If it was Mike Scioscia’s intent to move the Raul Ibanez vs. C.J. Cron debate to the back burner, the Angels manager did a fabulous job of it Thursday.
Otherwise, it was a disastrous afternoon for Scioscia, whose head-scratching bullpen moves in the 10th inning all backfired, culminating in a Nick Swisher walk-off grand slam that gave the Cleveland Indians a stunning 5-3 victory over the Angels in Progressive Field.
Swisher, hitless with three strikeouts in four previous at-bats, lined a 1-and-2 Ernesto Frieri fastball through a biting wind that had knocked down every hard-hit fly ball, his drive sailing just out of the reach of the leaping Kole Calhoun in right field.
“I’m fighting, man, I’m working, watching video, asking questions, but it seems like nothing is going my way,” said Frieri, who is 0-3 with a 5.83 earned-run average and three blown saves in 32 games. “I miss one pitch in every outing, I get hurt. It’s crazy. It’s frustrating.”
But it was unfair to pin this loss on the much-maligned, now-he’s-the-closer, now-he’s-not Frieri, who didn’t enter the game until the Indians loaded the bases with one out in the 10th off rookie right-hander Cam Bedrosian, who two months ago was pitching at Class-A Inland Empire.
Albert Pujols had given the Angels a 3-1 lead in the top of the 10th with a clutch two-out, two-run, ground-ball single through a second-base hole vacated by Cleveland’s infield shift.
Kevin Jepsen (eighth) and Joe Smith (ninth) threw scoreless innings in a tie game, so Scioscia’s 10th-inning options were either Bedrosian, who was warming to enter a tie game in the 11th, Mike Morin or Frieri.
Bedrosian, 22, has superb stuff, a 96-mph fastball and biting slider, but he has looked shaky in three of five big-league games, giving up six earned runs, six hits and five walks in 21/3 innings.
Morin, 22, has combined a 91-mph fastball with an outstanding changeup to compile a 1.21 earned-run average in 21 games, and he showed tremendous poise bailing the Angels out of a runner-on-second, no-outs jam in the ninth inning Saturday night in Atlanta.
Frieri was demoted from the closer job in late April, gained it back with a strong May but lost his grip on it again with a four-run, ninth-inning meltdown against the Braves on Saturday. He has given up eight home runs this year.
Scioscia chose Bedrosian, who adopted the nickname “Bedrock” from his father, former big league closer Steve Bedrosian, but is still more Kid Rock than Bedrock.
“Ernie has been struggling a bit, and we wanted to give them a fresh look,” Scioscia said. “They haven’t seen Bedrock yet. We had confidence he was going to get it done, and if we needed Ernie to bail him out, he was there.”
Scioscia said he chose Bedrosian over Morin because “Mike’s been throwing a lot,” but Morin had not pitched since Monday and said he felt fine. The manager also didn’t think he was asking too much of a kid with only five major league appearances to close out the top of the Indians order.
“He’s in the big leagues, he’s ready, his makeup is fine,” Scioscia said of Bedrosian. “He didn’t look rattled. We felt very confident Cam would make his pitches. A couple just got away.”
Bedrosian walked Michael Bourn to open the 10th and struck out Asdrubal Cabrera with a 95-mph fastball. Jason Kipnis doubled to left-center and Carlos Santana walked to load the bases.
“I got the adrenaline pumping, the nerves, but I’m not going to blame it on that,” Bedrosian said. “Plain and simple, I’ve got to get the job done. You can’t keep messing around with this. These guys don’t have to pay for it every day.”
Was Frieri, who did not begin warming until Bourn walked in the 10th, surprised Bedrosian started the inning?
“Next question,” Frieri said. “I don’t want to say anything.”
Frieri got David Murphy to fly to left, the runners holding, but Swisher came through with his first walk-off slam, touching off a wild celebration as the Angels slunk off the field.
“I’ve pitched in that situation before — last year, I came in in the eighth inning with the bases loaded a couple of times and did my job,” Frieri said. “Today, I missed with one pitch, and it cost us the win.”