The Los Angeles Angels are changing closers and will be going with Joe Smith in the ninth inning instead of Opening Day closer Ernesto Frieri, the club's manager Mike Scioscia told MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez.
Smith signed a three-year, $15.75 million contract with the Angels this offseason after spending the previous five years with the Indians. Frieri has blown two of his first four save opportunities this season, including a four-run meltdown that resulted in an L.A. loss on Wednesday against the Nationals.
The 28-year-old Frieri has posted a 9.35 ERA over 8⅔ innings in 2014, striking out 12 batters and walking three. He has been the club's closer since they traded for the right-hander during the middle of the 2012 season, although he did lose the job briefly last August after going through a similar rough spell.
In 67 appearances for the Angels in 2013, Frieri finished with 37 saves and a 3.80 ERA to go along with 98 strikeouts and 30 walks. He was tremendous in 2012 when the Angels traded for him, compiling a 2.32 ERA and striking out 3.2 times as many batters as he walked, but hasn't been quite so sharp since that season.
Smith, meanwhile, is coming off three straight strong years in Cleveland, though he has never been a closer before in his career. The 30-year-old finished with a 2.29 ERA in 63 innings last year and has recorded an ERA under 3.00 for three seasons in a row. He is especially tough on right-handed hitters, holding them to a .217/.297/.304 line throughout his career.
Frieri's struggles highlight an Angels bullpen that has been poor so far in 2014. The squad's bullpen has a 5.06 ERA, the sixth-worst mark in baseball, and there is no denying that Frieri has contributed to this subpar performance.
The Angels signed Smith for just such insurance this offseason, though it is unlikely they foresaw inserting him into the closer's role before the end of April.
Frieri will be used in lower-leverage situations until he can improve his performances out of the bullpen.