Angels have weak link at closer

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Fuentes_Brian.standard[1].jpgThe Los Angeles Angels look like a solid championship contender this season.

They’ve got a good offense (1st in AL in hitting, 2nd in runs), speed on the bases (2nd in steals), a decent defense (6th in UZR) and a solid starting rotation that has improved with the addition of Scott Kazmir.

The weakness, if they have one, seems to be at closer, where the Angels replaced the record-setting (and expensive) Francisco Rodriguez with the crafty (and less expensive) journeyman Brian Fuentes.

Fuentes hasn’t been a disaster, saving 41 games. But he has blown seven save opportunities and been shaky enough at times to prompt manager Mike Scioscia to give rookie Kevin Jepsen some time in the ninth inning.

So, should the Angels replace Fuentes?

(Note: We’re not going to pin Wednesday night’s loss entirely on Fuentes, as he did have Nick Green struck out twice, only to be foiled by bad calls)

Eno Sarris breaks down the problem nicely over at Fangraphs, pointing out that Fuentes has pretty much given up on his curveball, and has lost velocity – and perhaps most alarmingly, a ton of movement – on his slider.

A case could certainly be made that Jepsen would make a better closer than Fuentes.

Jepsen does own the blazing fastball of a traditional closer (96.4 MPH this year), and with his two primary pitches coming down the pipe over 90 MPH (he owns a 90 MPH cutter that’s been worth 2.5 runs this year) he is a decent change of pace from Fuentes.

In fact, Jepsen profiles very differently from Fuentes in other ways. Fuentes is more of a fly-baller (46.9% fly balls), while Jepsen is inducing ground balls in bunches this year (58.6% ground balls). Jepsen is doing a great job supressing line drives (13.6%), and batters are centering Fuentes better (17.5%).

The big question is if Jepsen can continue to keep his walk rate down, as it was a bit of an issue in the minor leagues, and how well he can adjust to playoff pressure as a closer. For his part, he says he’s ready.

“Everybody has to have their first playoff experience — you’ve got to start somewhere,” said Jepsen, the setup man who has emerged as the team’s top reliever in the second half. “I can’t wait. I feel like I will feed off the energy, whether we’re home or away.”

I think it would be wise for Scioscia to take a long look at Jepsen down the stretch this month, and if he continues to look good, at least consider using both pitchers in save situations. Can’t hurt to have some insurance.

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Blue Jays place Aaron Sanchez on 10-day disabled list with blister issue

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The Blue Jays placed right-hander Aaron Sanchez on the 10-day disabled list with a blister on his right middle finger, the club announced Saturday. This marks the fourth disabled list stint for Sanchez this season after blister issues cropped up again during his start against the Red Sox on Wednesday. Per MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, there is still no estimated timetable for his return to the mound.

Sanchez, 25, has made just eight starts for the Blue Jays in 2017. Between multiple trips to the DL, he’s racked up a 4.25 ERA, 5.0 BB/9 and 6.0 SO/9 through 36 innings and currently carries a 1-3 record. He started to look stable after delivering his first quality start last week, but lasted only four innings against Boston on Wednesday night and issued six hits, five runs and two strikeouts in another losing effort.

In a corresponding move, the Blue Jays activated right-hander Joe Smith from the 10-day disabled list (right shoulder inflammation) and recalled fellow righty Chris Smith from Triple-A Buffalo. Left-handed reliever Jeff Beliveau, who suffered in an eight-run inning during Friday’s 13-3 loss to the Indians, was designated for assignment.

Diamondbacks promote Anthony Banda

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Diamondbacks’ left-hander Anthony Banda is set to make his big league debut on Saturday, per a team announcement. The Diamondbacks recalled the southpaw from Triple-A Reno prior to the game after Taijuan Walker was placed on paternity leave.

It’s been a rough season for the club’s top prospect, who enters Saturday’s contest with a 5.08 ERA, 3.8 BB/9 and 8.3 SO/9 over his first 101 innings in Triple-A this season. The 23-year-old lefty carries a 7-5 record through his first 18 starts and is coming off of his worst outing of the year, during which he issued 15 hits, seven runs and just one strikeout against the Angels-affiliated Salt Lake Bees.

Facing Banda is Nationals’ right-hander Tanner Roark, who owns a 4.98 ERA, 3.3 BB/9 and 7.2 SO/9 through 106 2/3 innings in 2017. Roark pitched a respectable six innings in his last start, scattering four hits, three runs and five strikeouts en route to his seventh win of the season. He also has the added benefit of pitching behind one of the league’s most potent offenses, and boasts a hefty run support average of 5.68 runs per game.

The D-backs currently lead the Nationals, 1-0, and will face off for their second game at 8:10 ET on Saturday night.