BRISTOL - The Bristol Blues pitching staff deserves the majority of credit for the team’s success this season, and Izzy Fuentes could be considered the leader of that staff.
“He’s been really solid,” Blues manager Pat Riley said after Fuentes’ start on Sunday. “He’s been our most consistent starter in terms of giving our team a chance to win through five or six innings and that’s all we ask of out of our starters.”
As well as being a leader amongst the Blues pitchers, Fuentes has also been leading much of the FCBL in pitching statistics. Through his first four starts, Fuentes has a 1.99 ERA, which ranks fifth in the FCBL, and 28 strikeouts, which leads the entire league as of Tuesday afternoon.
“I can’t explain it,” Fuentes said. “I just work hard and hopefully it shows up in the game, and most of the time the team backs [me] up. Sometimes it’s not our day and that’s baseball, but I love it. I’m always there for the team, backing them up every day.”
Heading into his most recent start Sunday, Fuentes led the FCBL with a 0.53 ERA, but the Pittsfield Suns were able to get to him after five scoreless innings, scoring four runs.
But Fuentes showed he could battle throughout the game and earned his first win of the season after three no-decisions to start.
“That’s a really good hitting team,” Riley said about the Suns. “Just because we’ve beat them four out of five, that team has some monster numbers if you look at them. So that’s going to happen when they’ve seen a pitcher the third time around. So he did a good job battling”
Fuentes showed Riley what he is capable of all season long, and especially in his first official home start.
“Yeah, it was a great start for him. Good velocity, good off-speed pitch,” Riley said. “This was the first time he’s pitched at home, too, so I’m sure he felt excited and pumped up by that.”
Fuentes was one of the Blues pitchers who was able to pitch against the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League earlier this season, but each of his first three starts against FCBL teams came on the road. Fuentes was really excited to finally get to pitch a non-exhibition game at Muzzy Field, and he was relieved he was able to perform well for the fans.
“[It was] my first home game so I was really hyped. I was really nervous. I was shaking,” Fuentes said. “I’m glad it went well.”
Being in front of the Blues fans for the first time can sometimes be intimidating for players but Fuentes embraced the experience and worked off the passion from the fans.
“The fans are great. I love the fans here,” he said. “They’re so into the games and I love it. They cheer you on and they’re always there for you.”
The pitching has been a rock for the Blues but the offense has struggled to put up runs to support the pitchers.
Fuentes did not have that problem Sunday, as Blues left fielder Frankie Gregoire drove in five runs by himself, including a grand slam, in the 7-4 win. According to Fuentes, run support is something that can allow pitchers to calm down and pitch better.
“It’s such a confidence builder,” he said. “You score seven early in the game and you’re like, ‘Wow, here we go.’ You feel unbeatable. You feel like, ‘Alright, they have a long way to go. Let’s do this.’ You can relax.”
His success early in the season and even his most recent win are reasons for optimism for Fuentes as the season goes on, but he prefers to put them behind him and focus on doing it again and again the rest of the season.
“I just take it step-by-step, honestly,” he said. “No confidence, no nothing. I got confidence today and wash it away. The next day is a new day. Just start my routine over and hopefully get it done next time.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org