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CHICAGO 4, ANGELS 3 (10 INNINGS)

Angels still having trouble closing

Manager Mike Scioscia pulls closer Brian Fuentes in the 10th inning, only to have Kevin Jepsen give up the winning run on a wild pitch.

September 13, 2009|KEVIN BAXTER

It has taken five months, one trade and a lot of rehabilitation for the Angels to get their injury-plagued pitching rotation into shape. But now that they've figured out how to start games, they aren't sure how -- or with whom -- to close them.

For the second time in six days Manager Mike Scioscia pulled closer Brian Fuentes in the middle of an inning Saturday, this time with one out in the 10th inning with the score tied. Fuentes gave up a double and a single, then got an out before he left the game. And two pitches later Kevin Jepsen, the man who replaced Fuentes, uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the winning run to score in a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

So while Scioscia spoke of his closer with confidence afterward -- "he's having a terrific year," he said -- his actions spoke louder than those words.

Well, come to think of it, some of his words spoke pretty loudly as well.

"At that point in the game, when we still have Kevin in the bullpen, we needed to have the opportunity to maybe get a strikeout there," Scioscia said. "I think Kevin was a little better option at that point."

Whether he remains the better option is still to be seen. But the recent numbers are on his side.

While Fuentes (1-4) has a loss and a blown save in his last three outings and a 6.23 earned-run average in six September appearances, Jepsen has given up only two runs in his last 16 games. And he has given up only two walks in his last 10 innings.

Sure sounds like a closer. And that's apparently what Scioscia thought with two on and one out and right-handed pinch-hitter Paul Konerko coming up to face the left-handed Fuentes.

"At some point there's a time for a matchup," said Scioscia, who waved in the right-handed Jepsen. And if not for the wild pitch, it would have worked since Jepsen retired the only two batters he pitched to.

Fuentes, who leads the majors with 40 saves, had trouble pinpointing what's gone wrong. But it has happened before. Fuentes blew a save and gave up four runs in his first two games as an Angel, then gave up five runs in two separate appearances in May. But he recovered from that and went nearly two months without giving up another run.

"It's hard to say," he said. "Sometimes it's [a lack of] quality pitches. Other times it's not enough strikes."

None of that might have mattered, though, had Angels right fielder Bobby Abreu simply closed his glove in time in the third. Or if White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez had not dived in time in the 10th.

Abreu, who reached base five times with two hits and three walks, dropped Mark Kotsay's line drive to right with two outs in the third, allowing Gordon Beckham to score the run that gave Chicago a 3-0 lead, one they held until Maicer Izturis' tying sacrifice fly with one out in the ninth.

Earlier in the third, Abreu turned the wrong way on a ball Scott Podsednik drove to the wall, resulting in an inside-the-park home run.

"The one on the wall, I didn't think it wasn't going to carry," Abreu said. "The other one, I should have caught that. But I guess I didn't close my glove enough."

Abreu redeemed himself by scoring the Angels' second run in the eighth and throwing Ramirez out at the plate in the sixth. But Ramirez partially returned the favor in the 10th, making a brilliant diving stop of Torii Hunter's two-out grounder up the middle and forcing Abreu, who represented the tying run, to stop at third.

Mike Napoli then grounded out to end the game.

"We pushed it today. We showed that we never give up," Abreu said. "We showed that we always stay in the game. So it's not frustrating. It's just part of the game."

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.

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