Brian Fuentes should join the St. Louis Cardinals by the end of July, if all goes according to plan.

Brian Fuentes Joins St. Louis Cardinals Bullpen After Week-Long Minor League Stint

The St. Louis Cardinals' newest reliever, Brian Fuentes, begins his trek through the lower minors.

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Brian Fuentes, The St. Louis Cardinals' First Bullpen Reinforcement, Arrives As Bullpen Regroups

At the time, the St. Louis Cardinals appeared to need pitching help any way they could get it. We'd just spent a week or so speculating about them trading for reliever Brian Fuentes when the Oakland Athletics released him following a rough start to the season, and after some perfunctory negotiation Fuentes agreed to a minor league stint that ended up lasting him a week-and-a-half. Now he's in the Cardinals' bullpen, as expected—but the Cardinals bullpen doesn't look like anybody expected it to.

It just doesn't look quite so terrible as it did before. The last reliever to take a loss—Victor Marte, on the day Fuentes was signed—was sent down to make room for him. Marc Rzepczynski, the Cardinals' lefty-reliever incumbent, has thrown 5.2 scoreless innings in July, to get his ERA down under 5; Trevor Rosenthal has thrown four scoreless since being the Cardinals' surprise replacement for Maikel Cleto.

The big reason the Cardinals bullpen feels so stable, though, is Fernando Salas, who held the pen together all last year before scuffling in April and May. Since returning to the majors in June, Salas, who got the win Wednesday against the Dodgers with two scoreless, has an ERA of 2.95 in 21 innings. That'll go a long way toward making any bullpen appear solid.

At the time Brian Fuentes looked like an opportunistic first salvo in a bullpen-reinforcement that would continue through the trade deadline. Now he might be all there is, and that's a good thing.

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Brian Fuentes Joins AA Springfield Cardinals Before Trip To St. Louis

The St. Louis Cardinals' only bullpen acquisition so far, former Colorado Rockies and Oakland Athletics closer Brian Fuentes, threw his second scoreless inning Saturday--in the Gulf Coast League, minor league baseball's furthest reaches--and will join the AA Springfield Cardinals Monday, putting him two levels away from the major leagues with a little more than a week to go before his opt-out deadline. The news about AA Springfield comes from Derrick Goold, who has the scoop on the Cardinals' Fuentes plans.

Fuentes struck out a batter in a perfect inning in his second trip through the GCL Marlins' batting order. Strikeouts were harder to come by in the major leagues for Fuentes, who in Oakland saw his K rate decline from a career mark of almost 10 per nine innings to just 6.5 in two seasons with the Athletics. In 2012 he added home runs to his list of maladies, allowing five in just 25 innings of work.

If he gets through his Texas League stint intact, the Cardinals are likely to use him as a left-handed specialist; his days as closer, presumably, are over, 204 saves into an MLB career that began back in 2001.

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Brian Fuentes Throws A Scoreless Inning On The Way To The Cardinals Bullpen

The St. Louis Cardinals' newest reliever, erstwhile Oakland Athletics closer Brian Fuentes, made his Cardinals debut Friday, kind of. Kind of as in he was pitching for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, in Jupiter, Florida, where a few dozen people watched two lowest-of-the-low-minors teams play a glorified scrimmage at their Spring Training complex. The GCL Cardinals beat the GCL Marlins 7-2 behind two hits from Kenneth Peoples-Walls. Fuentes was the starter; he allowed one hit in a scoreless inning.

It's a long way to the major leagues from there--almost none of the players in this league can drink, and some of them are just now able to see R-rated movies by themselves--but Fuentes is on the fast track; he can opt out of his minor league contract if he's not in the majors by July 31.

Fuentes, an All-Star four times with the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Angels, was cut by the Oakland Athletics after 26 games with an ERA of 6.84. He's seen a declining strikeout rate--and declining effectiveness against right-handers in particular--in his mid-thirties. But he can probably get teenagers out.

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MLB Rumors 2012: Brian Fuentes Unlikely To End St. Louis Cardinals' Bullpen Search

Saturday afternoon the St. Louis Cardinals officially signed Brian Fuentes, sending the former All-Star to the minor leagues in preparation for a late-July trip to the major league bullpen. That ended a few weeks of speculation, and the life of a specific and long-lasting MLB rumor, but I doubt it's the end of the Cardinals' hunt for veteran bullpen help. Unless Fernando Salas or Maikel Cleto is able to emerge soon as the third reliable right-hander they need, expect the Cardinals to continue to sniff around any available relievers as the trade deadline nears--even Padres closer Huston Street.

With Kyle McClellan out for the season following a shoulder injury, the Cardinals no longer have even the illusion of help on the way, and the walk-off home run Victor Marte gave up Saturday against the Reds could prove an effective, if over-simplified, example of the dangers of relying on free talent.

One thing to keep in mind: The Cardinals won't necessarily attempt to help their bullpen by acquiring a reliever. Trading for a starter like Bartolo Colon and then moving mid-90s sinkerball-throwing rookie Joe Kelly into the bullpen would be another way of improving the pen while also making up the rotation depth they lost when Chris Carpenter's rehab failed.

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