Willie Fraser, newest member of the Angel bullpen, didn’t need to read Doug Rader’s lips to figure out his days as a starting pitcher were numbered.
“I kind of had a feeling coming in,” Fraser said. “You figure they pick up a Bert Blyleven during the off-season--he’s got 18 years in the big leagues and he’s a right-hander. Everybody else (in the rotation) has more time in than I do, except Chuck Finley, and Chuck’s a left-hander. You’ve got to have a left-hander in the rotation.
“It was process of elimination. You just had to look at the numbers.”
Beginning his third major league season, Fraser, 24, is looking at the No. 2 spot in the Angel bullpen as his latest assignment. A manager does not live by Bryan Harvey alone, and Rader, in one of the first decisions of his first Angel camp, nominated his extra starting pitcher, Fraser, for a supporting role behind Harvey.
“I place an awful lot of value in the bullpen,” Rader said. “If you look at our depth, in terms of a closing-type pitcher, Harv is it. That’s why I want Willie to be our No. 2 guy.”
There’s another reason, too: Fraser’s lack of an effective curveball.
Relying on a limited repertoire of hard stuff--fastball, forkball, occasional slider--Fraser became easy prey for American League power-hitters. He surrendered 26 home runs as a rookie and a club-high 33 in 1988.
In Rader’s view, it is easier for a pitcher to get by on fastballs for an inning or two as a reliever than to try to fool them for five or six innings as a starter.
“Therein lies his value in the bullpen,” Rader said. “Without (a curveball), you’ll get hurt in the rotation, but not so much in the bullpen.”
Fraser admits he’d rather stay in the starting rotation.
“I’m not going to bitch and moan about playing up here,” he said. “I’ve had some experience in the pen and I’ve had some success there. If I couldn’t do that, if I couldn’t pitch in the pen, maybe I’d be in triple-A this year.
“If I can come in and save some games and pick us up from time to time, that’d be fine.”
Fraser doesn’t expect to make a career out of short relief--"I’ll eventually be back in the rotation, if not this year, then next year,” he said--but acknowledges the need to first refine his curveball.
“It’s a pitch I’ve never thrown well,” he said. “It’s a pitch I want to have, but it’s taken some time for me. I’ve been working on it for two months now and I’m still having problems with it.”
Still, Fraser pointed to his 22-23 two-year record with the Angels and said: “I’ve won 22 games with three pitches. That’s nothing to shake a stick at.”
No, but it can become a problem when a hitter shakes a stick at one too many fastballs. Last year, Fraser’s earned-run average of 5.41 was among the highest in the major leagues for regular starting pitchers. His overall record was 12-13, but in those 13 losses, Fraser’s ERA was a colossal 7.00.
“I didn’t think I had a terrible year. I thought I had a decent year--but I could’ve been a lot better. I was really struggling for two or three months.
“But I stuck it out and wound up winning 12 games. That showed me that dedication and hard work do pay off. It gave me a confidence boost.”
And, now, Rader is asking Fraser to give the Angels a bullpen boost. Maybe it’s not the bright lights of starter status but, what the heck, it’s a living.
Mark McLemore returned from his one-day leave and was back in camp for workouts Saturday afternoon. Joining him was rookie pitcher Vinicio Cedeno, who finally cleared customs in his native Dominican Republic. That leaves only rookie catcher Edwin Marquez still missing. Marquez, who resides in La Cruz, Venezuela, remains stalled because of visa problems.