Thursday, June 3, 2010
Angels look to get pitching in order
By Mark Saxon
The Los Angeles Angels, like any veteran team with a playoff pedigree, do a good job of letting teams beat themselves. If Kansas City Royals third baseman Alberto Callaspo (a former prospect with the Angels) had thrown to first instead of home after stepping on the third base bag in the sixth inning Thursday, he would have had an easy double play, Kevin Frandsen would never have scored and the Angels might have settled for a disappointing series split at Kauffman Stadium.
But that's what bad teams like the Royals do: They beat themselves. Callaspo inexplicably threw home, catcher Jason Kendall inexplicably failed to apply a tag and the Angels skated off with a 5-4 win. The New York Yankees have taken advantage of bad teams (hello Baltimore) to get to the playoffs for decades now.
The old adage: Try to go .500 against the good teams and load up your win column against the bad ones.
So, the Angels take their next step in the longest road trip of the season in Seattle this weekend feeling pretty good about themselves. But somewhere in the "anxiety" area of manager Mike Scioscia's brain is this on-going problem closing out games. Of course, that's an area of Scioscia's brain that has been getting plenty of action lately. Brian Fuentes' struggles nudge up against Kendry Morales' broken ankle, which rub elbows with a lack of leadoff options.
Because the Angels won, fixing the closer situation might not get as much attention, but the need to act is urgent. Fuentes, who picked up his seventh save despite giving up a two-run home run to Willie Bloomquist (yep, Willie Bloomquist), has faced 55 batters this year and given up five home runs.
All the hitters who took him deep were right-handed. Fuentes has given up a home run roughly every seventh time he has faced a right-handed hitter. Babe Ruth didn't hit home runs at that kind of clip.
It's getting to the point that the Angels have to have a three-run lead -- especially if there's a right-hander with a modicum of power coming up -- or Fuentes just might blow it.
The solution seems pretty obvious, even if Scioscia won't bend to the obvious just yet: Use Fuentes in situations earlier in games, preferably in matchups against left-handed hitters (who are batting .118 against him). Give the pressure-packed ninth-inning situations to Fernando Rodney. A combination of Fuentes and Kevin Jepsen in the seventh or eighth innings could restore a measure of stability to the bullpen.
Jepsen also has been struggling, by the way. He gave up two more runs Thursday and his ERA has ballooned to 6.16. Maybe using Fuentes in the eighth will let Jepsen pitch in less pressure-packed spots earlier. Jason Bulger might be a good candidate as the right-handed setup man.
Scioscia has said all along that you've got to give a bullpen time to settle into roles, but Fuentes has done nothing since August to show he's worthy of his. The sooner Scioscia makes the switch, the sooner he can get a break from one of his primary sources of stress.
The Angels would like another pitcher to join the Reliable Starters Club. Jered Weaver, who picked up his first win since May 7 with seven shutout innings Thursday, and Ervin Santana are the only current members. Joe Saunders looked to be a good candidate until his last start, a 10-hit, seven-run debacle at home against the Seattle Mariners. That was the game the Angels won on Howie Kendrick's walk-off three-run home run. He faces Seattle yet again.
Mariners pitcher Ian Snell (0-3, 4.58) worked that game Sunday also, giving up three runs and four hits. He recently emerged from the bullpen, so Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu removed him after 82 pitches in the fifth inning. In three starts against the Angels, Snell has a 7.04 ERA.
Mark Saxon, who reported from Los Angeles, covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.