Ernesto Frieri was a revelation after being acquired from the San Diego Padres in a trade for Alexi Amarista and Donn Roach on May 3, 2012. The Angels closer situation had been a mess at the start of the season, as Jordan Walden, who was expected to be the closer, imploded. Scott Downs took over, but he is more of a setup man than a flamethrowing closer. Frieri, it was hoped, would fill that role.
Frieri was certainly what the Angels had hoped he would be, putting together a 2.32 ERA and striking out 13.3 batters per nine innings. He recorded 23 saves, helping to solidify the closer role for the Angels. Last year, Frieri was far more hittable, posting a 3.80 ERA. His hits per nine innings jumped from 4.3 to 7.2, while his walk rate increased. He had gone from being virtually unhittable to being roughly league average.
The biggest reason for the change may have been due to the change in Ernesto Frieri’s arsenal. He had gone from mixing in a changeup and cutter with his fastball in 2012 to going almost entirely away from either pitch in 2013. Last season, Frieri completely abandoned the cutter, using a slider and a curve with his fastball.
Yet, Frieri feels that the biggest difference may have been due to going away from the change. When he did use the changeup, he was able to fool the opposition regularly. Now, instead of continuing to rely heavily upon his fastball, Frieri is hoping to find a second pitch that he feels confident in when he runs into trouble.
“I feel more confident in throwing it,” Frieri said of his changeup. “What I want to see now is the reaction from the hitters. Hitters are the ones who tell you if the pitch is good or bad. And that’s what Spring Training is for.”
If Ernesto Frieri is able to get the reaction he expects from the changeup, especially based on how well he felt it worked last season, he may go into the season as a different pitcher. Batters will no longer be able to sit on his mid 90′s fastball, particularly if he is keeping his changeup in the low to mid 80′s. If everything goes according to plan, Frieri could find himself back to being one of the better closers in the American League this year.
Perhaps Frieri put it best when asked about his hopes for his changeup heading into Spring Training.
“This spring, I’m going to work on it a lot to see what the reaction from hitters is. If it’s good, get ready for the season — changeups for everybody.”