SEATTLE -- The Angels' bullpen is "still evolving," in the words of manager Mike Scioscia. But it appears to be rounding into form after a woeful start to the season.
Sean Burnett has returned after a long rehabilitation from August left elbow surgery, Ernesto Frieri has regained his command and confidence, and the bullpen is starting to represent the deep and effective group that was expected at the start of the season -- the group that showed glimpses of greatness in Spring Training before ranking 25th in the Majors in ERA after the first six weeks of the season.
Since May 14, Angels relievers rank sixth in the Majors in ERA (2.03), fourth in the Majors in WHIP (1.01) and, perhaps most important with this group, sixth in the Majors in fewest walks per nine innings (2.36).
"We still need Dane [De La Rosa]; we know he can help us a lot," Frieri, speaking in Spanish, said in reference to the 31-year-old reliever who's on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Salt Lake. "But with the group we have now, we're doing the things we need to. We're attacking the strike zone, we're pitching ahead of the count. We're not starting with balls, we're not giving away free bases. That's what you have to do. And what we didn't do last year is, we're keeping games manageable."
Burnett faced Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer on Friday and Saturday, getting an inning-ending groundout and giving up a leadoff single as he gets back into a rhythm. Joe Smith has a 2.25 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP on the year. Fernando Salas has allowed just three runs in his last 17 appearances, striking out 16 and walking five. And Kevin Jepsen has retired 16 of his last 19 batters.
But the key is Frieri, who has a 0.71 ERA with 15 strikeouts and one walk since temporarily losing his job as closer on April 23.
"The confidence [is key], and getting back to the Ernesto Frieri who first showed up here with the Angels and was just enjoying this game and enjoying wearing this uniform," Frieri said. "To be pitching, and at the same time feel like I'm dreaming, like I can't believe I'm pitching for the Angels, I can't believe I'm playing for Albert Pujols. That helps me. To humble me, and know that it's a blessing, a privilege, to be where I am right now."
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.