Los Angeles Angels skipper Mike Scioscia has been known to give his players second chances, but his short memory might be his biggest flaw, especially when it comes to closer Ernesto Frieri.
On April 23, Frieri gave up four runs on three hits to the Washington Nationals in just one-third of an inning. He was charged with a blown save and a loss, forcing Scioscia to rethink the management of his bullpen. Sidewinder Joe Smith took over the closer role temporarily and managed to effectively shut down batters. Despite this, Frieri regained his ninth inning duties on May 5. He recorded a save against the New York Yankees, his third of the season. The next day, he gave up a home run in the top of the ninth that gave the Yankees a 4-3 victory.
The season has continued in the same fashion for Frieri, yet Scioscia still refers to him as the team’s closer. His inability to shut the door on the opposing team became particularly apparent on Saturday when the Angels’ 5-1 lead against the Atlanta Braves vanished with Frieri on the mound. The Halo pitcher forfeited four runs on five hits in the bottom of the ninth inning without recording a single out. Fortunately for his team, the Angels were able to secure a victory in the thirteenth inning. It was, perhaps, this extra-inning win that prevented greater introspection.
As the season quickly approaches the All-Star Break, self-examination is exactly what the Angels need. How far can they make it with a closer who cannot close? Frieri’s 5.46 ERA is nearly double that of Sean Doolittle, closer for the Oakland Athletics. The Angels’ last opponent, the Atlanta Braves, have found a remarkable closer in Craig Kimbrel, whose 1.98 ERA, twenty saves and fifty strikeouts rank among the best in baseball. Frieri’s eleven saves and thirty-six strikeouts pale in comparison.
After facing Kimbrel on Sunday night, Scioscia must accept the fact that Frieri is not their guy. He has shown that he cannot be trusted in high-pressure situations. He could serve as a middle reliever, but if the Angels are interested in using him as an effective closer in the future, it might be better to send him down to Triple-A, where he can regain confidence late in games. In the meantime, the search for a closer must begin. The inconvenient truth is the Angels might need to look somewhere other than their roster.
It’s no secret that the Angels’ bullpen is their biggest weakness. To make matters worse, their farm system has consistently been one of the worst in the league, and their most promising pitching prospect is out with an injury. Smith’s 3.18 ERA is far from terrible, but the Angels should consider a mid-season trade to secure a true closer. The Angels could part ways with the dynamic Grant Green if necessary.
In short, the Angels have options, but they must acknowledge that a closer is the missing piece. With a reliable arm in the ninth inning, they could be a major postseason contender.