The Angels may have found their closer in Ernesto Frieri

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Ernesto Frieri was plenty good in a year and a half with the Padres, yet manager Bud Black never seemed to want to trust him in close games. Perhaps that was a mistake.

Frieri struck out the side in the 11th inning to earn his first career save as the Angels beat the A’s 3-1 on Thursday. In nine appearances for the Halos, he’s yet to allow a hit and he’s struck out 19 in 8 2/3 scoreless innings.

Command has always been Frieri’s biggest problem. He did walk a batter today, giving him six walks in his time with the Angels. Overall, he’s walked 62 batters in 117 innings as a major leaguer. However, that comes with a 2.15 ERA and 156 strikeouts.

The Padres couldn’t get past the walks. Last year, Frieri made 59 appearances and picked up a win (1), a loss (2), a hold (4) or a blown save (0) in just seven of them. Mostly, he pitched in games that were already decided. He pitched 14 2/3 scoreless innings in his final 14 appearances of the season, but 10 of those games were losses and the four wins were by 10, six, four and seven runs.

The Angels thus far have found no fault with Frieri. All but one of his nine appearances have come in a win and the one loss he appeared in was a 3-2 game. He’s been flat-out dominant in all of them. For the modest price of Alexi Amarista and Donn Roach, the Angels appear to have found the right-handed reliever they needed, and with Jordan Walden also having turned it around, the bullpen has suddenly become a strength, rather than a weakness. Score one for new GM Jerry DiPoto, who saw plenty of Frieri while with the Diamondbacks.

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.

As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.

Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.

As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.

While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.

Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.