Brian Fuentes gets the job done
It was the third inning of a scoreless game in Tempe Diablo Stadium on Feb. 26, but for Brian Fuentes, it had the feel of the eighth inning of a tight game in Angel Stadium on April 6.
The Oakland Athletics had runners on second and third with one out and slugger Eric Chavez, who bats left-handed, at the plate.
Fuentes, the new Angels closer, struck out Chavez on a 2-and-2 sweeping slider and got Jack Cust to fly to right, ending the scoreless inning the left-hander pitched in the Angels’ 3-1 exhibition win over the A’s on Thursday.
“The competitor in you takes over,” said Fuentes, who signed a two-year, $17.5-million deal this winter. “I’d feel the same way in an intrasquad game with two guys on. You’ve been doing it for so long, you’re trained to buckle down and get guys out. Your concentration level goes up a bit.”
Thursday’s showdown between Fuentes, who will pitch for the U.S. in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, and Chavez could be the first of many this season.
The Angels and A’s play each other 19 times, beginning with the April 6 season opener in Anaheim. Fuentes, who has been a closer, setup man and left-handed specialist, gives Manager Mike Scioscia a lethal weapon against hitters such as Chavez -- Fuentes has limited left-handers to a .215 average over his career.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game when you’re pitching against guys that you’re going to play a lot against,” Fuentes said. “You might try something, see how they react, try to put something in the back of their heads for later. But I think they’re doing the same thing.”
Scioscia said he would like to limit Fuentes to one inning in save situations, much as he did with Francisco Rodriguez last season.
But because Fuentes has been so effective against lefties, Scioscia might be tempted to extend him to the eighth inning on occasion, which would be fine with the reliever.
“If there’s a situation in the eighth where there’s two outs and a left-hander coming up, it might be beneficial for me to come into the game,” Fuentes said. “But I’d want to pitch the ninth too.”
Scioscia said he “would consider” using Fuentes in the eighth, “but it’s going to depend on the availability of the rest of the bullpen,” he said. "[Scot] Shields is terrific against lefties, and we have a lot of confidence in [Jose] Arredondo. But it’s nice to have [Fuentes] available.”
On Walden’s mound
Starting for the Angels on Thursday was a tall, hard-throwing right-hander from Texas who attended Grayson Community College in Denison, Texas, and whose name was not John Lackey.
It was Jordan Walden, a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder who is 21 and armed with a fastball that is consistently clocked in the 95-mph range and has touched 100 mph on some speed guns.
Walden, who gave up two hits in two scoreless innings Thursday, was a 12th-round pick in 2006 who led all Angels minor leaguers with 141 strikeouts last season, which he split between Class-A Cedar Rapids and Rancho Cucamonga.
He did not have to look far for a role model this spring. Lackey, the Angels ace, is a Texan who led Grayson to the 1999 Junior College World Series championship.
“It’s just a coincidence we both went to the same junior college and are now in the Angels organization,” said Walden, a native of Mansfield, Texas. “I look up to him. He’s a great guy, one of the best. It’s not bad to follow in his footsteps.”
The Angels scored twice in the fourth inning Thursday on RBI singles by Kevin Ramos and Reggie Willits and once in the seventh on Alberto Rosario’s RBI single. Kendry Morales and Brandon Wood each had two hits for the Angels. . . . Kevin Jepsen, a rookie right-hander who is expected to win a bullpen spot after making the playoff roster last October, gave up one hit in a scoreless inning. . . . The Angels agreed to terms on 2009 contracts with pitchers Joe Saunders ($475,000), Dustin Moseley and Jepsen, second baseman Howie Kendrick and infielder Matt Brown.