02/16/2013 2:49 PM ET
Frieri working on mastering the cutter
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- As a reliever who grew up idolizing Mariano Rivera, Ernesto Frieri always wanted to throw a cutter. But he couldn't figure it out, essentially because he didn't work hard enough on it.
This offseason, after plenty of exposure as a big league closer with the Angels, he did. Frieri spoke to a couple of former pitchers in his native Colombia, learned how to throw it correctly and is coming into camp with a project: Master the cutter and eventually use it to offset an awfully-effective-but-heavily-used two-seam fastball.
It's the same grip, it just involves different pressure points with his fingers. It's the same velocity, but it darts away from right-handed hitters rather than in.
And he believes it can make a world of difference.
"I work one inning at a time, but I have to be able to attack both sides [of the plate]," Frieri said in Spanish. "If you can move the ball one way, then show them you can move it the other way, things get more difficult. I think that's going to help me out a lot. And I feel comfortable with the pitch because I can throw it like my fastball."
Frieri went through his second full season in the Majors in 2012, but it was unlikely any other. After being acquired from the Padres in early May, he stormed through his first couple months with the Angels, settled in as the closer and almost made the All-Star team.
It was in many ways a successful season for the 27-year-old right-hander, who finished with a 2.32 ERA and 23 saves in 26 chances in 66 innings. But he navigated through it with an ineffective slider as a secondary pitch, and there were instances -- like Aug. 1 in Texas, Sept. 15 in Kansas City and Sept. 20 against the Rangers -- when that hurt him.
"I'm not Mariano Rivera," Frieri will often say. "I can't go up there throwing the same stuff all the time."
Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher saw Frieri's new pitch in the bullpen earlier this week and told him: "I like the cutter -- but don't lose your fastball."
Necessary as he may feel it is to command a secondary pitch, Frieri knows where his greatest strengths lie -- in a mid-90s two-seamer with late life and uncommon inward movement. He'll see how hitters react to his cutter, but he vows to not lose his fastball.
"Never, never, never," Frieri said. "The cutter hasn't shown me it can get people out in the big leagues; the fastball has. I'm going to keep throwing what has helped me get here and stay here. I haven't lost sight of that."
Vizquel longs to play, but embraces new role
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Somewhere in the 45-year-old mind of potential future Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel, there's the thought that he can still play in the Majors and at a high level.
At some point, though, all players have to deal with finality -- ageless Vizquel included.
"It's very tough. Very tough," Vizquel said of hanging up the spikes. "Obviously, it's always hard to walk away from the field when you think that you can still play. I believe that I can still play, but mentally it was pretty tough for me to go through the same things again and playing once a week, having little opportunities to play. So I just decided just to call it quits."
Vizquel played his 24th and final season in the Majors with the Blue Jays in 2012, appearing in 60 games as a backup infielder - even playing five innings at first base, as unsightly as that may seem for the legendary shortstop.
Now, he's in the first few days of his new chapter, as a roving infield instructor with the Angels.
"I always said that when I was playing that I want to be a manager when I retire," Vizquel said. "This is a good opportunity to make my first steps as a coach."
Vizquel heard about an opening in the Angels' Minor League staff through roving hitting instructor Paul Sorrento, who, like Vizquel, spends his offseasons in Seattle. The fact that general manager Jerry Dipoto was a teammate of Vizquel's in Cleveland in 1994 didn't hurt -- though, of course, neither did 11 Gold Glove Awards, three All-Star appearances, 2,877 hits and a reputation as one of the best defensive shortstops ever.
"He's thought the game, he evolved as a player and he played into his 40s, so obviously he was making some adjustments to what he was doing from the time he was 20 up to the time in his 40s," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "And I think that understanding of the process is important. Just the fact that it's Omar Vizquel, talking to a young infielder and starting to hopefully give these guys some insights that will help them."
Vizquel is in Major League camp right now, working mostly with the younger players, and will head over to the Minor League side in early March. During the season, he'll bounce around the different affiliates, taking over the role previously held by Dick Schofield, whose contract wasn't renewed, and teaming up with Bobby Knoop, the 74-year-old ex-Angels infielder who was previously brought back as a special assignment infield coach.
Vizquel's aspirations haven't changed. He still longs to be a big league manager, which Scioscia believes there's "no doubt" he can do.
And after almost a quarter century of living the rigorous Major League lifestyle, he isn't looking for a break.
"I know this is what I know the most," Vizquel said, "and I really enjoy having the uniform on, the communication with the guys and how you can control 25 different personalities. It's just an amazing thing to me to be involved with so many different people and try to be the leader of that pack, you know? So, to me, I think it comes naturally, maybe. I have the passion and I think I have the patience to go through that process, so I don't mind calling a guy to an office, or talking to him about a situation in the game that can help him out or can help the team out."
Angels expect Madson to start throwing again soon
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Angels expect Ryan Madson to restart his throwing program by early next week, perhaps as early as Monday, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said prior to Saturday's workout.
At that point, the Angels can get a better feel for Madson, who threw his fourth and final bullpen session on Feb. 1 and was shut down after feeling some uncommon soreness in his right elbow. An MRI on Tuesday came back clean, though, and the 32-year-old right-hander still has a chance to get in Spring Training games by early March, which could have him pitching in the Majors by mid-April.
Scioscia said Madson, on a strengthening program the last few days, will not need another MRI before he starts to throw again.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.