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Brian Fuentes' performance raises issue of closer switch

Many Angels fans would like to see Fernando Rodney take over the closer job. Manager Mike Scioscia says there are many factors to consider, including Fuentes' confidence level.

May 11, 2010|By Mike DiGiovanna

Among the reasons Mike Scioscia gave Tuesday for sticking with Brian Fuentes as his closer despite the left-hander's Monday night meltdown is that "it's a little premature to make wholesale changes," the Angels manager said.

Who said anything about wholesale changes?

Most Angels fans would be satisfied with one seemingly simple switch — make hard-throwing right-hander Fernando Rodney the closer and Fuentes a setup man or left-handed relief specialist.

Rodney is clearly the team's best reliever, with a 3-0 record and 2.87 earned-run average in 16 games, a fastball that has been clocked as high as 98 mph and an excellent changeup.

He has plenty of closing experience, converting 37 of 38 save opportunities for the Detroit Tigers last season and saving five games for the Angels while Fuentes was on the disabled list in April.

After giving up three runs and three hits, including a Willy Aybar home run, in the ninth inning Monday night for his second blown save of the season, Fuentes' ERA ballooned to 7.04 in eight games.

He has converted four of six save opportunities, and with a fastball that peaks at about 90 mph and a slew of off-speed and breaking pitches, he intimidates no one.

Fuentes remained effective while shuttling between closing and setup roles with the Colorado Rockies, so it would seem he would be able to handle such a switch in Anaheim.

But there is at least some concern among the Angels that a demotion could puncture Fuentes' confidence and render him of little use in any relief role.

"That is part of the equation, but a small part," Scioscia said. "If a guy is unable to close games, if it's apparent he's not going to get it done, you might lose a guy. But you have to look at what's best for the team and the bullpen as a whole."

Scioscia contends that for the bullpen to be effective, all of his front-line relievers — Fuentes, Rodney and Kevin Jepsen — must perform to their capabilities.

"Those setup guys are as important as the closer — the guy pitching the eighth is really the closer of the eighth inning," Scioscia said. "There is a lot of intensity to those last six or seven outs of a game.

"If Brian is struggling in the ninth it's likely he'll struggle in the eighth. We'll shuffle the deck if we have to … but the best thing long-term for us is to let this play out. We need Brian Fuentes to pitch well no matter what role he's in."

Tired arm

Struggling reliever Brian Stokes was placed on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday because of shoulder fatigue, a condition that has affected the right-hander since spring training and contributed to his 7.31 ERA and 16 walks in 16 innings.

"I can't really get to my release point and get the extension I wanted — it's been in the back of my mind," Stokes said. "My velocity was there, and it wasn't there. It would fluctuate between 90-95 mph, but I couldn't repeat the same pitch.

"I started feeling it in spring training and it lingered. I came back and never had the chance to catch up on my strength."

Short hops

To replace Stokes, the Angels recalled right-handed reliever Bobby Cassevah from triple-A Salt Lake.… The Angels rescinded the option of pitcher Matt Palmer to Salt Lake and placed him on the DL because of a shoulder sprain.… Catcher Bobby Wilson (concussion, left ankle sprain) began a rehabilitation assignment with Class-A Rancho Cucamonga on Tuesday.

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