Scioscia: Fuentes stays as closer
As the Angels roared down the stretch and into the playoffs last season, Manager Mike Scioscia altered the role of closer Brian Fuentes. If a right-handed hitter led off the ninth inning, Scioscia would let right-handed setup man Kevin Jepsen start the inning, with the left-handed Fuentes coming in against a left-handed hitter.
With Fuentes expected back from the disabled list Wednesday and right-hander Fernando Rodney excelling in his absence, Scioscia could revive that strategy. However, Scioscia said Monday that Fuentes would get the ninth inning to himself, at least for now, with Rodney handling the eighth inning.
“Right now, Brian is going to pitch the ninth,” Scioscia said. “If we have to adjust, we will. I don’t know if Fernando is a four-out guy right now, unless it’s an extreme situation.”
Rodney led the American League by converting 97.4% of his save opportunities last season -- 37 of 38 -- but he posted a 4.40 earned-run average and walked one batter for every two innings. The Detroit Tigers offered him a one-year contract via arbitration, but he said his free-agent opportunities were limited.
He said he talked with the Baltimore Orioles, who instead signed closer Mike Gonzalez, and with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he would have set up Brad Lidge and perhaps Ryan Madson. He signed with the Angels for two years and $11 million, ostensibly to set up Fuentes.
He would give the Angels an option at closer next year. Fuentes needs to finish 55 games this season in order to trigger a $9-million contract next season.
Rodney declined to say that his success during Fuentes’ absence -- four saves, 12 up, 12 down -- should make him the closer.
“This is an opportunity,” Rodney said. “You have to come into the game prepared. I’ve tried to do the best I can. You don’t know what’s going to happen later. I know it’s Fuentes’ job.”
Fuentes pitched one perfect inning Monday for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.
Hideki Matsui and Kendry Morales are the only Angels to play every game. One of the dozens of Japanese reporters assigned to shadow Matsui asked Scioscia whether Matsui would get a day off soon.
“I hope not,” Scioscia said, smiling. “Why? Would you want me to?”
Matsui began play Monday batting .327, with a 1.012 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) that ranked 10th in the league, just behind Minnesota’s Joe Mauer.
Matsui also took a page out of the blue-collar playbook Monday afternoon, arriving in the clubhouse with a shopping bag from the Gap.
Center fielder Mike Trout, 18, a first-round draft pick in June, is off to a .370 start at Class-A Cedar Rapids. He has walked more than he has struck out, and the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette reported that he had 11 infield hits in the Kernels’ first nine games.