Halos' Fuentes on a roll since slow start
Closer enters play Saturday as MLB leader in saves
ANAHEIM -- When he signed with the Angels on New Year's Eve, Brian Fuentes made a resolution. He would not get caught up in the hype of trying to replace Francisco Rodriguez, a man who departed for the New York Mets on the heels of a record-shattering 62-save season.
"I'm not here to replace anybody," Fuentes said. "What makes good pitchers, especially relief pitchers, is the ability to not let external things matter. I don't let external things bother me.
"There's always going to be comparisons. Obviously, Frankie's a great pitcher. It's going to happen regardless. I'm here to help this team win by closing the door in the ninth. That's about it.
"Comparisons are for fans. Fantasy leaguers might have a good time with it, but players don't get caught up in that stuff."
Things haven't exactly gone smoothly for Fuentes in his new city and league, but as the Weaver brothers got ready to deliver their best stuff at 60 feet, six inches on Saturday night, the Major Leagues saves leader was one Brian Fuentes.
No. 19 -- one more than K-Rod and two other closers -- arrived on Friday night when Fuentes worked out of a two-on, two-out jam to slam the door on the Dodgers in a 5-4 win that was the Angels' seventh in a row.
"I've never led in anything -- ERA, saves, games," said Fuentes, a three-time All-Star in Colorado. "It's kind of weird [leading in saves] after the way the season started."
There was a family matter that took him away from Spring Training for a few days and a back issue that flared up, taking him out of the World Baseball Classic. Fuentes was not close to top form when the season began, and it showed. But the crisp fastball from an unorthodox arm slot along with a big breaking ball and changeup have been landing in the right spots lately.
"It's a long season," he said. "I'm not saying it takes all season to get everything right, but it does take some time. You kind of pick up steam as you go along.
"The second half last season, a lot of things went right."
From mid-July to the finish line in 2008, Fuentes was about as good as he -- or anybody -- can be. He was 17-for-17 in save attempts with a 1.75 ERA in 26 appearances.
He can expect a heavier workload with the Angels, who play more close games than his former team and tend to create more save opportunities -- 69 last season for Rodriguez.
"I've always pitched better the more work I get," Fuentes said, which should be interpreted as a good sign as the Angels look ahead to at least three more months of intense baseball.
Still in the process of whittling away at an ERA that was bloated by a few early poundings, Fuentes has registered saves in his past six outings since letting a 3-0 lead get away against the Mariners on May 30 for his third blown save.
Flawless in June, he has yielded two hits and three walks while striking out seven hitters in 4 2/3 innings.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.