Why Fuentes Has To Go
Don’t look now, but the Angels are slip-sliding away from first place in the American League West.
They’re four and a half games behind the broiling hot Texas Rangers and a dangerous six full games out in the loss column. In other words, even at this early date, their margin for error is growing smaller by he day.
Which is why they have to replace Brian Fuentes as their closer. Now.
Everyone who watches this team on a regular basis knows it is bound to happen eventually, so why wait? Make Fernando Rodney, whose fastball is about 10 mph faster than the one Fuentes flips up there, the closer and utilize both Kevin Jepsen and Fuentes as the set-up men.
It is just silly to carry this charade out any longer. You can’t win a division and hope to succeed in October when the guy you ask to close out games has an ERA (5.59) that stretches out faster than the manager’s waistline. You just can’t.
So how come everyone realizes it but Mike Scioscia?
The answer to that is a little more complicated. First, Scisocia is loyal. Fuentes saved a bunch of games for him last year and he appreciated that. Even if the left hander staggered through the second half like some kind of Baltimore Orioles reject.
Second, Fuentes makes a lot of money, and management always likes to see its highest-paid employees in high-profile positions.
Third, and this is probably the biggest reason, Scioscia is stubborn. I mean, hard-headed like a dugout wall stubborn. The more writers and bloggers scream for him to make this move, the more Mike digs in the way he used to in his playing days, when a runner was trying to score at the plate.
Nobody was better at blocking out runners than the former Dodgers catcher. And no one is more consistent in blocking out facts now than he is. This is a manager who lives for preordained roles in the bullpen. He wants Jepsen to pitch the seventh inning, Rodney the eighth and Fuentes the ninth.
That’s the way he drew it up in spring training, and that’s what he’s sticking with, come hell or a barrage of ninth inning homers.
Sooner or later, though, even he will have to see the halo-like light. Fuentes is gutsy, you have to give him that. He marches out there night in and night out and doesn’t seem to flinch, even when he gets knocked around, which is most evenings.
But his fastball rarely touches 90 mph now, and his breaking pitches aren’t in the strike zone consistently enough to offset that deficiency. The result is what you regularly get, runners always on base, the ninth inning a typical hide-your-eyes-and-tell-me-when-it’s-over horror show.
Maybe you could do this if the rest of your team was clearly superior to the one in Texas. But it’s not anymore. The Rangers’ beefy lineup makes the Angels’ batting order look like a weak imitation. Their starting pitching has improved, and in the bullpen, they close with young Neftali Perez, who has 20 saves to go with his 97 mph heater.
If the Angels want to compete, they need to take action soon. They need to find another bat for the middle of their order, but that could take a while.
The move they can make right now is the one that seems obvious to everyone in Orange County. Well, almost everyone, anyway.
Earth to Scioscia: If your guys fall a few more games behind surging Texas, you will have to live with the cold, hard truth.
Your stubbornness could be the primary reason this Angels club doesn’t make the playoffs.
— Steve Bisheff