Commentary

Fuentes struggles again in Angels' win

Updated: May 11, 2010, 4:21 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM -- The way this Tampa Bay Rays lineup is going, you expect it to have a perfect game thrown against it one of these days. Oh wait, didn't that just happen?

Five of the six Los Angeles Angels pitchers who worked Monday couldn't quite measure up to Dallas Braden's effort Sunday in Oakland, but they were collectively good, if not stifling. And then there was closer Brian Fuentes, who came in and& yeah, you know what happened.

The fans had a pretty good idea what to expect, it seemed. Some of them started booing Fuentes before he'd begun warming up. Most of them were booing him by the time he walked off the mound having blown a three-run lead and his second save in six tries.

Brian Fuentes
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireBrian Fuentes struggled once again, allowing Tampa Bay to tie the game and head into extra innings.
As it was, the Angels eventually bounced back to win it in the 11th inning, 5-4. Juan Rivera's sacrifice fly brought in Kendry Morales with the winning run, four hours and four minutes after it began. Morales led off with a single off Grant Balfour, reached second on Reggie Willits' bunt and third on a wild pitch.

The Angels don't really need heroics from their pitchers these days. Dragged down by wildness and inconsistency all year, what they need is quality. Joel Pineiro and a short parade of relievers generally brought that Monday, but Fuentes' meltdown raised yet another uncomfortable pitching question for Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

Should he remain the closer? Will he, the way Kevin Jepsen and Fernando Rodney are pitching? Yeah, he will, at least for now, Scioscia said.

"Right now, we need those guys to settle in and get the job done the way they can before we're going to consider evaluating any changes in roles," Scioscia said. "We're going to stay with it right now and, if we have to adjust, we'll adjust as we go forward."

The number that stands out most starkly for Fuentes is three, the number of home runs he has given up in just eight appearances. Willy Aybar tagged him leading off the ninth and then Fuentes seemed to fall apart. Jason Bartlett singled, Ben Zobrist walked and Evan Longoria effortlessly smashed Fuentes' first pitch to him into the left-center gap to drive in the tying runs.

Fuentes admits his confidence was shaken by the awful inning, but said he'll be fine by Tuesday.

"We won, so that's some relief," Fuentes said. "Obviously, you don't want to make it go extra innings. You want to save your bullpen. You just don't want the game to go long. You'd rather finish it in regulation."

The winning pitcher was Trevor Bell, the rookie who got a 6 a.m. wakeup call after being recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake, got on an 8 a.m. flight and pitched about 14 hours later.

He struck out Longoria to strand a runner at first in the 11th.

"I definitely had a lot of adrenaline," Bell said. "I didn't think I would, but when I ran out there it started pumping a little."

Catcher John Jaso's RBI single in the eighth inning -- his third hit of the game -- snapped Tampa Bay's scoreless-innings streak at 23.

By one measure, this Tampa Bay lineup was on a historic cold streak before it ran into the right man, Fuentes. Tampa nearly made history Monday by becoming the first team to be shut out the game after having a perfect game thrown against it (thank you, ESPN researcher Mark Simon). The Rays were batting .189 in their last nine games coming in. What's amazing is that their pitching has been so good, they managed to win five of those games.

Ben Zobrist's first-inning single broke up a string of 37 straight Rays batters retired in order. They had one hit in their previous 16 innings (a 1-for-50 skid).v

SCENE AND HEARD

Rays manager Joe Maddon and two of his coaches, Tom Foley and Dave Martinez, are all seasoned baseball people. But you wouldn't expect them to have witnessed this much history. All three have been involved in three perfect games, amazing considering only 19 have ever been accomplished.

Foley and Martinez played for the Montreal Expos when Dennis Martinez threw his in 1991. Maddon was the Angels' bullpen coach when Texas's Kenny Rogers pitched his in 1994. They were all there for Mark Buehrle's last season as well as Braden's Sunday.

"I'm on the bad side of history once again," Maddon said. "It's kind of amazing, but it happened."

Maddon said his hitter's jumpiness helped set the stage for Braden's gem on Sunday.

"Everything was like the imperfect storm for us yesterday," he said.

STOP SIGN

The Angels might have found the key to keeping teams from testing catcher Mike Napoli's throwing: get an early lead.

Down early and in a 4-0 hole by the fourth inning, Tampa Bay didn't attempt a stolen base until it had gotten even, in the 10th inning. And Napoli threw out Gabe Kapler, a rare success during this throwing slump.

Napoli has thrown out only three of the 25 runners who have attempted to steal on him this season, a 12-percent success rate. The issue came to a head Sunday in Seattle, where Ichiro Suzuki stole three of the Mariners' four bases.

Scioscia said Napoli made one good throw in that game, but that he has been rushing at times.

"He has that throw in him on a consistent basis and it's what he needs to bring," Scioscia said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Right now, it's obviously not good, but it'll be fine tomorrow." Fuentes on his confidence.

LOOKING AHEAD

After standing behind him while he worked for five years, many of the Tampa Bay hitters won't have to watch tape of Angels left-hander Scott Kazmir (2-2, 7.11 ERA). What more do they need to see? Kazmir will make his first start against Tampa Bay since he was traded last August.

"I don't think there's really any advantage, because they've seen you and you've seen them," Kazmir said.

Kazmir has been traded twice in his career, but the swap that sent him west in exchange for Sean Rodriguez and two minor-leaguers was the first since he arrived in the big leagues. He was traded out of Double-A by the New York Mets when he was 19.

The Angels have to contend with Jeff Niemann (2-0, 2.23 ERA), a hard-throwing 6-foot-9 right-hander who was the No. 4 overall pick in 2004. Niemann was taken eight spots ahead of the Angels' Jered Weaver.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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