ARLINGTON -- The status of Scott Downs' left shoulder strain is still unclear, Jordan Walden remains on the shelf and there are no signs of any fresh blood coming from outside the organization to help. Knowing this, one of the Angels' sage relievers, LaTroy Hawkins, has been asking Kevin Jepsen the same question each of the last three days.
"Did you do your sit-ups today?" he yells as soon as he spots Jepsen from across the visiting clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark.
"Because we're going to ride his back," Hawkins then says in a low voice, before turning his attention to Jepsen again. "Get strong, young man!"
Yes, since the ever-crucial Downs was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, Jepsen's role has picked up, because he's relatively young (28), because he throws hard (upper 90s) and because he's been good (12 straight scoreless outings before Wednesday's extra-inning loss).
With Downs out, Jepsen appears to be Mike Scioscia's setup man for closer Ernesto Frieri. That was his role Wednesday, when he gave up a run in the eighth, just before Frieri and Jason Isringhausen failed to hold leads of one and three in a 10-inning, 11-10 defeat.
"Any time you lose a guy like [Downs], it's a big deal," Jepsen said. "But we'll be fine. We have plenty of good arms down there. We'll right the ship, and when he gets back, it'll just be that much better."
The Angels' bullpen had a rough April, then scorched through May and June, with the Frieri acquisition playing a major role. Since the start of the second half, though, the bullpen has given up 38 runs (36 earned) in 56 innings, good for a 5.79 ERA. And over their last two losses against the Rangers, Angels relievers combined to give up 13 runs (11 earned) in 6 1/3 innings.
There are few signs of it getting any better, either.
The Angels won't know when Downs can start throwing again for another week, when the inflammation in his shoulder subsides. Walden continues to feel good with his throwing sessions, but there's still no indication of when he'll get back on the mound. And though general manager Jerry Dipoto will continue his search for relief help in August, there's no guarantee he can acquire a major upgrade.
Translation: It'll be up to two 39-year-olds (Hawkins and Isringhausen), one guy who was in Triple-A a month ago (Jepsen) and one few had ever heard of at the start of this season (Frieri) to hold down leads as the Angels' season reaches its most critical juncture yet.
The Angels have an off-day on Thursday, which means fifth starter Ervin Santana could get skipped. But Scioscia said he isn't considering him a temporary bullpen option just yet.
"There's a number of things we're trying to sort through," Scioscia said. "Right now our best rotation is Ervin pitching to his potential."
Richards sent down as Angels recall Carpenter
ARLINGTON -- Starter Garrett Richards was informed that he was being sent down shortly after he arrived in the visiting clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark on Thursday. So there he was, standing in the hallway just outside of where the lockers sit and staring at his suitcase, making sure he had everything for his flight back to Salt Lake, home of the Angels' Triple-A affiliate.
Richards was disappointed, but not surprised.
"With our bullpen being a little bit taxed right now and us having an abundance of starting pitching," he said, "I kind of figured something was going to happen."
Richards is the young, talented arm Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto was very hesitant to give up in a trade last month. But because he's out of options, Ervin Santana remains in the rotation, Zack Greinke is on board and Richards himself didn't necessarily prove worthy of staying, he was sent down, replaced by David Carpenter, who will serve as a long reliever for a beleaguered bullpen.
After giving up five runs in 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision in Wednesday's extra-inning loss to the Rangers, the 24-year-old Richards is 3-2 with a 4.33 ERA in 54 Major League innings this season.
Thursday marked his third demotion of the year.
"It doesn't ever get easy, but it just kind of becomes a part of it," Richards said. "I mean, this is my year. I have options. Everybody has to go through it at some point."
Since return from DL, Iannetta on track at plate
ARLINGTON -- Prior to missing more than 11 weeks with a surgically repaired right thumb and a strained right forearm, Angels catcher Chris Iannetta had hardly ever spent time on the shelf. His only prior stint on the disabled list was two weeks, over a non-threatening hamstring injury in 2009.
So it's tough to blame him for initially feeling a little out of whack.
"My first couple of games in Triple-A [on a rehab assignment], I didn't know which end of the bat to hold," Iannetta said. "I have a little bit of a leg kick, and when I lifted my leg up, I felt like I was on ice skates. I just felt weird."
But Iannetta hasn't shown much rust since being activated last weekend. In three starts, he has a couple of hits, has drawn four walks and, on Wednesday -- a game his team eventually lost in 10 innings -- Iannetta threw out would-be basestealer Ian Kinsler with a perfect throw in the seventh and put the Angels on top with a solo homer in the 10th.
Since Iannetta went out on May 10, the Angels sorely lacked offense behind the plate, currently ranking 23rd in the Majors in OPS from their catchers. But now Iannetta, and his career .356 on-base percentage, is back to bring it to them.
"I know when I'm walking and taking good swings at pitches and getting deep into counts, I'm right on track," said Iannetta, who had the day off Thursday but will likely catch Zack Greinke's start on Friday. "I've been seeing the ball pretty good and feeling good at the plate. Every day I think it gets better."
Dan Haren felt good during his Thursday bullpen session and is set to start the series finale against the White Sox on Sunday.
Mike Scioscia revealed pregame Thursday that second baseman Howie Kendrick was nursing a calf injury during Wednesday's game and that it was "part of the equation" for why he didn't use him in the ninth to pinch-run for Kendrys Morales, who was thrown out trying to score on a two-out single. "But I think when push came to shove," Scioscia added, "if we were down a run, we would've looked at some other things."
During Thursday's 15-9 loss to the Rangers, Angels center fielder Mike Trout set a new Angels record with his 23rd and 24th consecutive successful stolen bases, breaking the mark of current Rangers first-base coach Gary Pettis, who stole 22 straight bases without getting caught in 1985. Trout leads the Majors in steals with 33, despite spending the first three weeks in the Minors.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.