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Bullpen essential for Angels' success

@RhettBollinger
March 24, 2019

After seeing the 2018 season get wrecked by injuries, especially to the starting rotation, the Angels made it a goal to build more pitching depth heading into the ’19 season. The Angels signed veteran starters Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to one-year deals, while also trading for lefty Dillon Peters

After seeing the 2018 season get wrecked by injuries, especially to the starting rotation, the Angels made it a goal to build more pitching depth heading into the ’19 season.

The Angels signed veteran starters Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to one-year deals, while also trading for lefty Dillon Peters and signing closer Cody Allen to a one-year pact during the offseason. The Angels used 16 starting pitchers in ’18, and while they’d like to avoid reaching that mark this season, organizational depth is key, which is why they could lean on prospects such as Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez as the season goes along.

“I think in general keeping pitchers and starters healthy is imperative for a team,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Nowadays you probably need anywhere from 10 to 12 starters over the course of a season for a team that is expected to win. We’re trying to do everything we can based on the information we have to keep everyone healthy but sometimes there are factors you can't control. That's part of the reason why you need that depth."

The Angels will go about it in a traditional way in ’19, as they will open the season with a five-man rotation and have no plans to experiment with using an "opener" in the early going. But even now that depth is being tested, as Andrew Heaney is starting the year on the injured list with left elbow inflammation, which means Felix Pena will be the club’s fifth starter.

They’re expected to rely on the bullpen heavily, however, as none of their top six starting pitchers reached 200 innings last year. Heaney led the team with 180 innings, while lefty Tyler Skaggs threw 125 1/3 innings and Jaime Barria threw 129 1/3 innings in a solid rookie season. Harvey threw a combined 155 innings with the Mets and Reds last year and has never reached 200 innings in his career, topping out at 189 1/3 innings in '15 after returning from Tommy John surgery. Cahill had a 3.76 ERA in 110 innings last year, which was the first time he'd even topped 100 innings since '14.

Last year, Heaney averaged six innings per start, while Skaggs averaged roughly 5 1/3 innings and Barria averaged just under five. Harvey, Cahill and Pena also averaged right around 5 1/3 innings per start last season.

The Angels will have to lean on a group of hard-throwing relievers that's expected to include Ty Buttrey, Justin Anderson, Hansel Robles, Luis Garcia, Cam Bedrosian and Allen as key pieces. They also have other intriguing up-and-coming relievers in the system such as Luke Bard, Taylor Cole, Williams Jerez, Jake Jewell and John Curtiss.

“We have a lot of good arms,” Ausmus said. “We’ll see some big readings on the radar gun, which helps. It gives you a margin of error when you’re pitching but you still have to execute your pitches.”

The Angels will also add to their depth as the season goes along, as right-handers JC Ramirez and Keynan Middleton are expected to return in June from Tommy John surgery, while Nick Tropeano could return in May from a shoulder strain.

Griffin and Suarez also could both be important this year, as they’ll open in Triple-A Salt Lake and both are considered close to being Major League ready.

“I think because the Minor League system has built up its depth, that certainly helps,” Ausmus said. “he question is are those players ready to perform at the big league level? That remains to be seen.”

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.