SEATTLE -- Upon acquiring a little-known reliever named Ernesto Frieri from the Padres on May 3, some of the first words uttered by Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto were: "He misses bats."
Does he ever.
In 10 innings since joining the Angels, Frieri, with his deceptive delivery and electric fastball, has yet to give up a hit, has walked seven, has hit one and has recorded 22 strikeouts. That means that of the 37 batters he's faced, only seven have done so much as put the ball in play.
With a four-out, three-strikeout save on Saturday, Frieri joined starting pitchers Roger Clemens (1986 and '96), Kerry Wood ('98) and Randy Johnson (2001) as members of the 20-strikeouts-in-nine-innings club. Granted, it took Frieri 10 games to do it.
The last pitcher to have 20 or more strikeouts in his first 10 innings with a team? Tom "Flash" Gordon, who did exactly that with the Cubs in '01, according to Elias Sports Bureau. And since 1921, Frieri is the first pitcher with 20-plus strikeouts and no earned runs in his first 10 innings with a new club, according to Stats LLC.
Of course, nobody expects Frieri to continue his current rate of 19.8 strikeouts per nine innings with the Angels. But as his 12.1 rate in 118 1/3 big league innings proves, he does, as Dipoto will tell you, miss bats. In fact, that strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate ranks fifth all-time among pitchers who have compiled at least 100 innings, behind only the Braves' Craig Kimbrel (15.1 in 114 2/3 innings), the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen (14.9 in 104 2/3), the Yankees' David Robertson (12.2 in 216 1/3) and former Reds reliever Rob Dibble (12.2 in 477).
Most important to the Angels, though, is that Frieri has yet to give up a hit, making him the first player in the last eight years to do that over his first 10 innings with a club, and that he has helped stabilize the back end of their bullpen.
With Frieri joining Scott Downs and Jordan Walden in the late innings, the Angels' bullpen is currently on a run that has seen it post a 0.72 ERA over the last 37 1/3 frames.
"He's been unbelievable," Downs said of Frieri. "His attitude's been great, he's a hard worker, he's a good kid. And it helps. It's another guy in the back end of the bullpen that's going to help us out, and he has confidence in what he does. And I think his confidence rubs off on other people."
Hitting coach cites Pujols for slugger's turnaround
SEATTLE -- Heading into Sunday's series finale against the Mariners, a lot of recent numbers pointed to a resurgence at the plate by Albert Pujols. He's homered in three straight games and six of his last 11. He has 22 RBIs in 24 May games. And he's batting .304 since May 9.
But here's also another way people look at it:
.212/.248/.288 with one homer and 14 RBIs in 36 games under the old hitting coach.
.295/.360/.750 with six homers and 12 RBIs in 11 games under the new hitting coach.
Jim Eppard, called up from the Minors to replace 13-year hitting coach Mickey Hatcher on May 15, can only laugh at that coincidence.
"I can't say yes or no to that," Eppard said of whether he's had that kind of impact on Pujols' production. "Obviously Albert has a great track record, long before me, so I'm a little bit more humble than that."
Eppard was heading into his 10th season as hitting coach at Triple-A Salt Lake, and with Torii Hunter on the restricted list and Vernon Wells on the disabled list, 10 of the 13 position players on the Angels' active roster were under the tutelage of Eppard before reaching the big leagues.
But dealing with a player like Pujols is a whole different challenge for Eppard. He admitted the two haven't had much dialog just yet, with Eppard still getting a feel for his routine and just making sure he's there for him.
"I'm kind of learning on the job on that one," Eppard said. "I'm used to having young guys who are coming through and just learning a level, or guys that have struggled and are trying to get back into a flow of things. So to be here around guys that are obviously superb athletes and great baseball players is a treat for me."
What has accounted for Pujols' turnaround? Eppard does notice that Pujols has had more "consistency from swing to swing," and Pujols said recently that he's not expanding the strike zone as much as he did earlier in the year.
But it could just be the law of averages.
"It's part of the game," Pujols said after Saturday's 5-3 win over the Mariners, which saw him hit a double and a solo homer. "I'm just going to try to continue to do my best to help this ballclub win. That's my goal every time I come to the ballpark."
Hunter set to return to Angels on Monday
SEATTLE -- Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, on the restricted list since May 14 to deal with a personal matter, is expected to rejoin his teammates on Monday.
By Sunday afternoon, Hunter was expected to return from Texas -- where his teenage son has been fighting sexual-assault charges -- and work out in Anaheim, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before Sunday's game against the Mariners. Then, on Monday, Hunter will go through pregame activities prior to the series opener against the Yankees, at which point the Angels will decide whether to activate him immediately or give him more time to get acclimated.
The Angels aren't sure how quickly their right fielder will be back in the lineup, but it's now only a matter of days. And Hunter, who has stayed active in the two weeks he's been out, won't need to go on a rehab assignment.
"He has been hitting in the cage a bit, off the tee, he has been able to run, he's thrown a little bit, and he's actually taken some live BP while he's gone," Scioscia said. "But you want to assess him in a full workout today. There's going to be some stiffness he's got to work through; I don't care what you've done, and then repeat it tomorrow and just see where physically he is. That's the biggest thing is you want him to feel comfortable physically to go out there and do what you need to do."
Hunter's 17-year-old son, Darius McClinton-Hunter, was accused of sexual assault of a child (a second-degree felony) in Prosper, Texas, earlier this month.
But the family's attorneys said last week that the accuser, a 16-year-old girl, recanted everything she previously told police in a phone conversation with a close family friend of the Hunters, who recorded the exchange. That evidence has since been turned over to police.
Since Hunter's absence, the Angels have used Mark Trumbo almost primarily in right field. Hunter, 36, was batting .256 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 33 games.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and 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.