SAN DIEGO Who knows what emotions washed over Ernesto Frieri as he walked from the bullpen to the pitcher's mound Friday night at Petco Park?
This used to be his home, the place where he spent parts of the past four seasons working as a relief pitcher for the San Diego Padres. But when he entered the game in the ninth inning, he was an employee of the Angels.
And in a way, he was sad about that.
"It's tough to see your (former) teammates and then see yourself in a different uniform," Frieri said later. "I miss those guys. I was with the Padres for 10 years. I still can't believe I'm here, but this is baseball; it's business. One day you're here, the next day you're with another team. I've still got to keep throwing strikes."
Trades are part of the game, but they rarely come without some emotion for players. Frieri was the longest tenured player in the Padres' organization when he was traded to the Angels on May 3 for infielder Alexi Amarista and pitcher Donn Roach. He was 17 when the Padres signed him in 2003 and sent him from his home in Colombia to the minors.
Now, he has become a valued member of the Angels' bullpen, a right-hander whose fastball has been unhittable. In six games since joining the team, Frieri has yet to give up a hit or run over 5 23 innings. He has struck out 12 batters.
"If you look at his history, his numbers are great," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He might not be able to keep the pace that he's keeping right now, but he's not a fluke."
Frieri, 26, is far from that. In 105 appearances for the Padres from 2009 to this season, he had 137 strikeouts in 108 13 innings. He also had 56 walks and hit 11 batters.
Frieri may miss his old teammates, who beat the Angels 3-2 on Saturday, but he's getting an opportunity with the Angels that he didn't have in San Diego.
With the Padres, he was a middle-innings reliever, working behind Andrew Cashner, Luke Gregerson and Huston Street. With the Angels, he's getting a chance to pitch in the late innings. He could have earned his first career save in the big leagues Friday, but the Angels scored three runs in the top of the ninth, extending their lead from 4-2 to 7-2.
Although Angels left-hander Scott Downs remains Scioscia's closer, the manager said he's not averse to using Frieri and a revived Jordan Walden in the ninth inning. If given a chance, Frieri believes he can be an effective closer.
"That's one of my goals," he said. "I want to be a closer to bad, but I'm patient. I'm the kind of guy that will wait for the chance, and whenever they give it to me, I'll take advantage of it. I'm just going to pitch, even if I pitch in the first, second or ninth inning. I'm going to do the same thing throw strikes and get people out."
Bud Black, the Padres manager, believes Frieri has the potential to be a late-innings pitcher, if not a closer. His biggest hurdle will be keeping his fastball under control.
"It's unfair to put a tag on any pitcher, because a lot of times the expectation level can get in the way of performance" Black said. "But with Ernie, he proved here he can pitch in the back end of a bullpen. He's had more success than down time as a major league pitcher. He's still relatively young. He could definitely grow into a guy that a team can feel comfortable with late in the game."
If it happens, it will be with the Angels. But a piece of the Padres will always stay with him.
"I'm always going to be a Padre," he said. "I know that I pitch for the Angels right now, and I'm happy that they're giving me an opportunity to pitch, but the Padres are always going to be in my heart. Everything that I am, everything that I have is because of the Padres."