How Angel’s helpers Jaime Barria and Mike Mayers deal with infrequent use
ANAHEIM, Calif. – Early in the season, Mike Mayers knew he wasn’t feeling fully fit. He’s not sure what happened, but Mayers felt mechanically off balance by the end of spring training.
On his first outing of the season he was missing everything on the side of his arm – inside to right, outside to left – and then overcorrected on his second outing. He allowed five runs in those two outings and only recorded two outs total.
Mayers has improved a lot since then, but his opportunities to be in the high-impact role he used to have have been few and far between.
“A lot of it is the way bullpen is used,” Mayers said ahead of Wednesday’s game. “You ride the hot hand. … As a bullpen guy, there’s such a fine line of overuse and not enough.
The angels have two temporary workers who rarely get work but are in two completely different positions.
There’s Mayers, who served Wednesday for the first time since May 18. His leverage role is no more, although he feels his stuff is good enough to play that role at the moment.
Then there’s Jaime Barria, who hasn’t pitched since May 16. He has appeared in a role as a long-term helper in just six games. His last three performances have all been at least a full week off, including a 12-day outing.
Mayers is working to prove himself as a top reliever. A guy you want in the game an inning late every night or two. Barria doesn’t have to prove herself. He was so good at relieving that the former starter is now in that role, for better or for worse.
“Barria did a really good job and it kind of cemented his role,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon. “Mayers, we’ve been trying to get out of there in the more leveraged moments, but it hasn’t played out that way yet. But he is very capable.”
The resulting problem with how these roles are handled is how to keep players sharp and mentally engaged.
“That’s probably the hardest part mentally,” Mayers said of not throwing for an extended period of time. “I’m done. It’s up to Joe when that happens.”
“I’m mentally tough,” Barria said through an interpreter when asked if the longer layoffs were tough, noting that he often communicates with the pitching coaches and throws more bullpens.
Both pitchers have shifted roles with the organization over time.
During the shortened 2020 season, Mayers mainly worked as a setter or even as a closer. In the second half of 2021 he was relegated to lower leverage seats after problems.
Barria was a very solid starter in 2018, posting a 3.41 ERA in 26 starts. He’s mostly started but also relieved in the three seasons since. He’s only come out of the bullpen this year after failing to win a starter job in spring training.
“It’s a compliment to Jaime, his work ethic and the amount of time he spends staying ready,” said Angels bullpen coach Dom Chiti. “It’s a compliment for him. It is not easy.”
Part of the equation for staying ready and getting ready is changing the routine. Sometimes Barria throws bullpens on days off or even after games.
Throwing a bullpen before a game is difficult given the possibility of him having to field more than four innings in each game. But the lack of work has made these bullpens more necessary. He throws a bullpen every two to three days.
Barria said he has no complaints about his role and is happy to do what the team needs from him. He was fighting for a starter job and said he thinks he can be a one-inning leverage reliever as he throws three pitches and throws strikes.
“It depends on what the manager wants, but I’ll be prepared for anything,” Barria said.
Mayers said he told Chiti this season that he wanted to stay away from flat ground work and throw down a drop, even if it was a shorter distance than the hill to home plate. The tilt helps it take longer to land when thrown, which helps keep its mechanics flawless.
That, he said, helps him get out there and think less. Just focus on getting the racquet out.
“I’m only going to use him at the moment that I think is the right moment to use him for the whole team,” Maddon said. “And saying that isn’t like it’s a lack of trust. It’s just that it’s difficult to do that until we have him out there and he’s throwing as consistently as he can.
The makeup of the Angels’ bullpen has undoubtedly changed. The team signed Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera and Archie Bradley as back-end relievers during the offseason. Your role is to intervene when the game is tied or the team is ahead and close the door or get a win.
The results so far have been very good. The Angels’ bullpen ERA, which kicked in Wednesday, was 3.82. Compare that to last season’s 4.59 Bullpen ERA.
There aren’t many obvious places for Mayers to serve at the moment. And since the Angels’ starters have a 3.06 ERA, there’s no roll for Barria to start, nor is there much need for long relief help.
The result is that there are two pitchers who appreciate the Angels on the list but just don’t get many chances to pitch.
“It’s no secret, that’s why we’re here,” Mayers said of returning to a lever role. “It’s the moments you dream of as a kid, are the ties in the ninth inning or the loaded bases and coming out of a jam. And I have every confidence that this is a role I can handle and, more importantly, I’m ready for it.”
• Taylor Ward can continue to bat, but the Angels won’t allow him to play the field after he crashed into the wall in right field over the weekend for fear of aggravating problems with his throwing arm. Maddon said he only needs to be a pinch hitter long enough to play on the field as he doesn’t want to ask Ohtani to play on the field.
• Angels pitcher Chris Rodriguez, who is recovering from shoulder capsule surgery, had to stop his pitching program a few weeks ago because of pain. The repaired area of his shoulder was not damaged and he has made progress since it was initially closed, said senior athletic trainer Mike Frostad.
• Griffin Canning said he will not have surgery on his back after his throwing program was halted due to pain. The starting pitcher was scheduled to leave the IL in early June before being shut down due to recurring problems with his back. He consulted a back specialist and all parties agreed not to have the surgery and rehab done without him.
(Top photo by Mike Mayers: Rob Tringali/