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Middleton working to mix in more changeups

Reliever relied on fastball, slider in breakthrough 2017 for Angels
MLB.com @mi_guardado

TEMPE, Ariz. -- After an encouraging rookie season, Keynan Middleton is working on expanding his arsenal this spring.

Middleton, who relied primarily on his fastball and slider after debuting with the Angels last year, has decided to increase the usage of his changeup, a pitch that he used in the Minors but threw only seven times in the Majors (less than 1 percent of his total), according to Statcast™.

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- After an encouraging rookie season, Keynan Middleton is working on expanding his arsenal this spring.

Middleton, who relied primarily on his fastball and slider after debuting with the Angels last year, has decided to increase the usage of his changeup, a pitch that he used in the Minors but threw only seven times in the Majors (less than 1 percent of his total), according to Statcast™.

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"I threw it all in the Minor Leagues, and I threw it a little bit last year, too," Middleton said Thursday. "I just thought having another weapon would be necessary because everyone knows from last year that I'm a fastball-slider guy. I worked on my changeup this offseason, and I've thrown it a lot in spring so far. I like how it comes out. It plays good off my fastball and my other pitches."

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The 24-year-old right-hander logged a 3.86 ERA in 64 games for the Angels after being called up in May last season, becoming a reliable option out of the bullpen in late-inning situations. But Middleton also encountered a few speed bumps along the way, yielding 11 home runs in 58 1/3 innings. One of his takeaways was that he couldn't simply lean on his upper-90s fastball to blow away hitters as he had in the Minors, prompting him to diversify his mix this season.

"I can't get away with the same stuff that I got away with in the Minor Leagues," Middleton said. "I learn from my failures. I think about all the times that I got beat, and I just tried to learn from those mistakes. That's pretty much all I'm trying to do. Quality pitches, going into each at-bat with a plan and knowing who the hitter is."

Angels Spring Training info

Middleton opened the spring by pitching three scoreless innings, but he had a rough outing Thursday in the Angels' 7-3 loss to the A's, allowing four runs on three hits and a hit-by-pitch in the fifth inning.

"He missed some spots with some fastballs, but you had a couple balls that just missed being double-play balls," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I don't think he pitched as poorly as his line score would show, but it's still Spring Training. He's still trying to find some stuff. He'll be better next outing."

Middleton is projected to be a key cog in the Angels' 2018 bullpen and will likely be in the mix to close this season, along with Blake Parker, Jim Johnson and Cam Bedrosian.

"We've got a lot of good arms," Middleton said. "A lot of people ask me, 'Who's going to be the closer?' I don't think anyone knows. A lot of people are capable of doing it. None of us care. I know I don't care. I'm going to go out there whenever he calls my name, get outs, get the ball to the next person and give our hitters a chance to get wins."

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

Los Angeles Angels, Keynan Middleton