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    Angels hope Robert Stephenson and his new slider can add consistency to bullpen
    • January 23, 2024

    Robert Stephenson said he doesn’t consider the new pitch that turned around his season to be a new pitch at all.

    The Angels freshly-signed reliever did acknowledge it was different, though.

    “I still call it a slider,” Stephenson said of the pitch sometimes identified as a cutter. “It’s the exact same grip I used with my slider before. I just released a little bit different now so might move a little differently, but it’s still the same grip.”

    Whatever you call the tweak the Tampa Bay Rays made with Stephenson after they acquired him last June, it seems to be largely responsible for the three-year, $33-million deal that became official on Tuesday.

    Stephenson, 30, had a 5.14 ERA in two months with the Pittsburgh Pirates and a 4.90 ERA in parts of seven previous major league seasons, before the Rays suggested the change to his slider.

    After that, Stephenson had a 2.35 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 38⅓ innings.

    “He had a new toy, with the change of speed on his slider, and he was one of the best, if not the best, relievers in baseball over the last 40 innings,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian said.

    That’s why the Angels were willing to make a relatively large investment for a setup man. The Angels also hedged their bet by including in the contract a $2.5 million club option that can be exercised if Stephenson spends 130 consecutive days on the injured list with an elbow issue. It is essentially insurance that allows the Angels to get back any season that Stephenson might miss because of Tommy John surgery. There is no buyout.

    “I expect myself to be healthy every year,” Stephenson said, “but if something happens to my elbow where I end up getting hurt and missing time for it, it feels fair that on the backside I’d get a little bit more time with the Angels than originally planned.”

    Stephenson also expressed confidence that his performance in his breakout season is sustainable. He said, besides the new way he started throwing his slider, he also had a new approach with the Rays.

    “Just being more aggressive and trying to put guys in a hole quicker,” Stephenson said.

    The Angels’ bullpen needed plenty of help after finishing 25th in the majors with a 4.88 ERA last year. Closer Carlos Estévez was solid in the ninth inning for about two-thirds of the season, but the Angels had issues all season setting him up.

    The Angels had a 5.28 ERA in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings last season. They were outscored by 113 runs in those innings.

    “For us to win more games and especially compete, we have to be better in the middle innings,” Minasian said.

    Stephenson would seem to go into camp as the Angels’ eighth-inning reliever, with Estévez handling the ninth. The Angels also have newly signed right-handers Luis Garcia and Adam Cimber, along with returning pitchers José Soriano, Ben Joyce, Andrew Wantz and Jimmy Herget.

    The highest lefty on the depth chart is probably Adam Kolarek, who is not even on the 40-man roster.

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    “Do we have to (add a lefty)? Not necessarily,” Minasian said. “But it would be nice obviously to mix in a lefty or two, if we can.”

    Minasian said the Angels are still open to additions in all areas.

    “Definitely not done from an offseason standpoint,” he said. “It’s got to be the right fit. It’s got to make sense. But I do believe there’s still players out there that can help us improve and, and make us a more competitive club.”


    The Angels reportedly agreed to a minor league deal with infielder Miguel Sanó. Sanó, 30, has a career .808 OPS in parts of eight big league seasons with the Minnesota Twins, but he did not play in 2023.

    ​ Orange County Register