PEORIA, Ariz. — Ernesto Frieri came to spring training hoping to add an effective second pitch to go with the lively 95-mph fastball that thrust the 27-year-old right-hander into a closing role last season.
He may leave Arizona with two new pitches.
Frieri has been very happy with the development of his cut fastball, which is coming out of his hand like his fastball and breaking late. He has been pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of his changeup, a pitch he started toying with in early February but has used in two of three exhibitions.
Frieri gave up one hit in a scoreless fourth inning in the Angels' 12-3 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday, and three of the five cut fastballs he threw were strikes.
He was particularly pleased with a cutter to Cameron Maybin that started on the inside part of the plate and broke to the middle, resulting in a weak grounder to third.
"That tells me it's a good pitch," Frieri said. "He looked bad with that pitch. It looked like a fastball inside, he opened up a little bit and rolled over. Ground ball to third. That's what I want, the hitters to think fastball all the time.
"Last year, it was getting hard for me because they knew the fastball was coming, and I'd throw the fastball. Now, they're going to think the fastball is coming and I'll throw the cutter. ... Got 'em."
Frieri was something of a one-pitch wonder last season, ascending from middle reliever in San Diego to closer in Anaheim after an early May trade. He was 4-2 with a 2.32 earned-run average and 23 saves, striking out 80 and walking 26 in 54 1/3 innings with the Angels.
But he rarely felt confident enough in his slider to use it in key situations and blamed several late-season meltdowns on hitters' sitting on his fastball. This season, he hopes to replace one shaky secondary pitch with two reliable ones.
"I'm excited about these two pitches — can you see the smile on my face?" Frieri said. "They're going to add a lot."
As encouraged as the Angels are about Frieri's expanded repertoire, his success will still hinge on fastball command.
"The other things will play off of that," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "The changeup and cutter are coming. He feels good with them. His ability to change speeds will put him in an even higher grouping of back-end pitchers."
With 3 1/2 weeks until opening day, Frieri is confident he'll take both new pitches into the season.
"I'm honest with myself — the cutter and changeup are getting better, but if the season started tomorrow, I wouldn't try them. I'd attack with my fastball," Frieri said. "But that's why we have spring training, to prepare to compete. Hopefully by opening day, the cutter and changeup will be ready to go."
Catcher Hank Conger has sailed two throws to third base into left field this spring. He bounced a late throw to second on Wednesday and nearly hit pitcher Jered Weaver in the head with a warmup throw to second.
Conger, a 2006 first-round pick who has spent much of the last three years at triple A, is ready to hit in the big leagues, and his arm strength is adequate. But to nail down the job as Chris Iannetta's backup, he'll need to find a consistent enough exchange and arm stroke to control a running game. He is still searching.
"On the practice field, he's making a lot of strides," Scioscia said, "but at some point you need to bring that consistency into the game."
Conger doesn't have to "throw rockets to the corner of the bag all the time," Scioscia said. But he can't let opponents run wild.
"There's a level you need to where teams have to work for their stolen bases," Scioscia said. "Hank has the ability to get to that level, no doubt. Right now, he's not, but it's still early in the spring, and we're very confident he'll find that release point to do what he needs to do."