Friday, June 1, 2012
Are two closers better than one?
By Mark Saxon
On Friday it was Ernesto Frieri's turn to be the Angels' closer, but the role is not his alone.
ANAHEIM -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia is getting a bit tired of talking about this bullpen-by-committee thing, which is actually more of a partnership than a committee.
It's the law firm of Frieri and Downs, as in Ernesto Frieri, the right-hander, and Scott Downs, the lefty. The last five Angels saves have gone like this: Frieri, Downs, Frieri, Downs, Frieri. Am I the only one detecting a pattern here?
And, for some inexplicable reason, Scioscia would like to see it change over time.
"It's much preferable if guys get into roles and you can find that guy who's going to pitch in the ninth inning and you have that eighth-inning guy," Scioscia said. "Hopefully, our 'pen will evolve to that."
Why be in such a hurry to change? The Angels' bullpen was a mess before Frieri arrived, with Downs the only reliable late-inning pitcher, but it has been an uncrossable barrier lately. The next run either Frieri or Downs gives up will be the first.
Frieri has had silly results -- 27 strikeouts and no hits in 13 innings -- and Downs has only been great: batters hitting .172 off him in 20 games going into Friday. So, if two guys are pitching this well, why not do what you do with hitters -- platoon them. It's effectively what Scioscia has been doing, so why not commit to it long term?
The Rangers had a couple of dangerous right-handed hitters, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, coming up in the ninth Friday, so this time it was Frieri's turn. Fifteen pitches later, it was over with two more hitters going down on strikes.
Before coming to the Angels from the San Diego last month, Frieri had never earned a major-league save. Now, he has three in less than a month.You also have to love his humility. After Friday's game, he admitted, "I'm surprised it's going like that, but hopefully it continues."
He has been as close to perfect as a reliever can be and, still, he has no idea when he'll be pitching Saturday if the Angels can build a small lead. The ninth? Eighth? Maybe the seventh if things get dicey and a big righty is coming up?
"They haven't told me anything yet, but I'm just ready," Frieri said. "I'm going to be ready to come in the first inning through the ninth inning."
If you leave egos and dollars aside, it seems to me that two dominant arms are better than one, especially when they're perfect complements to one another.