Rodney's goal is to close as a champion
New Angels reliever covets World Series, not Fuentes' job
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Fernando Rodney has occupied every role known to a relief pitcher in seven Major League seasons in Detroit. He can close a deal, but he also can hold it for a teammate or contain a blaze in the fifth inning if that is what the manager needs.
The only designation and goal Rodney is focused on as he moves west to California has a ring to it -- the kind that sparkles with World Series championship diamonds.
"I was looking for a team that can win the World Series every year," said Rodney, who signed with the Angels as a free agent. "Maybe this is the team. These guys are good.
"For me, that's more important than anything else. My role doesn't matter. I've played all my career for Detroit. We tried to win a World Series but didn't do it. It's not the same baseball the Angels are playing. They put pressure on everybody."
In a closer's role last season for the first time on a regular basis, Rodney blew only one save in 38 opportunities for the Tigers. But his 2-5 record and 4.40 ERA raised doubt among some critics if the $11 million investment across two years the Angels made in the 33-year-old right-hander was a wise one.
Other evaluators, noting his MLB-best save percentage, speculated that Rodney would put the heat on closer Brian Fuentes, the big southpaw who led the Majors with 48 saves in 55 chances in '09 and is confident he can do even better with improved velocity this season.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia is making it clear this spring, as the press inquires on a daily basis, that Fuentes is the closer and that Rodney and Scot Shields occasionally will take that role if the lefty needs a breather.
Rodney vs. AL West opponents
For his part, Rodney delivered an emphatic response to the notion that he'd be lobbying for Fuentes' ninth-inning role.
"I just want to win," Rodney said. "I don't care when they use me, as long as I get a chance to win a World Series."
Rodney clearly is making himself at home with his new club after putting the Motor City in his rear-view mirror.
He shares Dominican Republic roots with Ervin Santana, Erick Aybar and Rafael Rodriguez, and the compactly built right-hander is known in a different way to Angels hitters who have faced his premium gas over the years.
"I've battled him for years," Torii Hunter, the Angels' peerless center fielder, said. "I'm glad he's on my side now.
"The guy can throw 99 [mph] when he wants to. He throws 92, 93 to try to throw strikes, then the changeup. That's his best pitch. He also plays with a splitty. He can deal. I like our chances down in the bullpen."
Hunter, a former Central Division opponent of the Tigers with the Twins, is 3-for-11, all singles, with three walks and two strikeouts against Rodney. The one Angels hitter he's happy to not deal with is Juan Rivera, who is 4-for-8 with two doubles and five RBIs against Rodney.
Rodney can strike a menacing figure on the mound, but the mention of his name draws nothing but smiles and terms of endearment from those who know him.
"He's a little crazy," Santana said. "But it's a good crazy, not a bad crazy."
Rodney struck a boxer's pose walking past Rodriguez's locker one recent morning, throwing punches at air out of a crouch.
"He used to tell people he was a fighter," Rodriguez said. "You never know with Fernando."
Rodney has hit triple digits on the radar guns a number of times, but it's his changeup -- thrown with the same motion and generating uncommon movement -- that separates him.
"That cambio is nasty," Santana said, referring to the changeup.
"He's got a 100 mile-an-hour fastball with an 80 mile-an-hour change," said Shields, who is coming back from knee surgery with the intent to baffle hitters again with his darting sinker and big curveball. "That's a big differential for hitters.
"We lost a good arm in Darren Oliver, but we have quality down there. Rodney, [Jason] Bulger and [Kevin] Jepsen have some serious fuzz. All of us have a little something different to offer. A team isn't going to get the same look. We can give a lot of different looks every inning, every night."
Rodney appeared in a career-high 73 games last season and finished 64, more than any pitcher other in the American League. He also hit a career high with 75 2/3 innings.
The heavy workload might have taken a toll, judging by his 1.61 WHIP (walks and hits per inning) in the second half compared to 1.33 before the All-Star break.
Rodney's second-half ERA of 4.91 was a run higher than the 3.92 he took to the break. This was in direct contrast to his career splits. He has a 4.86 lifetime ERA before the break, 3.85 after the All-Star Game.
"He competes," Scioscia said. "He wants it. He's also a guy who's going to fit in with these guys."
That apparently didn't take any time at all.
"All three of those guys -- Brian, Scotty and Fernando -- have the potential to close games," Scioscia said. "Brian had a strong year for us, and getting to Brian is going to be very important.
"There are times when Rodney and Shields are going to be pitching the ninth, if Fuentes needs a day off. We really like the way the back end sets up. Jepsen pitched the back end last year, and he's going to be another power arm along with Bulger."
Strength in numbers is something Scioscia believes in, and he has nothing against the triple digits the new man can deliver on occasion.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.