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Fetters Has Found a Role He Can Play in Milwaukee : Baseball: With a little fine tuning, former Angel pitcher becomes Brewers’ set-up man.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike Fetters has a role now. He has purpose.

He’s the set-up man out of the Milwaukee Brewer bullpen, a job that doesn’t bring the glare of the spotlight.

Basically, you come in and save some guy’s bacon, then give way to the closer. He gets the handshakes and the pat on the rear end from the manager. You get one line in the box score.

It’s blue-collar pitching all the way. But Fetters has a role. He has purpose.

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“With the success I’m having now, just leave me alone,” Fetters said. “Let me do what I’m doing.”

In other words, kill those lights.

Fetters is enjoying anonymity in Milwaukee this season. He has established himself as an honest-to-goodness major league pitcher, something even he questioned last season.

A year ago, he was one of many who failed miserably at filling the fifth starter role for the Angels. Now, he’s an indispensable set-up man and one of the reasons the Brewers are only 5 1/2 games behind Toronto in the American League East.

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All it took was a change in his delivery, a change in his pitch selection and a change in venue.

“I get to pitch just about every day,” Fetters said. “In the past, I wasn’t used consistently, which makes it hard to stay sharp. The Brewers gave me the opportunity to throw.”

With numbers like his, how could they not?

Fetters, a starter most of his career, is 5-1 with an 0.65 earned-run average and one save. He rarely goes more than a couple of innings and usually gives way to Doug Henry, who has 23 saves.

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Not that who finishes matters. What Fetters, and the Brewers, like is that he has given up only three earned runs in 41 1/3 innings.

“We expected Mike to do well, but we didn’t expect him to do quite this well,” Brewer Manager Phil Garner said. “He’s become a severe ground ball pitcher.”

He became one through a little fine tuning.

Fetters came to Milwaukee with a deflated ego and an inflated ERA. He also had a somewhat side-arm delivery that had left batters eagerly awaiting those flat sinkers.

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What was worse, he had a repertoire of six pitches, none of which he had managed to master.

Then Milwaukee pitching coach Don Rowe began to tinker. For one thing, he changed Fetters’ delivery. “By throwing over the top, Mike gets two motions on his split-finger,” Rowe said. “It breaks down, then away. That’s been a real bread-and-butter pitch for him.”

The change in motion also increased his velocity. Fetters became a fastball pitcher again, just like he’d been at Pepperdine University, where he earned the nickname Pac-Man because of the way he ate up opponents.

Rowe also got Fetters to rely on fewer pitches.

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Fetters has stopped throwing his curve, forkball and changeup. He has gone almost exclusively to the heat, with an occasional slider and split-finger. He has 30 strikeouts this season.

“I lost my fastball because I wasn’t using it,” Fetters said. “I had turned into a junk-ball pitcher. Just look at me, I’m 6 feet 4, 215 pounds, I should be a power pitcher.”

The biggest change, though, was in his head. Fetters began to believe in himself again.

He has rebuilt his self-esteem, which had reached its lowest point at the end of last season.

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“All of sudden, I’m doing things right and building confidence,” Fetters said. “Now I have the attitude that I’m here and I belong here.”

Fetters wasn’t so sure after his tenure with the Angels.

He had been a first-round pick in 1986 and had worked his way through the minors, posting some good numbers along the way.

In 1989, his last full season with triple-A Edmonton, he was 12-8 with a 3.80 ERA and led the Pacific Coast League with a 144 strikeouts.

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A spot in the Angel rotation seemed to be on the horizon, but it turned out to be a mirage.

Fetters spent most of 1990 in the Angels’ bullpen, but started last season at Edmonton. He was recalled in June and got his chance.

The Angels were desperate for a fifth starter after Fernando Valenzuela, Scott Lewis and Joe Grahe had failed to make the grade.

Fetters flunked out, too. He made two starts, gave up six runs in six innings and was banished to the bullpen. He finished 2-5 with a 4.84 ERA.

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“It wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own,” Fetters said. “I can’t say I didn’t have the opportunities. I just didn’t take advantage of them.”

He sweated out the remainder of the season without a defined role. He was the long man out of the bullpen and an occasional starter. Neither job brought much work.

Weeks often went by between appearances, which did little for his pitching and even less for his confidence.

“I was beginning to doubt whether I belonged in the big leagues,” Fetters said. “People had always told me I had good stuff, but the lack of success had made me question my abilities.”

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The Angels also doubted. They shipped him off to Milwaukee for reliever Chuck Crim.

“I couldn’t blame them,” Fetters said. “I would have traded me, too. I didn’t do anything to help the Angels be successful. They got rid of me and things changed.”

For the better, at least in Fetters’ case.

The trade took pressure off Fetters, who felt he had a fresh start. He was almost assured a spot with the Brewers, since they had given up a major league pitcher to get him.

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That alone shored up his ego.

“I knew I was going to be on the team,” Fetters said. “When I was with the Angels, I always had to come in and win a job.”

Now, he knows that the days when he doesn’t do the job aren’t going to cost him his job.

On Tuesday, for instance, he was brought in during the 10th inning with the score tied against the Angels. He gave up a single to load the bases and then walked in the winning run.

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“Last year, I felt that I had to pitch good every time or I would get shipped out,” Fetters said. “This year, I have a little more security.”

Which he has earned.

He came to spring training ready to pitch and impressed Garner enough to earn more responsibilities. When Edwin Nunez began having back trouble, Garner turned to Fetters as his set-up man.

“He kept coming in and shutting people down,” Garner said. “He gets those ground balls for me.”

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Which is all Fetters cares about.

“I fell into this set-up role and have done a good job at it,” Fetters said. “I don’t want to change.”

Why should he? He has purpose.


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