CLEVELAND -- Ernesto Frieri believes he was always capable of the success he's currently having with the Angels.
All he needed was a chance.
With the Padres, the team that signed him as an amateur free agent in 2003, he didn't get that chance. Guys like Heath Bell, Mike Adams, Edward Mujica and Luke Gregerson pitched the important innings, while Frieri pitched in mop-up duty through his first three years in the big leagues -- and always felt like he was a bad outing away from being sent down to the Minors.
"Now I'm relaxed, because they believe in me, they've shown confidence in me," Frieri said. "I understood why I didn't get a chance [with San Diego]. They had some great relievers over there. But I've always loved pitching in tight situations like that. I love it."
The stats show it, with the 26-year-old Frieri posting 24 1/3 scoreless innings since being acquired from San Diego on May 3 -- a stretch that has seen him strike out 42, go 10-for-10 in saves and post a 0.90 WHIP.
Thanks to that, he's gone from little-known reliever to All-Star Game candidate.
On Sunday, Frieri was one of five American League pitchers named to the All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by Firestone, which means that by Thursday, he'll have to compile more votes than White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, the Orioles' Jason Hammel, the Royals' Jonathan Broxton and the Rangers' Yu Darvish to be the final player on the AL roster for the July 10 Midsummer Classic in Kansas City.
Forty-two hours into the 98-hour Final Vote, though, Frieri was fourth, with Darvish leading and Peavy and Hammel respectively following. Frieri realizes the odds are stacked against him.
Final Vote candidates
Jonathan Broxton, KC
Yu Darvish, TEX
Ernesto Frieri, LAA
Jason Hammel, BAL
Jake Peavy, CWS
Michael Bourn, ATL
David Freese, STL
Bryce Harper, WAS
Aaron Hill, ARI
"But let's see," he said. "You never know."
Now in its 11th year, the Final Vote gives baseball fans around the world the opportunity to select the final player on each All-Star team. Balloting began immediately following Sunday's MLB All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Taco Bell and continues until Thursday, July 5, at 1 p.m. PT. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter.
To receive the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote presented by Firestone mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 89269. To vote for Frieri, simply text message A3 to 89269. Mobile voting in Canada also is available and fans should text their choices to 101010. Std rates may apply.
Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet, via the 2012 MLB.com All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on MLB.com.
The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 4:30 p.m. PT. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
There will be an extra treat for fans who participate in the Final Vote. If you are not a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you are eligible to receive a 14-day free trial of MLB.TV from July 6-20. If you are a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you will receive a 15 percent discount to the MLB.com Shop. MLB.com will send an email on July 6 to all Final Vote voters with instructions on how to redeem the applicable offer.
Frieri has practically saved the Angels' bullpen.
Before he came over, it was a mess. But Frieri's deceptive delivery and his late-life fastball -- which can stay straight or rise, depending on his grip -- made him a force on the back end and helped manager Mike Scioscia define roles.
"He's been unbelievable," said lefty Scott Downs, who has basically split closing duties with 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."
Frieri learned to pitch under pressure in winter ball and developed his arm strength by grinding corn for his grandmother's tamale stand in his native Colombia. Scouts have told the right-hander he could get hurt throwing the ball the way he does -- tucking it behind his right hip until the point of delivery and stepping across his body with his left foot, like Jered Weaver -- but he's never been hurt and isn't changing what's working.
Frieri is the first pitcher in Major League history with 42 strikeouts and no earned runs through the first 24-plus innings with a new club.
So, yeah, it's working.
"I think I've been blessed, and probably had a little luck that things have gone that way," Frieri said. "These guys are great hitters. Maybe they've never seen a pitcher with the kind of stuff I have. But I know, in time, they'll get to know me better and things will be a little difficult. But up until now, I'll keep doing the same things."