NEW YORK — The alarming rate with which he was giving up home runs was not a huge concern for Angels closer Ernesto Frieri earlier this week.
“It’s going to sound stupid, but if I save 60 games, and every time, I give up a run, I’d take it, because we’d still be winning,” Frieri said. “I’ve learned to play for the team, not just me.”
Manager Mike Scioscia must also play for the team, which is why Frieri probably won’t be his closer when the Angels play the New York Yankees on Friday night.
Frieri made that comment on Tuesday. Wednesday, he failed to hold a three-run, ninth-inning lead, giving up his fifth homer of the season, and four runs in a 5-4 walk-off loss to Washington.
Ten appearances into 2014, Frieri is 0-2 with a 9.35 earned-run average and two blown saves. Though he had a 90% success rate in 2012 and 2013, converting 60 of 67 save opportunities, he has allowed 25 homers since the start of 2012, more than any other reliever with at least 40 saves in that span.
Scioscia demoted Frieri from the closer role last season, when Frieri gave up 12 runs in 4 2/3 innings from July 23-Aug. 6. Frieri. He pitched in lower-stress situations, posted a 1.66 ERA in his final 15 games and earned his ninth-inning job back.
Asked Wednesday night if he was looking to make a change at closer, Scioscia said, “No.” But managers rarely make such decisions in the heat of the moment, and Scioscia left himself some wiggle room, adding that “if we need to take some pressure off [Frieri], you always consider a move.”
If Scioscia moves setup man Joe Smith into the closing role, Frieri will understand.
“I can’t control the manager’s decision,” Frieri said. “I’m struggling right now. It’s not just about the closer’s role. It’s about doing my job, competing and helping the team win games. I’m going to keep working, keep getting better. I won’t quit.”
Just tap it in
Defensive shifts are the rage this season, with many teams placing three infielders on the right side and one at shortstop against left-handed power hitters.
One way to beat — or deter opponents from applying — the shift is to bunt toward third for a single, something Angels designated hitter Raul Ibanez has tried twice this season, without success.
“I worked on that in spring training, and I will continue to,” said Ibanez, who hasn’t had a bunt single since 2003. “It goes against everything you learned about bunting, because you have to bunt it hard. I’ve got the right angle, but I keep catching it off the end of the bat, like you were taught in the minor leagues.”
Scioscia said Ibanez looked good bunting in spring training but has put “a little too much touch” on his bunts this month. The key is tapping the ball hard enough toward the line so the pitcher can’t field it.
“If you’re a golfer and you hit it 400 yards, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice a sand wedge,” Scioscia said. “If we need a baserunner in the eighth inning and he can just put a bunt down and walk to first base, that’s a very high percentage play to get on base.”
Raising the bar
The day after he hit his 500th career homer, Albert Pujols winced when he was asked if he could hit 700 homers.
“C’mon, what kind of question is that?” the Angels slugger said. “Right now it’s one day at a time. You can’t read the future. Before you get to 700, you need to get to 501 and 600. I don’t play for numbers. I play to try to win championships.”