ANAHEIM, Calif. — Angels pitcher Kevin Jepsen watched the just-completed Summer Olympics with interest, but he couldn’t help feeling that something was missing.
Like baseball. There was none this year.
Jepsen was a member of the U.S. team that won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but that was the last time the sport was played. Baseball and softball were eliminated by a vote of the International Olympic Committee, the first sports to be dropped from the Games since polo in 1936.
“It was kind of weird not to have it in there,” Jepsen said. “It’s tough because I had such a fun experience, and I know guys who were there before me who said the same thing.”
Baseball might be America’s sport, but the U.S. was hardly dominant internationally. In five Olympics, it won one gold (in the 2000 Sydney Games) and two bronzes. By comparison, Cuba won three golds and two silvers.
But Jepsen said the US team had plenty of confidence heading into the tournament in Beijing. Its roster included such players as Stephen Strasburg, Trevor Cahill, Nick Schierholtz and Jayson Nix.
Jepsen pitched in four games and had one save. He struck out five in 5 2/3 innings.
“Going in, we all felt like we had the ability to win gold,” he said. “We lost two games and both of them were to the teams that played in the gold medal match. We lost to Cuba in extra innings, and we lost to South Korea in the bottom of the ninth. Both of those were hard losses for us.”
South Korea won the gold, defeating Cuba 3-2. The American team defeated Japan 8-4 for the bronze.
Jepsen has been on championship teams in his career, but he said standing on the podium to receive his medal was a special moment.
“It was definitely an experience I’ll always remember,” he said. “It’s something that not everybody gets to do.”
With the Angels, Jepsen has enjoyed a revival of sorts. He began the season on the 25-man roster but was sent to Triple-A Salt Lake in early May and didn’t return until July 5.
Since coming back, 17 of his 18 appearances have been scoreless and he’s allowed just one earned run in 15 innings.
“Kevin has always pitched with a sense of purpose, trying to go out there and compete,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “But the message was very clear when we sent him down: ‘You’ve got to figure out how to get guys out. Don’t think about mechanics, don’t think about what stuff you’re going to throw.’ We’ve been there and done that, and it took him a while to refine some stuff.
“Bottom line with Jeppy when he went down was go down there and get outs. He figured out a way to do it.”
Jepsen has elevated his role on the club to late-inning setup man for closer Ernesto Frieri. He also picked up his second career save on July 15, throwing one-third of an inning against the New York Yankees.
When he was demoted, Jepsen had a 10.29 ERA. It’s now 3.68, and he’s pitching with a newfound confidence.
“All my stuff wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be,” he said. “I was trying to do too much, maybe just a little rusty. But I feel like I’ve been throwing well the last four months or so. When I went down, my feeling was that I just needed to go down there and get guys out.”