Ernesto Frieri isn’t quite ready to regain the closing role he relinquished to Joe Smith in late April, not after the Angels right-hander gave up a two-out, ninth-inning home run to No. 9 batter Brian Roberts that lifted the New York Yankees to a 4-3 victory in Angel Stadium on Tuesday night.
Frieri had pitched well enough in his previous five games, giving up no hits and striking out four in 4 2/3 innings, for Manager Mike Scioscia to turn the last two innings into a time-share between Frieri and Smith, using matchups to determine who pitched the eighth and ninth.
But Smith, who converted his first three save opportunities, felt tightness in his lower right side while warming up on Monday, and he was not available Tuesday night, leaving Scioscia no choice but to go with Frieri in the ninth inning of a 3-3 game.
Frieri, who was demoted after posting a 9.35 earned run average and giving up five home runs in his first 10 games, got Yangervis Solarte to fly to left to open the ninth, and he struck out Brett Gardner with a 94-mph fastball.
But Roberts, who entered the game with a .239 average, no home runs and four runs batted in, drove a knee-high, first-pitch fastball over the right-field wall to spoil the night for Frieri and the Angels.
“I feel good, man; my fastball was coming out good today, and I just made one mistake,” Frieri said. “Everyone knew I was throwing a fastball. He was cheating on me, he put a good swing on it and hit it out. It’s crazy.”
Frieri has been gaining confidence in his slider and changeup, so much so that he said after a crisp inning against the Texas Rangers over the weekend that he thought he could throw either pitch in any count.
“That’s what I needed to fix — I needed to show the hitters that I can use my other stuff so they don’t get comfortable and look for this pitch coming,” Frieri said. “Now, they have to think a little more. That’s the way it has to be. Make them guess what’s coming and make your pitches.” But Roberts was clearly sitting fastball Tuesday night.
“I can read a scoreboard, and he was throwing a 95-mph fastball,” the Yankees second baseman said of Frieri, “so I figured I probably better get my bat ready.” Frieri didn’t second-guess his pitch selection because his best stuff Tuesday night was his fastball.
“My fastball was pretty good to the first two batters,” Frieri said. “When you get two quick outs, you don’t want to mess around with that third guy, especially when the better hitters are coming up. I just wanted to attack and get ahead with a strike. The pitch was down, but it was over the middle.”
Asked if he thought the loss might affect Frieri’s recent surge in confidence, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said, “I sure hope not. He’s been throwing the ball so well. He just made one mistake tonight. He yanked one pitch to Roberts, but give Roberts credit. He was ready for it.” Frieri has been resilient, regaining his closing role after brief demotions in 2012 and 2013 and bouncing back from his rough start this season, and he was already looking ahead after Tuesday night’s setback.
“I’m good, I’m not going to get crazy,” Frieri said. “I don’t want to get used to this, because I know I’m way better than what I’ve done lately. I have to learn from the mistakes and get better.”
Smith, who has a 2.77 ERA in 14 games, might not be available until Friday in Toronto. He got sick while warming up Monday, saying a protein bar he ate “didn’t sit well with me.” He induced vomiting and felt fine, but when he resumed throwing, his side tightened.
“It’s just sore — I’m not worried about it,” Smith said. “I didn’t feel anything pop or tear. It feels a lot better today. I’m not expecting this to be more than a couple of days.”