CHICAGO -- When the Angels acquired a little-known reliever named Ernesto Frieri from the Padres on May 3, 2012, they were desperate -- looking for an additional weapon for a beleaguered bullpen and hopeful that Frieri, mainly a long reliever in San Diego, could become a suitable option in the back end.
What they got, it turns out, is arguably one of baseball's best closers.
From May 23, 2012 -- the day the 27-year-old right-hander recorded his first career save -- to Wednesday's series finale at Wrigley Field, Frieri is tied for ninth in the Majors in saves (45) and tied for eighth in save percentage (90.0). In that span, he's held batters to a .579 OPS -- the league average is .708 -- while posting a 2.81 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.
This offseason, Frieri is arbitration-eligible for the first time, and he can expect a big bump from his 2013 salary of $530,000.
"I still think I have a lot to learn in this role," Frieri said. "This is a role that comes with a lot of responsibility. It's a role where you have to control your adrenaline a lot, and every day you pitch, every day you're in a game, you learn something new. You just have to try to take advantage of that, to use that in the game and to keep developing, learning from your mistakes.
"I feel very satisfied personally with what I've been able to do and with the confidence they're giving me. I just have to keep working."
Unlike last year, Frieri has had his struggles in the first half -- particularly from May 18-29, when he gave up six runs in five appearances -- but he's been able to overcome the blown saves and the long stretches without an appearance. In 39 2/3 innings, Frieri has posted a 2.95 ERA with 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.16 WHIP.
As for the cutter and changeup Frieri was working on in Spring Training? Forget that. Frieri has thrown 89.3 percent fastballs this season, per pitchF/X, up from last year's 86.2 percent.
"There are two differences in my fastball -- there's the fastball that only travels with the speed of my arm, and then there's the one that travels with the rotation of the ball and moves a lot," said Frieri, who compiled eight strikeouts in three scoreless innings on Saturday and Sunday. "I think that's what's happened these last few days. I've refined my mechanics a bit, and I'm letting go of the ball at the ideal point. I think that's why my ball has had more life."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.