Brian Fuentes' hold on Angels' closer job appears tenuous
As difficult as it seems to fathom, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia reiterated Friday that he is sticking with Brian Fuentes (pictured above) as his closer, even though the left-hander has a 5.93 earned-run average, has allowed five home runs in 38 at-bats against right-handed hitters, has converted seven of 10 save opportunities and has looked shaky in several of the games he has saved.
What makes Scioscia's reluctance to make a switch even more perplexing, though, is that the Angels have an attractive closing option in right-hander Fernando Rodney, who is 4-0 with a 2.95 ERA in 24 games and converted 37 of 38 save opportunities for the Detroit Tigers last season.
Rodney also has a 96-mph fastball, the kind of overpowering stuff you expect from a closer. Fuentes relies on a 90-mph fastball and an assortment of breaking balls and off-speed pitches that aren't fooling many hitters. He allowed a two-run home run to Willie Bloomquist in the ninth inning Thursday before holding on to close a 5-4 win over Kansas City.
"Tito will be the first to say he's missed some spots and that command has been an issue," Scioscia said of Fuentes, who led the major leagues with 48 saves last season. "But he was really good for a long time last year, and if that emerges, we'll have a good bullpen. If it doesn't emerge, we'll consider changes."
Scioscia would not put a timetable on how much longer he'll give Fuentes to "emerge," but his patience with Fuentes, who seems more suited for the role of left-handed relief specialist, has to be wearing thin, whether Scioscia shows that publicly or not.
Fuentes' struggles are only part of the Angels' bullpen woes. The team's relievers have combined for a 5.07 ERA, which ranks 13th in the American League.
"But you can't look at the back of the bullpen and say that's the reason we've struggled as a team," Scioscia said. "I know the whole of our bullpen will work together better if Tito gets his act together as closer. It's a situation we're evaluating. ...
"Tito has given up home runs. That comes with missing spots, getting behind, and not being as crisp with his fastball command. Guys have gotten decent looks at him, and if that continues to happen, he'll have to bring his secondary pitches into games more."
Photo credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times