After selecting him in the 12th round of the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Angels took a look at 6-foot-5 Jordan Walden and decided he was a starting pitcher. He had a live arm, threw hard and looked intimidating. He fit all the requirements, and the Angels Minor League department penciled him into starting rotations for the first three years of his career.
When he went 1-5 with a 5.25 ERA at Arkansas in 2009, somebody decided the tall Texan might be better off in the bullpen. He became a closer and discovered how much fun pitching can be when you throw baseballs at 100 mph.
After not allowing a run in Spring Training, Walden was anointed as the Angels closer four games into the season. That pressure cooker spot is unusual for a 23-year-old rookie, but he took to the job immediately and lit up the league in the first three months of the season.
"I used to be a starter," he said. "I didn't have great success. I don't ever want to go back to that again. My arm couldn't take that many innings every fifth day. I can throw every day. But one inning at a time, that's perfect for me.
"Going into a game knowing you're going to pitch one inning instead of nine is a big difference. You don't have to hold on to your stuff. You can just let it go. You can throw it as hard as you can."
And for Walden, that is very hard.
But closing games can jangle the nerves of the coolest pitcher. Just not this cool pitcher. "I love it," Walden said.
"A starter has got to pace himself and be ready to go seven, eight, nine innings," he said. "A closer goes one, maybe two innings. For me, it's one. That's perfect for me."
And so far, just about perfect for the Angels.
Of his first 31 appearances, 26 were scoreless. He had a string of nine straight saves and 16 saves in his first 19 opportunities. He started June by striking out 10 of the first 19 batters he faced. He is closing in on the Angels record of 22 saves for a rookie set by Ken Tatum in 1969.
Typical of Walden's first year as Angels closer was the Interleague opener against the Mets. Called on to protect a one-run lead, Walden was whistling 100-mph fastballs but missing the strike zone and wound up walking the first two batters, Jose Reyes and Justin Turner. Walden admitted to being a little nervous. Now with the Mets' 3-4-5 batters coming up, each preparing for Walden's high heat, the youngster dialed it back, striking out Carlos Beltran, Daniel Murphy and Angel Pagan on a series of nasty sliders.
"I walked the first two guys with fastballs," he said. "I figured I had to go someplace else."
It was an impressive, mature adjustment for the youngster.
Walden says he has a changeup. But when his fastball tops out at 100, the temptation is to stay with his money pitch.
Walden started last season at Double-A Arkansas, and after a brief stop at Salt Lake, he came to the Majors on Aug. 22. He was 0-1 with one save and gave up four earned runs in 15 1/3 innings with a 2.35 ERA and 23 strikeouts.
When manager Mike Scioscia gave Walden the closer job, the rookie seized the opportunity, never looking back. Now, the thought of ever being a starter again gives him the chills.
"My arm would not be able to do that," he said. "I'd be on the disabled list quick."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.