Commentary

Fuentes not looking over shoulder

Despite the acquisition of Fernando Rodney, Angels closer has no worries

Updated: March 6, 2010, 12:33 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Brian FuentesAP Photo/Eric RisbergLeft-hander Brian Fuentes had an American League-leading 48 saves last season for the Angels.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Mike Butcher didn't even think about calling. Well, maybe he thought about it for a couple of seconds, thumbed through the contacts on his cell phone until he got to Brian Fuentes' name before hitting the red cancel button and deciding against it.

But the point is, he didn't call.

In his mind, Fuentes is the Angels' closer and newly signed Fernando Rodney is the flame-throwing set-up man who will spend the majority of this season hearing his name announced in the eighth inning.

"Look, in my mind it's clear. Brian went into the offseason as our closer and he's going into the season as our closer," the Angels' pitching coach said after Fuentes' one-inning spring debut Friday in a 7-5 loss to the Rockies at Diablo Stadium.

"I didn't call him [when the Angels signed Rodney to a two-year, $11 million deal this winter] because he knows he's our closer, that's all there is to it.

"I think everybody else is like, 'Oh my gosh, now they have two closers.' But really, he's our closer, he knows he's our closer, and we feel good about that."

So that's the plan.

No controversy here, folks, move right along to some other part of the Cactus League if you want some intrigue. Nothing to see ...

It would be great for everyone involved if it works out according to plan. If Fuentes builds off his American League-best 48 saves last season, if Rodney becomes a premier set-up man, and if we don't have to keep asking these questions all season.

It's just that it rarely works out that way when one team has two very capable, very talented pitchers with a history of closing games.

[+] EnlargeBrian Fuentes
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireAngels closer Brian Fuentes scoffs at the notion he should be worried because the team signed another closer in the offseason.

Fuentes had 48 saves in 55 opportunities last season. Rodney -- who was cleared to start throwing off a mound Friday after experiencing some soreness in his shins the first part of camp -- had 37 saves in 38 chances with the Detroit Tigers last season.

Which means both are very good but neither is perfect.

During the rough spots then, it'll be up to Butcher and Angels manager Mike Scioscia to send the right signals and keep Fuentes feeling confident in his role.

"Brian had a great year for us last year," Scioscia said. "He knows if he pitches to his capabilities there's no problem."

So far, Fuentes seems to be hearing and digesting the message well.

"We haven't discussed it, but my personal feelings about having Fernando at the back of the bullpen are really good," Fuentes said.

"I had an opportunity to see him pitch in Detroit the last couple years and I know he pitches lights out. The stronger he makes our team, stronger he makes our bullpen is all the better.

"We haven't discussed it, Mike, myself and Fernando or anything like that, but just from the outside looking in it's nice to have him here."

Asked directly whether Rodney's presence on the team will make him feel as if he's constantly looking over his shoulder, Fuentes scoffed.

"No," he said curtly. "I never do that."

Why not?

"Because it's behind me, and I'm just looking at what's in front of me."

Aside from the fact it's spring training and this is the sort of thing people talk about when they're sitting in the stands on a perfect sunny Friday afternoon, part of the reason this discussion gets off the ground is just a matter of style.

As closers go, Rodney is straight out of central casting. Hard-throwing, snarling and just wild enough at times to make the batter's front leg wobble when he digs into the box.

Fuentes is more of a touch-and-feel pitcher. His fastball occasionally touches the low-to-mid 90s, but that's not his MO.

"He's funky, he's got deception, it's hard to pick up the ball out of his hand," Butcher said. "He's the only pitcher that throws like him in the major leagues.

"Then you have Fernando and he's gas. It's coming 97-99 and it's firm."

The Angels say they like having two distinct options. That it'll be nice to be able to make opponents speed their bats up in the eighth when Rodney comes in, then let Fuentes thoroughly confuse them in the ninth with his unorthodox delivery and mix of breaking balls, changeups and fastballs.

Actually, that sounds like a great plan.

Let's hope it works out that way.

NOTES: Scioscia said Hideki Matsui (knees) might be able to start playing in games as the designated hitter by early next week. "He's close. He feels good. It's tough to give a time frame, but he's close. It's whenever he feels good with his running form. If he feels comfortable with that he's ready to DH," Scioscia said. Matsui has been taking part in some defensive drills and said he would like to occasionally play in the outfield this season. ... Prized left-handed pitching prospect Trevor Reckling impressed Butcher and Scioscia with two innings of work in Friday's game. "He's going to be a good one," Butcher said after the 20-year-old lefty struck out three of the 10 batters he faced. Though Reckling gave up four hits and one earned run, Butcher said he was impressed with the way Reckling responded to the adversity. "I make very limited trips to the mound in spring, I want to see how they work through it."

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPN Los Angeles.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE MLB HEADLINES