NEW YORK — The Angels did not require the services of a closer Friday night.
An offense that administered a rare beatdown of starter Hiroki Kuroda and pounded reliever Bruce Billings into submission in a 13-1 shellacking of the New York Yankees — the largest-ever margin of victory for the Angels in Yankee Stadium — made sure of that.
The Angels crushed four home runs — a two-run shot to center field by Ian Stewart, a solo shot to left by Albert Pujols, a three-run shot to right-center by Erick Aybar and a solo shot to left by Collin Cowgill — to increase their major league-leading total to 35.
With five more games this month, the Angels have broken the franchise record of 34 homers in April, set in 2000. The major league-leading ninth homer by Pujols, who has 20 runs batted in over his last 15 games, tied Brian Downing’s club record for homers in April, set in 1986.
“We’ve been driving the ball — it’s the one thing we’ve done pretty consistently all year,” said Manager Mike Scioscia. “The offense is doing what we need it to do. Hopefully, we’ll start to match it with what we do on the mound and, particularly, in the bullpen.”
The Angels entered Friday with a 5.06 bullpen earned-run average and 11 homers given up, second-most in the American League. The most glaring problem has been the supposed anchor of the group, Ernesto Frieri, who was 0-2 with a 9.35 ERA, five homers given up and two blown saves.
So it was no surprise before the game when Scioscia said setup man Joe Smith would replace Frieri as closer, a move that was expected after Frieri’s latest meltdown, when he was torched for four ninth-inning runs in a 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night.
Frieri will pitch in lower-leverage situations until he shows he’s capable of handling the ninth — he entered Friday’s game with a 12-1 lead and threw a one-two-three eighth inning.
“We want to get Ernie off of that treadmill and let him get an inning or two where he can try to make some adjustments,” Scioscia said. “Historically, Ernie has responded well to this. We need him, and I think this is the best route to take to get to the final solution we want.”
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, pitching in lower-stress situations, posted a 1.66 ERA in his final 15 games and earned his ninth-inning job back by the end of August.
“I want to be able to help the team, and right now, with the way that I’m pitching, I’m not helping them,” Frieri said. “They say they want to give me some time off to find myself, to find my confidence. … My best stuff is my fastball, and it’s not working as well as it did a couple of years ago.”
Frieri’s velocity is good, but his normally lively 95-mph fastball has flattened out a bit, perhaps from overthrowing it. He is failing to put hitters away when ahead in counts, and he’s making far too many mistake pitches. The refinement of his slider and changeup is an ongoing project.
“My biggest mistake was falling too in love with my fastball and not spending enough time on my breaking ball and changeup,” Frieri said. “I did too much with one pitch for my whole career. I need to make adjustments.”
Scioscia said he will “mix and match” in the eighth inning, with Michael Kohn, Fernando Salas, Kevin Jepsen and left-hander Nick Maronde his primary options.
Smith, the former Cleveland setup man who signed a three-year, $15.75-million deal last winter, has never been a closer, but he does have three saves in his seven-year career.
“If you’re pitching the eighth inning, there are times when you’re going to be called on to get the save,” Scioscia said. “So we have no reservations about that.”