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Halos hope road ahead is less taxing for 'pen

MLB.com @mi_guardado

ANAHEIM -- No relief unit in the American League has been taxed as heavily as the Angels' bullpen this season. Entering Saturday, the contingent had pitched 155 1/3 innings, second in the Majors behind only the Padres (159 1/3).

The Angels were forced to lean on their relievers more than they would have liked in April, when their rotation struggled to pitch deep into games on a consistent basis. Two back-end arms -- Keynan Middleton and Blake Wood -- subsequently landed on the disabled list, stretching the bullpen even further.

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ANAHEIM -- No relief unit in the American League has been taxed as heavily as the Angels' bullpen this season. Entering Saturday, the contingent had pitched 155 1/3 innings, second in the Majors behind only the Padres (159 1/3).

The Angels were forced to lean on their relievers more than they would have liked in April, when their rotation struggled to pitch deep into games on a consistent basis. Two back-end arms -- Keynan Middleton and Blake Wood -- subsequently landed on the disabled list, stretching the bullpen even further.

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All those factors seemed to snowball for the Angels in their 5-4 loss to the Twins on Friday night. With left-hander Jose Alvarez unavailable after pitching in two consecutive games and the Angels likely wanting to be cautious with Middleton, who threw 22 pitches after being activated off the DL on Thursday, manager Mike Scioscia decided to send rookie Justin Anderson back out for the ninth inning.

Anderson had pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, but he couldn't hold the Angels' 4-2 lead in his second inning of work, yielding a leadoff homer to Eddie Rosario and a double to Logan Morrison. Scioscia then turned to veteran Jim Johnson, but he couldn't bail Anderson out, allowing the Twins to score two more runs to go ahead, 5-4.

Johnson said afterward that he thought Scioscia's bullpen management was likely influenced by his desire to protect his relievers from overuse early in the year.

"I think he's trying to keep everybody healthy," Johnson said. "I think with the relievers in general, we're getting a heavy workload early on, and it was kind of hidden because we were winning ballgames. With Blake getting banged up and Key, I think they're just trying to spread the load a little bit more, ask a little bit more from a couple other guys. I think sometimes you're playing a little bit cautious, just trying to give guys ample rest. If you save a guy a day here in May, then you can abuse us in August and September. I was told that by another manager. He's playing for the long haul."

The Angels had largely carried eight relievers to start the season, which helped ameliorate some workload concerns, but they're down to seven after optioning Akeel Morris to Triple-A Salt Lake to clear a roster spot for Nick Tropeano, who was activated off the disabled list and started against the Twins on Saturday.

The Angels are expecting to use a six-man rotation for the near future, so they won't be able to carry an additional reliever, but an impressive run by the club's starters has given Scioscia confidence that the club won't have to rely so heavily on the bullpen moving forward. Angels starters have posted a 2.14 ERA over 10 games this month, the fourth-lowest mark in the Majors.

"Hopefully it will continue," Scioscia said Saturday. "I think once that happens, it's going to help a lot of those other things to work themselves out. There's no doubt that you always pay a lot of attention to your bullpen, but when you're in a situation that we've been in for the first quarter of the season, you certainly have to pay more attention."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels