Frieri, Downs guide Angels' resurgent bullpen

Frieri, Downs guide Angels' resurgent bullpen

ANAHEIM -- With the starters remaining consistent throughout the Angels' slow start and subsequent turnaround, it'd be easy to point to the offense as the catalyst that changed things.

While the offense upped its batting average from .245 to .261 since the team's 6-14 start, it's the bullpen that has had the biggest turnaround.

Through the first 32 games, the bullpen was a combined 1-6 with five saves and a 4.70 ERA.

But in 41 games since, the relievers are 7-2 with 12 saves and a 1.86 ERA.

Though the acquisition of late-innings reliever Ernesto Frieri has coincided with much of the bullpen's success (he has 22 consecutive scoreless innings since he came over from the Padres), he hasn't been the only factor.

Frieri and Scott Downs have the best combined ERA of any pair of relievers in the Major Leagues with a minimum of 20 innings pitched per player at 0.19. They have given up just one earned run in 47 1/3 innings.

They combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings in Sunday's 5-3 win over the Dodgers, with Downs picking up his first win of the season and Frieri earning his ninth save.

And with the success both have had, manager Mike Scioscia doesn't feel the need to commit to one as the sole closer. Though Downs has pitched in the ninth inning just three times in his last 12 appearances, Scioscia said it's still a matchup game with Downs and Frieri late in the game.

"I think that we're going to continue to match up until we get some roles that are definitely concrete," Scioscia said. "The ability to be flexible makes your bullpen better. And if you can match up with Scott or you can match up with Ernie, we can use that to help us."

And it's the consistency of the other relievers that has allowed Scioscia to use Downs and Frieri any way he likes late in the game.

There was a chance that if Jason Isringhausen didn't make the club out of Spring Training, he would have retired, and after pitching well enough to make the team, the righty has been one of the Angels' most consistent men out of the bullpen. He's second on the team in appearances with 27 and has allowed just five earned runs in 26 innings (1.73 ERA).

Combine that with LaTroy Hawkins' 0.66 ERA in 16 appearances, Hisanori Takahashi's ability to get left-handers out and the fact that last year's closer, Jordan Walden, has needed to pitch in a one-run game just twice in the last month, and Scioscia has plenty of options to call upon.

"I think right now we're much more defined than we were to begin the season," Scioscia said. "We have much more depth and I think that depth is letting us move Scott Downs around a little bit, which has helped."