TEMPE, Ariz. -- As a reliever who grew up idolizing Mariano Rivera, Ernesto Frieri always wanted to throw a cutter. But he couldn't figure it out, essentially because he didn't work hard enough on it.
This offseason, after plenty of exposure as a big league closer with the Angels, he did. Frieri spoke to a couple of former pitchers in his native Colombia, learned how to throw it correctly and is coming into camp with a project: Master the cutter and eventually use it to offset an awfully-effective-but-heavily-used two-seam fastball.
It's the same grip, it just involves different pressure points with his fingers. It's the same velocity, but it darts away from right-handed hitters rather than in.
And he believes it can make a world of difference.
"I work one inning at a time, but I have to be able to attack both sides [of the plate]," Frieri said in Spanish. "If you can move the ball one way, then show them you can move it the other way, things get more difficult. I think that's going to help me out a lot. And I feel comfortable with the pitch because I can throw it like my fastball."
Frieri went through his second full season in the Majors in 2012, but it was unlikely any other. After being acquired from the Padres in early May, he stormed through his first couple months with the Angels, settled in as the closer and almost made the All-Star team.
It was in many ways a successful season for the 27-year-old right-hander, who finished with a 2.32 ERA and 23 saves in 26 chances in 66 innings. But he navigated through it with an ineffective slider as a secondary pitch, and there were instances -- like Aug. 1 in Texas, Sept. 15 in Kansas City and Sept. 20 against the Rangers -- when that hurt him.
"I'm not Mariano Rivera," Frieri will often say. "I can't go up there throwing the same stuff all the time."
Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher saw Frieri's new pitch in the bullpen earlier this week and told him: "I like the cutter -- but don't lose your fastball."
Necessary as he may feel it is to command a secondary pitch, Frieri knows where his greatest strengths lie -- in a mid-90s two-seamer with late life and uncommon inward movement. He'll see how hitters react to his cutter, but he vows to not lose his fastball.
"Never, never, never," Frieri said. "The cutter hasn't shown me it can get people out in the big leagues; the fastball has. I'm going to keep throwing what has helped me get here and stay here. I haven't lost sight of that."