Ernesto Frieri feels like he’s starting over, but in a good way. The right-hander who turns 32 next month recorded 37 saves for the Angels in 2013 but hadn’t pitched in the majors in two years before making his first appearance for the Rangers on Sunday.
“I feel like when I made my debut. Honestly, I always wanted to play for this team,” said Frieri, who knew Rangers manager Jeff Banister when they were both with the Pirates in 2014. “I always enjoyed watching them having fun. It made me like, ‘Man, I want to play for those guys one time, I want to play with these guys.’ And I’m finally here, so I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Frieri bounced around in the minor leagues for the Rays, Phillies and finally the Yankees this spring before electing to take his opt-out June 4. The Rangers signed him two days later.
“I’m healthy now. I feel really good, [and I’m] looking to take advantage of this great opportunity that I’m getting now,” he said. Frieri had 26 strikeouts with a 2.86 ERA in 22 innings in Triple A for the Yankees and Round Rock.
“I feel that I’m a pitcher now. Three years ago when I was pitching at the big-league level, I was more like a thrower. I only threw fastballs to everybody, and I was getting away with it. I was getting lucky, but I’m honest to myself.”
He lost some velocity so he’s had to rely more on his secondary pitches, including his changeup and slider. He took most of 2016 off to get back to basics, going home to Colombia and working with the coach who first taught him the game.
“I started from zero ... so I became natural again. Finally I’m getting close to my old delivery with my deception,” he said. “That helped me out by getting confidence in those pitches. Now I’ve seen that I can throw a changeup in any count to any righty or lefty. I can throw my slider too, and I think that makes me a better pitcher.”
His velocity has returned, too, up from 90 to 92 mph to 94-97 mph, he said.
“It’s coming back, and I’ve got good deception. I know because I pitch by my deception, and most of the hitters, they don’t like that,” Frieri said. “I’m being patient with myself, and I’m just happy to be back.”