DENVER -- An emergency forced left-hander Brian Fuentes into the Colorado Rockies' closer role last season. Still, Fuentes' success -- 31 saves and an All-Star Game appearance -- was not a surprise to Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd.
The Rockies now expect more, after signing Fuentes to a two-year, $5.5 million contract to avoid arbitration. Fuentes will be paid $2 million in 2006 and $3.5 million the following season.
"I was not really surprised, because Brian matured into the role," O'Dowd said. "We're pleased with him, and we look forward to him pitching better."
Going into last season, Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca kept Fuentes in mind as a closer, even though the club wanted to see hard-throwing right-hander Chin-hui Tsao in the job. Fuentes had averaged better than 10 strikeouts per nine innings in his three previous seasons with Colorado, after arriving in a trade that saw Seattle get third baseman Jeff Cirillo.
Fuentes stepped into the job and averaged 11.02 strikeouts per nine. He finished with just three blown saves, two after being named closer. He was impressive enough that the Rockies granted him the first multiyear contract for a reliever since Gabe White after the 2000 season.
Fuentes will have experienced bullpen colleagues in right-handers Jose Mesa and Mike DeJean, and left-hander Ray King. The idea was to build the relief staff around experience and depend on Fuentes' ability to get the key strikeout to wrap up victories.
"Time will tell," O'Dowd said. "You have to be pleased with the level of experience we've got. We've given [manager Clint Hurdle] and "Dac" [Apodaca] a lot of weapons."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.