BRISTOL - Izzy Fuentes has been hotter this summer than the weather in his hometown of Chino Hills, Calif., where the temperature is expected to hit 90 degrees in six of the next seven days.
The Bristol Blues’ ace this summer has set the pace for pitchers around the Futures League and the Blues have been the beneficiaries.
Prior to last night’s final regular season game, Fuentes led the FCBL in strikeouts with 70 and wins with six, as he has gone 6-0 for the Blues. He was also in third on the league leaderboard in ERA with a mark of 2.20.
“He’s our top guy,” Blues manager Pat Riley said. “There’s no discussion, really, about it.”
Fuentes is one of 20 players who have been with the Blues all season and his presence has been noticed, both on a local and league level. The sophomore from Faulkner College was undefeated in his first six starts and was selected to the West Division All-Star team earlier this summer.
Fuentes has been able to keep up those elite numbers while pitching the most innings of any pitcher in the league. In 10 appearances, including eight starts and one complete game, Fuentes has pitched 57 1/3 innings for Bristol this summer.
“I have complete faith when I give him the ball against any lineup in this league and any hitter in this league,” Blues pitching coach Jordie Scheiner said. “I know he’s going to pitch his butt off against anyone.”
For Fuentes, the numbers are great but he credits his team and its defensive work behind him for a lot of his success.
“It’s just an honor,” he said. “I’m working hard. Everybody works hard and my team backs me up. I’m just lucky to have them. It’s them. They push me. They want me to get better and, out there, I’m just out there to fight for them. My team will back me up through anything and they know that.”
In addition to his arsenal of pitches, what helped Fuentes find so much success this season was how badly he wants to win each time he steps on the mound.
“He’s probably one of the biggest competitors on this team,” Scheiner said. “He really hates losing and he really likes winning. That’s the guy you want on the mound at the end.”
Riley and Scheiner have both had complete trust in Fuentes this summer and that is something that has meant a lot to him all season. The Blues’ coaches have known since early in the season that Fuentes is capable of pitching in any situation and he thrives in the toughest positions.
“It’s a complete honor, honestly,” Fuentes said about having the coaches’ confidence. “I love it. I love having the ball in my hand [and] I love pressure situations.”
While he has been a tremendous asset on the field, Fuentes has also been a pleasure off the field for the Blues. With an infectious smile and a tremendous personality, Fuentes has been a great clubhouse guy for the Blues, who have gone through a ton of roster turnover.
“He’s a high-character guy,” Riley said. “Big personality, great to be around, caring individual who cares about his teammates, cares about what the Blues organization has done for him and he’s taken this opportunity and run with it.”
All summer long, Fuentes has been the guy that the Blues can turn to when they really need a win. That was no different down the home stretch of the regular season. Just like in the major leagues, the Blues could count on Fuentes, their ace, in the biggest moments and, many times, the Blues’ success followed his.
“If we’re going to make any noise, it’s going to be on the back of him and that’s the way it is,” Riley said. “When you’ve got a top guy, that’s what they’re supposed to do and this is college baseball, but he’s established himself as a premier guy in this league. We have him and we’re going to use him. We’ll take our shot.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org