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Middle innings proving tricky for Angels to bridge

MLB.com @Alden_Gonzalez

TORONTO -- Six weeks of the 2015 season have been completed, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia is still searching for the right combination of relievers to hand a lead to his reliable eighth- and ninth-inning combination of Joe Smith and Huston Street.

Actually, he has a perfect solution.

Full Game Coverage

TORONTO -- Six weeks of the 2015 season have been completed, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia is still searching for the right combination of relievers to hand a lead to his reliable eighth- and ninth-inning combination of Joe Smith and Huston Street.

Actually, he has a perfect solution.

Full Game Coverage

"Hopefully," Scioscia said, "it's our starting pitcher."

Sometimes, though, it isn't.

Sometimes, like in Monday's 10-6 loss to the Blue Jays, the starting pitcher needs 98 pitches to record 15 outs and Scioscia is forced to scrounge for arms who can hold a one-run lead before Smith and Street can factor in.

Sometimes, it doesn't work out so well.

The Angels' floundering offense plated a couple of runs in the top of the sixth, taking a one-run lead and setting up C.J. Wilson for the victory despite a rough start. But with two outs in the bottom half, Mike Morin issued back-to-back walks to Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion on eight straight pitches, loading the bases.

"It's definitely something mechanical," Morin said. "I was probably overthrowing."

So Scioscia turned to his right-handed sidearmer, Vinnie Pestano, who had held opposing right-handed hitters to three hits in 19 at-bats. But he also hadn't pitched in nine days.

Pestano's full-count fastball to Russell Martin caught too much of the plate, and the right-handed-hitting catcher lofted it into shallow center field for a two-run single that gave the Blue Jays a 6-5 lead. Another Pestano fastball, this time on 0-2, didn't travel far enough outside, and the right-handed-hitting Danny Valencia lined it deep into the right-center-field gap for a two-run double that stretched the Blue Jays' lead to three.

Video: LAA@TOR: Martin singles home two runs for lead

"I have to find a way," said Pestano, who had only thrown one bullpen session since his last appearance on May 9. "I'm not going to use how much I've thrown between appearances as an excuse. I have to be ready whenever I'm needed."

And Scioscia has to find a way to bridge the gap to his setup man and closer when his starting pitcher doesn't complete seven innings. Lately, it hasn't been an issue. Angels starters entered the four-game series at Rogers Centre with a 1.69 ERA in the last six games and had pitched at least 6 2/3 innings in five of those contests.

"Any time they can get the 19th or 20th out," Scioscia said, "that takes a lot of the pressure off that seventh inning."

With Kevin Jepsen gone, the Angels no longer have a set seventh-inning reliever. Maybe that evolves later, like it did over the last two months of 2014, when Jepsen slid into the seventh shortly after Street was acquired.

For now, Scioscia has four options: Pestano, Morin, Fernando Salas and Cesar Ramos, the veteran left-hander who saw his ERA jump from 0.93 to 2.53 after giving up a long two-run homer to Bautista in the seventh.

They each have their strengths, but none has the big fastball to regularly record strikeouts.

"I think they'll do the job," Scioscia said. "You're never going to have a perfect bullpen, but I think we have the strikeout in guys if they can make their pitches."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Los Angeles Angels