Angels closer Carlos Estévez discusses resurgence and the possibility of getting traded

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Los Angeles Angels were leading 1-0 against the Kansas City Royals on May 10, nearly two months ago. The pitching had dominated all night. And the game was now in the hands of Carlos Estévez, the Angels closer.

Estévez, to that point, had pitched badly. He had a 5.06 ERA over the season’s first six weeks, after posting an 8.38 ERA over the final two months of last season.

It was fair to wonder if the All-Star pitcher the Angels had seen before that point was a thing of the past. The league, maybe, had figured him out.

Adam Frazier that night unleashed a two-run homer in the Angels’ 2-1 loss. Estévez’s ERA ballooned to 6.17. After the game, Estévez said Frazier was sitting on a fastball. And now, nearly two months later, he has a better understanding of why.

“I was just being predictable,” Estévez said. “I was falling behind, and throwing a fastball. Because my other pitches didn’t feel good to throw at that time. You could say I was tipping, or I was just being predictable.”

Estévez, however, has fixed the problem. On Wednesday, he was named the American League reliever of the month for June. At one point, he retired 26 consecutive batters over more than a month. The 31-year-old has been elite — allowing just two baserunners in June. And just in time for the trade deadline.

He’s credited the improvement toward a mechanical fix that makes his fastball and slider have more consistent release points. He’s also had a more consistent feel of his off-speed pitches, and doesn’t feel the need to rely as heavily on his fastball.

“Right now, I can attack hitters with all my pitches in any count,” Estévez said. “I don’t really care what count it is. I know I can execute a pitch, and I’m going to do it. That’s the level of confidence that I feel right now.”

The Angels will almost certainly look to trade Estévez before the July 30 deadline. With the team’s playoff chances at nearly zero, and Estévez on an expiring contract, it makes sense. While there’s ambiguity over whether the team deals guys like Taylor Ward, Luis Rengifo and Tyler Anderson, it feels like a near lock that this will be Estévez’s last month in Anaheim.

He has enjoyed his time with the Angels. His generally affable and gregarious personality, along with his fluency in both Spanish and English, have made him a leader in the bullpen. Guys like Ben Joyce and José Marte have leaned on him.

And that ultimately might be his lasting impact in Anaheim, if he is indeed dealt.

“I always say that I never expect anything so I don’t get disappointed about anything,” Estévez said. “But a lot of fans are tagging me on stuff like, ‘Oh, you’re getting traded.’ … Whatever comes, it is what it is. It is baseball. It’s a game that we all love, but at the same time, it is a business. Teams are going to do what’s best for them. Hopefully it’s a bright future me. Whatever comes, I have open arms and open ears to hear.”

There are other top notch relievers that will be, or could be, on the market. Oakland A’s closer Mason Miller, Arizona Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald, Miami Marlins reliever Tanner Scott, and several more. It will generally be a seller’s market. But the reliever field will have a good list of names regardless.

The trade deadline would give Estévez a chance to slot into a leverage role on a competitive team immediately. But he said he’s open to the possibility of staying with the Angels longer term.

“I don’t mind it,” Estévez said. “Let’s talk. Let’s hear it out. Let’s see what happens. Because this group is going really well.”

Estévez has pitched in one postseason game in his career: the 2017 wild card game with the Rockies. In his eight big league seasons, that was the only year his team finished above .500 (he did not pitch for the Rockies when they won 91 games and the NL Wild Card game in 2018).

His uptick in production has changed the dynamic of the Angels’ deadline plans, and given Estévez a shot to play in the postseason. And it has also given the Angels a chance for help in a sorely needed rebuilding effort.

“Every player wants to go to the playoffs,” Estévez said. “Every player wants to win a World Series. And of course, I would love to have the opportunity to do it. It’s like I said, it’s a game, it’s a business. But I would love to go to the playoffs, compete, and see what it brings.”

Angels extras

• Angels manager Ron Washington said he does not expect reliever José Quijada to join the major-league staff when his rehab assignment is over. Quijada was one of the Angels’ top relievers before getting Tommy John surgery early last year. He should be set to return in the next few weeks. Washington said Quijada could impact the team in September or next year. The Angels, however, would have to designate Quijada for assignment because he has no minor league options remaining.

• Angels No. 4 prospect shortstop Denzer Guzman hasn’t played since June 21 because of a low-grade oblique strain.

• Angels’ pitching prospect Caden Dana was named to the Future’s Game in Texas later this month. Washington said he expects Dana to be in the majors some time in the next year.

(Photo of Estévez: Kirby Lee / USA Today)

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