Rockies Closer Voted All-Star, Loses Job

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By ERIC W. BOLIN
The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 3, 2007; 7:10 PM

DENVER -- Good thing for Brian Fuentes that the All-Star votes were already counted. After becoming the first closer in nearly 20 years to blow four straight save chances, the Colorado Rockies reliever was picked for the NL All-Star team.

The struggles also cost Fuentes his job, at least temporarily. Manager Clint Hurdle decided to go with a committee of closers and work in Fuentes when he can pitch in less stressful situations.

"I've had 10 good weeks and one bad week," Fuentes said. "It's been a real bad week, but that's the way it goes. Everybody has down times."

Not since the New York Yankees' Dave Righetti in 1988 had a major league closer failed four times in a row. Fuentes lost half of the games on the Rockies' eight-game skid through Toronto, Chicago and Houston.

Before the trip, Fuentes had never blown consecutive chances at a save. He converted 20 of his first 22 chances before things fell apart.

Of course, all the All-Star votes were in before the left-hander imploded. On Sunday, he made the NL team for the third straight year.

Fuentes saw his ERA climb from 1.89 to 4.17 during his slide. His six blown saves on the season were tied for the most in baseball. He blew six saves all last season.

Fuentes still leads all lefties in saves and remains a dangerous option out of the bullpen no matter what role he takes.

"The players voted him in. They think that highly of him," said teammate and fellow All-Star Matt Holliday. "I have all the confidence in the world in 'Tito.' He's the same guy every day no matter what's happened the day before."

Since his last save against the Yankees on June 21, Fuentes appeared in five games, blowing four saves and collecting four losses. In those five games, he gave up 13 hits and 10 earned runs in just 3 1-3 innings. He'd only given up seven earned runs all season before that stretch.

"It's a tightrope walking without a safety net," Hurdle said. "It is what it is and he knows he's responsible."

Hurdle said Fuentes' delivery and pitching mechanics aren't amiss. Maybe it's just a mental thing, he suggested.

"We had a whole bunch of things go wrong. We just went flat," Hurdle said. "We had some good bullpen work until it got time to close. The magnification's on Brian."

Fuentes, who struggled in a non-save situation just after his demotion by allowing two runs in an inning of mop-up work Sunday at Houston, said his confidence isn't shaken.

"(The struggles) have been a little bit extended from what I'm used to," he said. "But I have full confidence that I'll get back on the horse and I'll be fine."


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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