The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen is undergoing major changes, and almost every role is up for grabs in the 2016 season.
All during the off-season here at TBOH, our David Mosemann profiled some of the holdover candidates who are battling to return to the big league bullpen this year. Now I’m be picking the series up during spring training, looking at some of the new arms entering the competition.
Veteran righty Ernesto Frieri is one of those candidates. Frieri believes that he has found a mechanical adjustment that will fix the negative issues he has experienced over the last couple of seasons.
I may be getting ahead of myself here. Let me start at the beginning.
For much of his career, Frieri has been flying under the radar as a solid late-inning reliever. At the start of his career, as a 23-year old with the San Diego Padres, he was extremely effective. Through the first three seasons of his career, Frieri’s K/9 was an absolutely at an obscene 13.4 mark.
When Frieri was dealt to the Anaheim Angels at the beginning of May 2012, he immediately made an impact with his new club. In his first 13 appearances with the Angels, Frieri allowed no runs or hits. Not even three weeks after his arrival, he was made the Halos’ closer, and would go on to notch 23 saves in 2012.
He was given that role full-time in 2013, but would experience a roller coaster-worth of ups and downs across the next two seasons. Eventually, he ended up splitting the closer role with Joe Smith before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of 2014.
Frieri’s entire brief stop in the Steel City and a subsequent stint with the Tampa Bay Rays can only be summed up in one word: inconsistent. His strikeout numbers were way down while his control, to be kind, was erratic.
Enter Matt Klentak and the Philadelphia Phillies. Frieri became the second right-handed veteran whom the Phillies new general manager brought in on a minor league deal for 2016 spring training.
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It really should not surprise anyone that the Phillies, a rebuilding team with self-created holes at the back of their pen, are taking looks at former closers. Frieri has had success in that role during his career, and is looking for one more opportunity to prove that he can still retire big league hitters.
The key to Frieri’s early career success was velocity. He was able to blow his fastball by batters on a consistently basis, which explains his high strikeout rates. However, he has lost a few ticks off that fastball, while his control has become more inconsistent. Major league hitters will feast on that type of pitcher.
In order for Frieri to land a job with the Phillies in their crowded and competitive bullpen situation, he must show that he can throw strikes with consistency. His first opportunity this spring came against Houston. In that appearance, Frieri allowed one run on two hits, one of which was a home run, while recording one strikeout in what can certainly be categorized as an inconsistent outing.
In his second look, Frieri was brought into a bases loaded, one out jam on Sunday against the New York Yankees. He was able to get a strikeout followed by a weak pop-up to first base to end the inning.
However, in a second inning of work, Frieri ran into trouble when heralded prospect J.P. Crawford committed consecutive sloppy plays. Frieri then allowed a two-run double in that frame, the only blip on his Sunday radar.
In my opinion, he looked very strong in that second outing. He was in the zone against the Yanks, but missing bats. His fastball velocity was consistently in the 92-94mph range. He did hang a few breaking balls, but that is not surprising so early in the spring. He will need to ensure that does not continue, otherwise Frieri may not find himself on a plane to Philadelphia International Airport at the end of March.
Frieri is another Klentak low-risk, high-reward special. If he fails to make the team or does make the team and struggles, it does not cost the Phillies anymore than the Major League minimum salary. If he succeeds and finds a role in their bullpen, the Phillies may be able to find a taker for him at the end of July on the trade market.