got to know Maddon with the Cubs in 2018, he became better at understanding the patterns, and it made life more predictable.

Cishek and the other seven Angels relievers are currently going through an acclimation phase that Maddon says happens with every team every year, as the relievers get to know the manager and vice versa.

Maddon has often said it takes three or four weeks of the season for a bullpen to form into a smoothly functioning machine, because there is so much uncertainty from year to year.

Maddon said one of the Angels’ biggest problems in last year’s shortened season was, by the time he figured out how he wanted to use the bullpen, the team had already dug itself into a deep hole.

The Angels are certainly hoping this year will be different.

“You need to see it annually, because guys change,” Maddon said. “Guys that you thought weren’t going to do as well, all of a sudden do. And guys you thought may have been ready to do really well, don’t. So bullpens are always volatile.

“But I’m telling you, I love the makeup of this one. I love the makeup, the character, the slow heartbeat of this one. This one’s very interesting.”

While Maddon likes his choices in the bullpen, the point remains about it taking some time to figure out how he’s going to use them. That’s particularly true because Cishek and left-hander Tony Watson were only signed days before Opening Day. The only relievers he’s ever managed before this season are Cishek and Mike Mayers.

So far, just about all that is known is Raisel Iglesias is the closer, but even that has some questions. In the first six games, Maddon has already used him once in the eighth and once to try to hold a one-run deficit in the ninth. He also used him in the ninth inning in a tie game, but it’s fairly standard for managers to do that at home, because the home team can’t have a save situation in those games.

Although Iglesias has allowed at least one run in each of the three games he’s entered that weren’t the standard one-inning save situation, and although he’s said in the past he didn’t like when the Cincinnati Reds used him in non-save situations, he said Wednesday it doesn’t matter.

“Whatever situation Joe wants to put me in, I have to go there do my job,” Iglesias said through an interpreter. “The confidence definitely there. It’s so early in the season. I’m not too worried about it.”

Beyond Iglesias, Maddon seems to consider Mayers as his second-best reliever, so he would normally pitch the eighth with a lead or close when Iglesias is unavailable, as he did Monday.

It also seems that Maddon likes Chris Rodriguez for multi-inning stints early in the game.

Otherwise, it’s a work in progress.

Eventually, sometime in the first month, it will ideally sort itself out. Pitching coach Matt Wise, a former big-league reliever, knows it’s better if the pitchers have an idea how they will be used.

“I can only speak from my own personal experience, I stunk until I knew when I was gonna pitch,” Wise said. “That was me personally. Some guys are free and easy. ‘Hey, give me the ball from the first to the ninth,’ and they can roll with it. That’s kind of our job of understanding human beings, understanding the brains and the makeup and who can get ready quick, who needs a little more firm direction as to when they might pitch, but still having the flexibility that sometimes it’s not a perfect world.”

Maddon and Wise said it helps that so many of the relievers are experienced. Rodriguez is the only rookie. Aaron Slegers has just one full season – a 60-game season – in which he worked out of the Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen, but even that was enough to train him to be ready for anything.

Slegers said being used in different roles with the Rays helped him gain confidence.

“Just because you may pitch in a five-, six-run game, it doesn’t define you as that type of role,” Slegers said. “They’ll still call on you the next day for a save… It seems like it seems like Joe views our bullpen the exact same way.”

If anyone ought to be an expert on how big-league bullpens work, it’s Cishek. The 34-year-old has pitched parts of 12 seasons in the majors, making 597 appearances in relief and zero starts. He’s been with seven teams and worked under 11 managers.

“I would be old fashioned and say when you know your role it’s helpful, but look at Tampa,” Cishek said. “They’re great examples. They’re going to use their top-end relievers in huge situations (in any inning). The game is kind of evolving that way.

“There are certain guys who need to know their role. They’re more comfortable being in that position. With someone like me, with the guys in our bullpen here, I don’t think it matters to us. We’re ready to go in at any point.”

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2 hours ago, AngelsWin.com said:

Maddon has often said it takes three or four weeks of the season for a bullpen to form into a smoothly functioning machine, because there is so much uncertainty from year to year.

Maddon said one of the Angels’ biggest problems in last year’s shortened season was, by the time he figured out how he wanted to use the bullpen, the team had already dug itself into a deep hole.

The Angels are certainly hoping this year will be different.

“You need to see it annually, because guys change,” Maddon said. “Guys that you thought weren’t going to do as well, all of a sudden do. And guys you thought may have been ready to do really well, don’t. So bullpens are always volatile.

This is something that I actually trust Maddon on very much.

Last year, you could see that he figured out the best way to use his bullpen after about a month into the season. In the beginning of the season, he did seem to be putting guys in odd roles but it eventually sorted itself out.

So we may just have to ride some bumpy storms and waves with the bullpen for the first month, but hopefully it should settle down for the remainder of the season after that.

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I can appreciate Maddon's approach to getting off to a good start, you get the sense that he understands we've been terrible in April and it comes back to haunt us. I just hope his tinkering doesn't mess with the mentality of these creatures of habit.

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52 minutes ago, AngelsLakersFan said:

Even though these don't have the byline I can always tell when it's a Fletcher article because it's informative and clearly not written by a moron.

You can click on the link to the article. I'm sure @Jeff FletcherFletcher would appreciate it. 

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4 hours ago, Trendon said:

This is something that I actually trust Maddon on very much.

Last year, you could see that he figured out the best way to use his bullpen after about a month into the season. In the beginning of the season, he did seem to be putting guys in odd roles but it eventually sorted itself out.

So we may just have to ride some bumpy storms and waves with the bullpen for the first month, but hopefully it should settle down for the remainder of the season after that.

I trust him in that sense, but one thing I do think is Maddon is a bit prone to overly riding his top relievers in any close game.  Hopefully, enough of our guys can step up so that it doesn't end up like last year, where Mayers was pitching multiple innings on practically a daily basis.

I do like the bullpen makeup that we have now and think Minasian has done a rather remarkable job of essentially completely overhauling the bullpen.

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I know he’s made some questionable calls in terms of how he’s used some pen arms early on but I get it though. I don’t think anyone stood out after ST in terms of their defined roles. I’m sure he’ll sort that out here pretty quickly 

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1 hour ago, Warfarin said:

I trust him in that sense, but one thing I do think is Maddon is a bit prone to overly riding his top relievers in any close game.  Hopefully, enough of our guys can step up so that it doesn't end up like last year, where Mayers was pitching multiple innings on practically a daily basis.

I do like the bullpen makeup that we have now and think Minasian has done a rather remarkable job of essentially completely overhauling the bullpen.

True. Like you said, hopefully Maddon has enough good options that it doesn't become too much of a concern. It seems like the Angels do have more guys who are capable of being good options this year than they did last year though.

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15 hours ago, Jason said:

I know he’s made some questionable calls in terms of how he’s used some pen arms early on but I get it though. I don’t think anyone stood out after ST in terms of their defined roles. I’m sure he’ll sort that out here pretty quickly 

And then they got a bunch of guys at the end of ST.  Sleggers missed time with some minor injury and the two last minute adds.  

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