Justin Speier's name seems sadly ironic at this point.
After three consecutive dismal appearances for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the only person he's likely “in-Speiered” is general manager Tony Reagins, who is desperately looking for middle relief...relief.
Speier faced 13 batters over his last three outings and recorded just one out–a sacrifice bunt that moved a runner into scoring position.
The other batters reached on a combination of seven hits and five walks, leading to five earned runs in an official one-third of an inning pitched.
Now, either he's hiding a serious arm injury that's affecting his delivery or, at the ripe old age of 35, Justin Speier just doesn't have it anymore.
In the month of July alone, he is sporting a hefty 14.54 ERA–not exactly the bridge to closer Brian Fuentes that the Angels were looking for.
And they're still looking.
Reagins is said to be in daily talks with teams, searching for that next reliable arm that can deliver the ball–and the lead–safely into Fuentes's hand.
Speier used to have that arm, but it seems to have disappeared, along with his toughness on the mound.
In 2007, his first year in the shadow of the Big A, Speier bounced back from a debilitating intestinal virus to mow down the Angels' opposition.
He struck out 47 batters in just 50 innings pitched and finished the season with a stunning 2.88 ERA.
The next season started out the same way. But a rocky final four months left his ERA, and perhaps his confidence, in tatters.
Speier wound up surrendering 22 more runs in 2008 than he had the year before, but his failures were easily overlooked.
The Angels could weather his 5.03 ERA because they had Francisco Rodriguez, Darrin Oliver, and a healthy Scot Shields to fall back on.
This year, his declining skills are as glaring as the Southern California sun.
With Shields out for the season and no safe set-up option in the bullpen, manager Mike Scioscia and the Angels brass have done their best to stick with Speier while he looks to regain his once-dominant stuff.
But they can only hope for so long.
If Speier doesn't turn his mound act around–say, in the next two weeks–his days in Anaheim may be numbered.
The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is looming, and Speier's recent inability to record an out that wasn't handed to him underscores the Angels' greatest threat to future success: relief pitching.
With the exception of Fuentes, who has successfully converted his last 13 consecutive saves, the bullpen has been house of horrors.
The same closet that held a safe, one-two-three inning the last time you looked may be hiding a horrifying blown lead the next.
Guys like Oliver, Kevin Jepsen, and Jason Bulger have been hit and miss this season–literally.
Speier, on the other hand, has apparently forgotten the “miss” part.
A couple of weeks ago, fans and organizational big wigs alike were discussing the need for adding a new pitcher to the starting rotation before the trade deadline.
Names like Pedro Martinez, Dan Haren, and Roy Halladay were bandied about. In the meantime, names like Sean O'Sullivan, Matt Palmer, and now Shane Loux—who is in the mix to start on Monday—have stepped up to fill the void.
Starting pitching may still be a concern for the Halos, but it shouldn't be their top priority.
When Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero were placed on the 15-day Disabled List just days before the All-Star break, whispers sprang up about the potential need for a bat to aide the Angels through the dog days and into the postseason.
But in the six games that Hunter and Big Daddy have missed, the Angels have scored in double digits three times.
Offense is not as pertinent an issue as it once seemed.
That just leaves relief pitching.
The other relievers have given the organization some hope that they may yet play a useful part in the Angels' run to third straight AL West division crown.
Speier has only given the Angels motion sickness as they sway back and forth, first watching his pitches fly toward the plate...then far, far away from it.
Last year's relief revelation, Jose Arredondo, is on his way back to the Majors after recovering from a strained forearm during his stint with Triple-A Salt Lake.
If Speier hasn't gotten it together by that time, he will undoubtedly be the victim of his final inspiration, and the Angels will be forced to either include him in a trade package or cut him from the team.
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