By Mike DiGiovanna Los Angeles Times Reporting from New York
It says a lot about the sorry state of the Angels that their closer was unavailable for seven games before Wednesday and they didn’t even miss him.
Brian Fuentes was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday because of a muscle strain in the middle of his back, an injury he suffered lifting weights on April 6, the day after recording the save in a season-opening 6-3 victory over Minnesota.
The Angels did not have another ninth-inning save opportunity until Fernando Rodney closed Wednesday’s 5-3 win over the New York Yankees.
Fuentes played catch Tuesday for the first time in a week, but the Angels, concerned the left-hander wouldn’t be ready to pitch for several more days, placed him on the DL, retroactive to April 6, and recalled reliever Francisco Rodriguez from triple A.
Fuentes, who was told by a chiropractor there is no structural damage in his back, will be eligible to be activated Tuesday.
“I was working out and tweaked it,” said Fuentes, whose contract includes a $9-million option for 2011 that will vest if he finishes 55 games this season. “It was kind of a freak thing. I took some time off, and it kept tightening up to the point where I couldn’t throw.”
Rodney, the former Detroit closer, will close until Fuentes returns, with Kevin Jepsen and Scot Shields filling setup roles.
“This isn’t a huge adjustment of roles for these guys,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “We still have depth there. Guys just have to get into their games.”
Jepsen said his full-count pitch to Alex Rodriguez in the eighth inning Wednesday was “right where I wanted to throw it,” a 97-mph fastball that appeared to hit the outside corner.
But umpire Dan Bellino ruled it ball four, a controversial call that allowed the Yankees to put the tying runs on base and drew the ire of Scioscia, who fumed from the dugout.
Did a Yankees superstar get preferential treatment on his home turf, an accusation many players have levied against umpires in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park?
“It is what it is,” Scioscia said. “You never want to hang your hat on one call by an umpire. Kevin didn’t get the pitch, but he kept playing baseball, and we hung on.”
Asked where the pitch was, catcher Jeff Mathis said, “Just off.” Did he see a replay? “No comment,” Mathis said. “Zero comment.”
Shields walked a batter, gave up two singles and two runs in the eighth, giving the veteran right-hander who is returning from left-knee surgery a 10.12 earned-run average in four games.
“His release point isn’t as consistent as it will be,” Scioscia said. “The ball came out of his hand well, but his command wasn’t very crisp. He’ll get the ball again. We’re going to need him.”
Outfielder Terry Evans cleared waivers and was sent to triple-A Salt Lake after Wednesday’s game to clear a roster spot for Scott Kazmir, who will be activated to start Thursday night’s game against the Yankees.