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Carlos Estévez delivering what Angels hoped for when they rescued him from Coors Field


Carlos Estévez said he’s excited to return to Denver this weekend to see so many old friends, and to reconnect with people in an organization that gave him the chance to get his career started.

Estévez might miss his friends with the Colorado Rockies, but he certainly doesn’t miss pitching at Coors Field.

The Angels signed Estévez last winter, banking on the fact that his mediocre 4.59 career ERA was more a reflection of the high altitude than the quality of his pitches.

Nearly half a season into his two-year contract with the Angels, Estévez is sporting a 1.74 ERA, to go with 19 saves in 19 chances. He’s tied the franchise record for consecutive saves to start a season. Lee Smith converted his first 19 in 1995. (Estévez didn’t get the save on June 15 at Texas, but he was pulled with the Angels still leading, so he didn’t get a blown save.)

Estévez is also enjoying the benefits of pitching at sea level that he didn’t even expect.

“My fastball is so much different and better now,” Estévez said.

When pitchers move in and out of Coors Field, the discussion is typically about the impact on breaking balls. The thinner air provides less friction for the seams of the ball, reducing the break on sliders and curveballs.

“That’s what I was thinking too,” Estévez said.

He’s been surprised, however, to see that getting out of the thin air has allowed the spin to have more of an impact on his fastball. The pitch is now getting an extra three inches of “rise.”

Estévez said assistant pitching coach Bill Hezel, who specializes in analyzing pitch metrics, told him: “That’s why you’ve been getting more swings and misses and more guys taking the fastball down the middle. They think it’s gonna be down and it rises and gets there.”

When pitchers talk about “rise” or “carry,” they’re referring to the way a hitter perceives the ball. Hitters are accustomed to gravity making a pitch at a certain speed drop at a certain rate. If it holds its path longer, the hitter feels like it’s rising.

That’s how you see major league hitters swing and miss at fastballs that seem to be straight and over the middle of the plate.

Hitters whiffed on 22.5% of their swings at Estévez’s fastball last year, and this year it’s up to 32.2%.

“Wow, that’s a lot better,” Estévez said, recalling his reaction to the new metrics on his fastball. “I really like it.”

Estévez has also benefitted from the expected improvement on his slider. Hitters whiffed at the pitch 21.8% of the time last year (including just 15.4% at Coors Field) and this year it’s 27.6%.

All of that has helped Estévez climb to the top of the Angels’ bullpen ladder. In spring training they said only that he was one of the candidates to be the closer, but now the job is firmly his.

He had short stints as a closer at various times with the Rockies, but nothing like what he’s enjoying now.

“Not like I haven’t done it, but with this urgency the way this division is, it feels really cool,” Estévez said. “Every time I get to go out there, it’s like this matters right here. Let’s go. We need this right here. It feels really cool.”

Estévez, 30, is also making an impact on the rest of the bullpen, which now includes rookies Sam Bachman, José Soriano and Kolton Ingram.

“He has a good feel and understanding for helping the younger guys,” Bachman said. “Helping us get in our comfort zone. We’re making our transition to the big leagues So he’s really good about talking to us and making that connection.”

Estévez said he appreciates the role he and other veterans like Chris Devenski, Aaron Loup, Matt Moore and Jacob Webb have in the bullpen.

“It’s really cool that (the rookies) ask those questions,” Estévez said. “It feels like I can have a little more of a leadership role and help them like someone else did with me before.”

Estévez might soon be able to tell the young relievers what it’s like to be in an All-Star Game.

“If the team were picked now, he’s got to be there,” Manager Phil Nevin said. “I can’t see him not being there.”

Estévez is the only American League reliever with at least 10 saves who hasn’t blown a save yet. He would be in competition for an All-Star spot with pitchers like the Cleveland Guardians’ Emanuel Clase (22 saves, 2.55 ERA), the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jordan Romano (22 saves, 2.59 ERA) and the Baltimore Orioles’ Felix Bautista (20 saves, 1.04 ERA). Players will vote three relievers onto the team. Any others will be added by Major League Baseball. Aroldis Chapman (2.84 ERA) is likely to make the team as the Kansas City Royals’ only representative.

Estévez said he’s thought about the All-Star Game, but he’s trying not to have any expectations.

“Of course I have, but at the same time I never expect more from anything,” he said. “Because if it doesn’t happen, I’m not gonna be disappointed. But at the same time, it would be amazing to go. Who says they wouldn’t like to go? One chance to go would be amazing.”


Angels (LHP Patrick Sandoval, 4-6, 4.08) at Rockies (LHP Kyle Freeland, 4-8, 4.48), Friday, 5:40 p.m., Bally Sports West, 830 AM

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