TEMPE, Ariz. — When Ryan Tepera described the new, slower slider he incorporated in September, he was actually ahead of the game.
These days, it seems just about everyone is adding the pitch they are now calling a “sweeper.” It’s like a hybrid between a curve and slider but with more horizontal movement than what used to be called a slurve.
Tepera started throwing it in September and he’s been refining it all winter.
“I’m excited to be able to use it, to add it to the repertoire,” Tepera said. “I think it’s going to be a huge weapon.”
The Angels signed Tepera to a two-year, $14-million deal just after the lockout ended last spring. He finished the season with a 3.61 ERA in 59 games. Most fans probably figured his numbers were worse because of an impression cemented when he had a 7.24 ERA from May 9 to June 16, right when the Angels’ season turned sour.
“I had a bad stretch the second month of the season when I was inconsistent mechanically and kind of searching for especially with the harder slider,” Tepera said. “I kind of lost feel for that.”
Tepera had made his career on a fastball and a slider, but the difference in velocity from his 92 mph fastball to his 85 mph slider was not enough to really throw hitters off balance.
So in September, Tepera tweaked the grip on his slider to throw an 80-81 mph version of the pitch, one that moved more.
He threw the sweeper 45 times over the last month, getting whiffs on 42.3% of swings at the pitch. Prior to that, hitters whiffed at 40.8% of their swings at his normal slider. Opponents hit .235 when they put the sweeper in play.
Tepera said he plans to throw the slider and the sweeper this season. If he can avoid the bad month he had last year, he would give the Angels a reliable back-end reliever.
Tepera, 35, said his goal is to be the Angels’ closer, even though at this point it looks like newcomer Carlos Estevez is getting the first crack at that job.
“I don’t know of anybody in the bullpen that doesn’t want to be the closer,” Tepera said.
A NEW GAME ON THE BASES
The Angels have been looking at ways to slow down opponents on the bases with the new rules, which are intended to make stolen bases more frequent.
The bases are now 3 inches larger, which makes is slightly easier to steal. Also, pitchers can’t throw to first more than two times per at-bat. If they throw a third time, they need to record an out or it’s a balk.
Manager Phil Nevin said most throws to first are called from the dugout, so he may be reluctant to call even the second one, to avoid putting the pitcher in a tough spot.
There is no limit on throws from the catcher, though, so the Angels are having their catchers work on pickoff throws to first.
“We’ve pushed that,” Nevin said. “We want our catchers to throw behind runners. I think (Logan) O’Hoppe and (Chad) Wallach do it really well. (Matt) Thaiss does too. (Max) Stassi is going to have to do a little more. It’s something he hasn’t done in the past, but certainly he’s capable of doing it.”
Nevin said he doesn’t anticipate the Angels taking much advantage of the new rules by running themselves, though, because they have enough power in the lineup that they wouldn’t want to risk having people thrown out at second.
“Our lineup is not constructed that way,” Nevin said. “It’s not a speed team.”
CANNING, RODRIGUEZ UPDATES
Griffin Canning, who missed all of last season with a back injury, is scheduled to start Monday’s game, which will be his first competitive game since July 2021.
Canning is one of the candidates for the Angels’ sixth starter spot. Chris Rodriguez is also officially in the mix for that role, but Nevin said he’s further behind.
Rodriguez, who had shoulder surgery in October 2021 and a setback last summer, threw a bullpen session Friday. He’s next scheduled to face hitters in live batting practice. Nevin said Rodriguez won’t pitch in a Cactus League game until “the middle of the spring.” Nevin still didn’t rule out him being ready for Opening Day, but he said it remains to be seen if that would be in the rotation or the bullpen.
Right-hander Ben Joyce pitched in the third inning in his second big-league spring training game Thursday, which Nevin said was so he could face some big-league hitters. Joyce gave up a hit and two walks, but he did not allow a run. “I thought he threw the ball well,” Nevin said. “He scattered it, but with stuff like that, there’s more margin for error when you scatter it.” Joyce, who routinely hits 100 mph with his fastball, was the Angels’ third-round pick last summer. He has not allowed a run in either of his two Cactus League games. …
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Left-hander José Suarez will appear in his first Cactus League game this spring when he starts the road portion of Sunday’s split-squad games. Suarez will face the Texas Rangers in Surprise, while Patrick Sandoval will pitch at home against the Cincinnati Reds. …
Right-hander Chris Devenski has a March 25 opt out, by virtue of having more than six years of major-league service and being on a minor-league deal. On that date, if the Angels haven’t added him to the 40-man roster, Devenski can request his release…
Nevin and his son, Kyle, exchanged the lineup cards before Friday’s game against the Dodgers. Kyle Nevin was drafted by the Dodgers last summer.