Fuentes' candidness rallies teammates
Rockies closer shares experiences to inspire slumping squad
DENVER -- When the going became tough for the Rockies last week, left-handed closer Brian Fuentes was tough enough to talk about his worst times.
Pitching coach Bob Apodaca called a meeting of the pitchers just before the three-game weekend series with the Twins, which saw the Rockies win twice and put behind them a six-game losing streak. With hurlers at various stages of highs and lows, Apodaca asked them to discuss where they wanted to be and how they were going to get there.
Fuentes grabbed the attention of the room by discussing his lowest point, when he blew four consecutive save chances in the middle of last season and lost his closer's job, and how he came back from it.
Fuentes (0-2, 2.41 ERA), who is 5-for-5 since regaining the closer's job from the struggling Manuel Corpas, is a clubhouse prankster, a sounding board for younger pitchers and, most of the time, a supremely confident three-time All-Star. No other pitcher on the current roster has been to even one All-Star Game. But when he stood up and talked about his brief, but complete, lack of confidence last year, he reached everyone.
"It's one of those baseball experiences that you hope guys don't have to go through before they learn from it," Fuentes said Monday. "I wanted to share the highs and lows I've been through.
"[Apodaca] was asking some of the guys that have had successful seasons so far this year," said Fuentes. "I said, 'Statistically it may appear that way, but I'm like everyone else. My confidence goes up and down. I don't feel like I always have my best stuff every day. But it's about finding a way to get through it.
"'Everybody has moments of lapsed confidence.'"
Discussions of innermost feelings aren't exactly common in a sport where it's important to show bravado and confidence, even if such traits have to be faked. And it wasn't just Apodaca pulling out a management exercise simply because he had studied something. It was something Apodaca felt could help challenge each pitcher to express what he could to turn the season around.
Who better than Fuentes, who came off four blown saves and a subsequent lat injury, to finish last regular season strong?
"[Fuentes] was so honest with his feelings," Apodaca said. "He learned from the worst week of his life. He said, 'I had to walk off that mound four straight times.' If it happens to a veteran who has had the success he's had and he's willing to admit this, he's man enough to say, 'I'm giving in. Hey, let's go. I'm not a quitter,' that's what it takes to get out of a funk.
"'Take care of yourself first, so when you're asked to do something, you're committed to doing it, not feeling sorry for yourself.' He said he fell into that, and it's made him stronger."
How much the meeting had to do with a well-pitched series against the Twins is anyone's guess. Fuentes said he took just as much from his teammates as they took from him.
Fuentes has been asked repeatedly about last year's historic slump that saw him become the first pitcher to blow save opportunities in four straight appearances since the save rule was instituted in 1969. Not once in those interviews did he reveal anything near the self-examination that he displayed for his teammates in the meeting.
"I share a lot of stuff with teammates that I don't really express with other people," Fuentes said. "These guys are like my family. Some things that are said behind closed doors are meant to be that way.
"When I'm asked about it from media outlets or whoever it may be, I'm going to be honest, not bluff my way through it. But when you're talking to guys that are actually playing, it helps to explain yourself a little bit better and go into a little more depth. They understand exactly what I'm saying. When I was speaking, I probably had some guys say, 'That's me. That's what I'm feeling.'"
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.