CHICAGO — The Oakland Athletics felt enough of Brian Fuentes that they decided they’d rather pay him the remaining portion of his $5 million salary to pitch for someone else.
And the Cardinals hope to take full advantage of it.
Looking to repair a struggling bullpen, the Cardinals took a chance on the veteran left-hander and added him to the big league roster on Wednesday following three appearances in the minor leagues.
He made his Cardinals debut Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. And on a day where the ball was seemingly flying out of the friendly confines, Fuentes recorded a quick 1-2-3 seventh inning that featured a pair of strikeouts and a pop up.
“It felt good,” Fuentes said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a major league game so it was good to get back out there and get my feet wet.
“I’m happy when they don’t score. Really, at this point in my career, I understand that some days you have it and some days you don’t. I was happy I had no walks and that they didn’t score. That’s really about it.”
The 36-year-old Fuentes was released by the Oakland A’s on July 11 after posting a 6.84 ERA in 26 games. He had five saves, including his 200th career save on May 2, and three blown saves. The 12-year big leaguer has 204 career saves and a 3.58 ERA in 644 games.
Fuentes had a 2.84 ERA on May 29 but allowed 13 earned runs in six innings over his final seven games with Oakland. Left-handed batters hit .265 against him this year with four extra-base hits in 34 at-bats.
But much like they did when they signed veteran Arthur Rhodes in the middle of last season, the Cardinals hope to catch lightning in a bottle and help Fuentes rekindle his All-Star quality stuff.
“He’s had a great track record,” said manager Mike Matheny. “What he brings more than anything is deception. He hides the ball and he’s intentional about that. It’s part of his gig and he does a real good job of it, maybe as good as anybody.
“Plus, he hit 90 yesterday pretty consistently and had a good idea how to use his breaking ball, so it’s going to be all those things combined to where if you are watching a bullpen you can’t tell where his effectiveness is.”
The left-hander played seven seasons with the Colorado Rockies and made three straight All-Star teams from 2005-07. He signed with the Los Angeles Angels in 2008 and led the American Leagues with 48 saves in 2009, earning his fourth trip to the Midsummer Classic.
Fuentes had at least 20 saves in six-straight seasons from 2005-10. But he’s struggled since joining Oakland in 2011, going 2-8 with a 3.70 ERA last season before his recent struggles caused him to be released.
Why did he struggle? Matheny didn’t need to ask. Instead, he’s looking ahead.
“I didn’t really want to belabor the issue,” Matheny said. “He got a new life here, a new start. I think he’s going to fit in well. He did a nice job yesterday against the righties and I just think he’s going to bring a lot to this club.”
How the Cardinals use Fuentes remains to be seen. He has solid career numbers against both right and left-handed hitters but Matheny said they might look to use him against mostly left-handers early on.
Said Fuentes, “I’m not fully understanding of my role yet so I just told them when you want me ready, I’ll be ready.”