Estévez ready to turn page on tough second half of '23

February 24th, 2024

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels manager Ron Washington was direct when asked whether will be the club’s closer to open the season.

“Right now, we’ve got him as a closer,” Washington said. “So we don’t need to talk about that.”

Estévez, 31, is coming off a season that saw him post a 3.90 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings. He was an All-Star for the first time and saved a career-high 31 games in 35 opportunities.

But he also had an uneven year, as Estévez was much better in the first half, posting a 1.80 ERA in 35 innings before putting up a 6.59 ERA in 27 1/3 innings after the All-Star break. Estévez, though, said he’s not worried about last year's second-half slide, and he worked to get stronger this past offseason.

“I focused on doing a lot of the same things body-wise and training, but did more interval exercises that were more intense,” Estévez said. “Just because the way the game is going and things like the pitch clock. But I didn’t change too much because, percentage-wise, I was a top-three closer in the league last year.”

Estévez said that when he struggled, it was more mental than physical, and that he was able to keep his mechanics locked in throughout the season.

“I felt fine, but I was thinking too much,” Estévez said. “It was more of a tough season, a lot of guys hurt. It is what is. I just think if I bring the mentality of attacking hitters, it’ll pay off well.”

Estévez, a seven-year veteran who joined the Angels before last season on a two-year deal worth $13.5 million, is also undoubtedly the vocal leader of the bullpen. He said he enjoys that role and acts as a mentor to younger pitchers, especially reliever José Soriano.

Estévez headlines a new-look bullpen for the Angels, who signed right-hander Robert Stephenson to a three-year deal and Matt Moore, Luis García, Adam Cimber and José Cisnero to one-year deals. Barring injury, the bullpen is expected to include Estévez, Stephenson, Soriano, Moore, García, Cimber, Cisnero and a long reliever. Lefty José Suarez is the favorite for that role, but right-hander Zach Plesac is also in the mix.

“It doesn’t matter what point of the game we’re in, these guys are going to be ready,” Estévez said. “There’s a lot of experienced guys. I feel really confident about our group.”

Rengifo dealing with left hamstring tightness; Stefanic exits with left quad strain

Infielder Luis Rengifo felt some tightness in his left hamstring while participating in running drills on Friday, and Washington said it’s not considered a serious injury. Rengifo is expected to miss a few days, but Washington said it won’t affect his ability to get ready for the regular season.

“It’s not that bad,” Washington said. “He’ll be ready. He’s important. He took himself out when he felt it and didn’t try to work through it or push it. That was very smart.”

Fellow infielder Michael Stefanic left Saturday’s 7-7 tie with the Dodgers after the first inning with a left quad strain suffered while running the bases. Stefanic, who is competing for a bench role, was replaced at third base by Cole Fontenelle.

Mederos makes first start of the spring

Rookie right-hander Victor Mederos made the first start of Cactus League play for the Angels on Saturday, allowing one hit over two scoreless innings. Mederos struck out three, including Mookie Betts and Teoscar Hernández in the first inning.

Mederos, 22, was a sixth-round pick in the 2022 Draft and reached the Majors for the first time last year, allowing three runs in three innings. But he was a starter with Double-A Rocket City, posting a 5.67 ERA with 99 strikeouts, 43 walks and 21 homers allowed in 92 innings. He’ll get stretched out this spring to give the Angels some starting pitching depth in the Minors.

Angels tidbits

• Third baseman Anthony Rendon will make his Cactus League debut on Sunday against the Royals at Tempe Diablo Stadium. The Angels played several regulars, including Mike Trout, on Saturday, but Rendon told Washington he preferred to debut on Sunday.

• The Angels have split-squad action on Sunday. Right-handed reliever Andrew Wantz will start against Kansas City, while lefty Kenny Rosenberg will take the mound against the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. Washington said he plans to attend the game against Cincinnati. Right-hander Griffin Canning will start Monday against the Giants in Scottsdale.