Angels might have a true committee of closers
SEATTLE -- The term “closer by committee” is usually a misnomer, a phrase managers use when their struggling ninth-inning specialist is demoted and there is no other reliever in the bullpen dominant enough to fill the role.
But when Manager Mike Scioscia uses the term these days, it might actually be true, which is stunning considering the state of his bullpen in April, when the Angels blew six of their first seven save opportunities and had only one reliable reliever, veteran left-hander Scott Downs.
The arrival of Ernesto Frieri, who was acquired from San Diego for two minor leaguers on May 3, and a return to form by Jordan Walden, who lost his closing job to Downs on April 27, has changed everything.
Frieri has been a revelatory find, a hard-throwing right-hander who pitched in middle relief for the Padres but has opened his Angels career with 11 no-hit innings, 23 strikeouts and two saves in 11 games, including a scoreless eighth inning in Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Mariners.
According to STATS LLC, Frieri is the first pitcher since 1921 who has struck out at least 20 without giving up an earned run in his first 10 innings with a new club.
Since his demotion a month ago, the even harder-throwing Walden, who saved 32 games as a rookie last season, has performed like a closer, giving up no runs in 91/3 innings of nine games until a walk and a pair of wild pitches led to a run in the seventh inning Sunday. Walden has limited opponents to a .091 average (three for 33) in his last 10 games.
And Downs has been his usual consistent self, going 16 innings into this season without giving up a run and converting his first five save opportunities, including a scoreless ninth inning Sunday.
With three attractive late-inning options, Scioscia has employed Downs as a “wild card,” his use based on matchups. Saturday, for instance, Downs faced five batters — four lefties and a switch-hitter — in the seventh and eighth innings of a 5-3 win. Sunday, Downs pitched the ninth.
Frieri has pitched in both the eighth and ninth innings. Walden has pitched in the seventh and eighth innings, but Scioscia hasn’t ruled out the possibility of his closing again.
This may be the first time in Scioscia’s 13 years with the Angels that he hasn’t had a clear-cut closer — Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez manned the position for many of those years — but he’s not about to mess with a successful formula.
“I think it can absolutely work for a team,” Scioscia said of the closer-by-committee approach. “I think the optimum is to get roles, but if you force roles and have a less effective bullpen, it doesn’t make any sense. … Right now, we’re going to just slot them in when they have a chance to get outs.”
Hunter set to return
Torii Hunter, on baseball’s restricted list since May 14, worked out in Angel Stadium on Sunday, and there is a good chance the right fielder will be activated for Monday night’s home game against the New York Yankees.
Hunter has been in Texas for two weeks dealing with the arrest of his 17-year-old son, Darius McClinton-Hunter, on a sexual assault charge.
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