Bulger's success all in the family
Angels reliever finds his fit as part of drafted trio of brothers
PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's hard to win a roster spot with the talent-laden Angels, but relief pitcher Jason Bulger comes from quite a competitive background in Georgia.
Bulger and his two younger brothers, Brian and Kevin, were each selected in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, the only time that's ever happened. While only Bulger signed in 2001, his brothers both were drafted again later and went on to play in the Minor Leagues.
"There was always somebody to play catch with, and we had so many T-ball games in the yard," Bulger said. "Even when we got older, there was always somebody to throw with or work out with."
Bulger's brothers are now out of baseball, but Bulger might not be left out when the Angels break camp. With reliever Chris Bootcheck expected to be sidelined for approximately six weeks due to a strained oblique, the Angels will likely need a different long reliever on the Opening Day roster, and Bulger and Rich Thompson are considered first in line for such a role.
"They're a little shorter [in stamina than Bootcheck], but they have enough length to fill that role," manager Mike Scioscia said.
Bulger is already on the 40-man roster and has Major League experience with the Diamondbacks and Angels. He posted a 2.84 ERA in six games for the Angels last year, striking out eight in 6 1/3 innings.
Originally acquired from Arizona for Alberto Callaspo in 2006, Bulger struck out 81 in 52 2/3 innings for Triple-A Salt Lake and has averaged over one strikeout per inning in his professional career.
Bulger throws in the mid-90 mph range with his fastball, but he considers his slider his best pitch. The Angels believe his stuff is Major League-ready.
"He came up last year and showed he has that breaking ball that plays in the Major Leagues. [And] he's got a good, hard, power fastball," Scioscia said.
Bulger's biggest issue might be control. He has 142 walks in 314 Minor League innings and 11 walks in 18 Major League innings.
"It's really just command and consistency that will keep Jason in the Major Leagues," Scioscia said.
Bulger said his stints with the Diamondbacks and the Angels taught him that the Major Leagues are no place to get shy and start nibbling at the strike zone.
"If I've learned anything, it's that the stuff that gets guys out in the Minor Leagues will get guys out in the Major Leagues," Bulger said.
Bulger said he is trying to focus on attacking hitters, rather than worrying about whether or not he'll be able to make the Opening Day roster.
"The only thing I can control is what I do on the mound," he said, "and the rest will play out as it should. When it comes down to it, the right guy will have the position."
While Bootcheck's injury increases Bulger's chances of making the team, Bulger said it was nonetheless hard to take.
"Boot's situation is tough," Bulger said. "He's a buddy of mine, in fact one of my closest friends on the team."
Bulger came into Wednesday's game with a runner on base and escaped the inning without any damage. He then worked a one-two-three fourth, showing good stuff in the process.
"It just adds another thing, that I'm not going to be intimidated coming in in any situation," Bulger said. "Confidence is not something you should ever lack on the mound. I felt good out there, especially for my first outing."
Even if he ends up in Salt Lake, Bulger won't be dismayed. With so many players who have had stints in the Major Leagues on the Bees' roster every year, the atmosphere is an inspiring one.
"It's the same atmosphere as you get up here," Bulger said. "The guys that have been up there, everyone else sees that, and everyone works a little harder, I believe."
The same was true in Bulger's family growing up, where friendly competition developed three strong baseball players.
Bulger, 29 was selected in the first round in 2001 (22nd overall) by Arizona out of Valdosta State, while his brother Kevin, was taken in the 43rd round by San Francisco, which also selected brother Brian in the 49th round. The trifecta was made possible, Bulger said, because the brothers are all two years apart in age, so when he was drafted out of college, Brian was in junior college and Kevin was in high school.
Brian was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 25th round in 2002 and signed, pitching four seasons. Kevin was drafted in the 25th round by Kansas City in 2005 and signed, pitching one season.
Holidays, then, are always an eventful time for the Bulgers.
"It's a lot of funny stories, a lot of comparisons," Bulger said. "It's just three brothers talking baseball."
And if he ever needs a pick-me-up, Bulger's brothers are usually there with a phone call or voicemail.
"There's some ribbing that goes on in certain situations, but they're very supportive," Bulger said.
Mark Thoma is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.