Oh, this is delicious, as there's nothing like a brewing closer controversy as we approach October. From the O.C. Register's Mark Saxon:
- Manager Mike Scioscia met with closer Brian Fuentes in his office with the door closed for 25 minutes before Sunday's game.
Afterward, Scioscia said the discussion centered on Fuentes' mechanics and he dismissed the notion that they talked about the veteran reliever's role.
Scioscia has replaced Fuentes with Kevin Jepsen in the middle of a save opportunity four times since July 27, most recently on Saturday. Twice in the last five weeks, including Sunday, Jepsen began the ninth inning of a save situation and recorded the first out.
Fuentes said the meeting with Scioscia was not about mechanics, but he said he didn't object to Scioscia using Jepsen at times in the ninth.
"That's Mike's decision. They just pick up the phone and tell me when I'm going in," Fuentes said. "I just pretty much do what I'm told."
Fuentes, in his first season with the Angels, was named to his fourth All-Star team this July, but he has struggled for much of the past six weeks. He has a 6.23 ERA and has allowed seven hits and five walks in September.
Jepsen has been stalwart since July 1. He has allowed just two runs in his last 17 appearances.
Jepsen's upper-90s fastball is more typical of pitchers who work the ninth inning regularly.
It's true that most closers throw the baseball exceptionally hard. But there are all sorts of ways to earn saves. Trevor Hoffman throws mid-80s fastballs and changeups. Joakim Soria throws low-90s fastballs and everything else but the kitchen sink. It really doesn't matter who hard a pitcher throws; what matters are the results of what he throws.
Last year, the results for Fuentes included nearly a dozen strikeouts and slightly more than three walks per nine innings. This season he's struck out roughly eight batters per nine innings. Even granting that last season's strikeout rate was uncharacteristic and probably unsustainable, Fuentes' K-rate this season is down roughly 25 percent from his career rate.
Fewer strikeouts usually means more hits, and more hits usually means more runs and a higher ERA. Which is exactly what's happened to Fuentes this season. He's throwing about as hard as he always has, and there's really nothing wrong with him that a few more strikeouts and a few fewer walks won't cure. But the four-time All-Star isn't a superstar, and there's nothing wrong with the manager keeping his options open. Each of the Angels' six busiest relievers this season -- led by the surprising Jason Bulger -- have struck out more than seven per nine innings.
Jepsen's been no better than his bullpen mates in that regard. Where he's excelled is limiting the home runs, giving up only two in 46 innings. Which might go some way toward explaining Mike Scioscia's affection for him.