WASHINGTON — The Angels were three outs away from their first series sweep in the nation’s capital since 1962, their first winning record in 386 days and a highly anticipated Amtrak train ride to New York City when closer Ernesto Frieri drove them off the rails Wednesday night.
Frieri, whose hold on his ninth-inning job was tenuous, failed to protect a three-run lead in a stunning 5-4 walk-off loss to the Washington Nationals, leaving Manager Mike Scioscia little choice but to replace Frieri as closer with setup man Joe Smith.
Asked point-blank if he was looking to make a change at closer, Scioscia said, “No.” But that doesn’t mean he won’t look to make a change before Friday’s game against the New York Yankees.
Frieri is 0-2 with a 9.35 earned-run average and two blown saves in 10 games this season, and he’s given up five home runs in 82/3 innings, a pace even Joe Blanton couldn’t keep up with.
Scioscia demoted Frieri from the closer role after a rough patch last summer, and Frieri responded well, working his way back to the ninth inning by season’s end.
Asked if that made him less hesitant to make a similar move, Scioscia said, “If that’s what’s needed, you’re obviously going to consider it. … If we need to take some pressure off [Frieri], you always consider moves you have to make. We need somebody to get those last six or seven outs.”
While Scioscia addressed the media, most of the Angels were in the clubhouse dining area. Frieri was practically alone in the locker room, staring into his corner cubicle for several minutes, shaking his head and pulling his jersey over his eyes.
Seeing the desolate state his closer was in, Scioscia walked over, offered some words of encouragement and a pat on the back. Frieri was practically inconsolable.
“It stinks, man, because we’re playing really good baseball,” Frieri said. “Jered Weaver pitched a really good game and deserved to win. I’m mad at myself because I keep missing pitches and getting hurt. I’m fighting, I’m trying to get better, but if I don’t make my pitch, I’m going to get hurt.”
Frieri’s first mistake was an 0-and-2 pitch that Jose Lobaton yanked over the right-field wall to cut the Angels’ lead to 4-2. Frieri struck out Zach Walters, but Denard Span singled on a 1-2 pitch, Anthony Rendon walked, and Jayson Werth ripped a 3-0 fastball to left for a two-run double and a 4-4 tie.
Scioscia pulled Frieri in favor of Fernando Salas, whose first pitch was smacked to left-center by Adam LaRoche for a game-winning single.
“I’m missing with everything — my fastball, my changeup, my slider,” Frieri said. “My arm feels good. My fastball is coming out good too. I’m just missing. … Even when I’m ahead in the count, man. I can’t be leaving balls down the middle, because I’m going to get hurt.”
Confidence doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue for Frieri as execution.
“The bottom line is making pitches,” Scioscia said. “The inability to do that can come from a lot of causes — confidence, mechanics, stuff, losing a release point. I think Ernie is confident; he’s always turning the ball loose. But right now, he has to get that fastball in better zones and put guys away. It’s in him. We just need to get him a little more consistent.”