Frieri ready to prove himself to Yanks after MLB layoff

Frieri ready to prove himself to Yanks after MLB layoff

TAMPA, Fla. -- After taking a year off to fine-tune his mechanics, Ernesto Frieri says that he has rediscovered his 2013 form, when he recorded 37 saves and was one of the better relievers in the American League.

The Yankees are going to give him the opportunity to prove it. Frieri made his spring debut on Saturday against the Orioles, having signed a Minor League contract this week following a successful stint with Team Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. He pitched the ninth inning, striking out three but giving up the game-winning homer to Aneury Tavarez in the Yanks' 5-4 loss.

"I got my delivery back. I got my deception back," Frieri said before the game. "I proved myself in the WBC; good hitters couldn't hit the fastball. They didn't look that good. Even they talked to me after and they said, 'Dude, man, you're back. I can't pick the ball up.' That's the old Ernie, like three years ago, so I'm really happy about that."

The 31-year-old Frieri had his last big league outing for the Rays in 2015, going 1-0 with a 4.63 ERA in 22 appearances. He has compiled a 3.55 career ERA and 73 saves, making 298 appearances over seven seasons with the Padres, Angels, Pirates and Rays from 2009-15.

Frieri's best big league season was 2013 with the Angels, when he was 2-4 with a 3.80 ERA in 67 games.

"He probably hadn't been on the mound in a week. He did OK," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We'll get him back out there probably in a couple days. This guy was a good closer and he has good stuff, so we'll see where he's at."

Frieri attended Spring Training with the Phillies last year but was released after surrendering nine earned runs in seven innings (11.57 ERA). He returned home to Colombia and credited Cubs scout Manuel Ezquivia with helping him break down his mechanics.

"The stuff that we did was crazy. He made me feel like a little baby," Frieri said. "When you teach kids, you have to go slow, and I pretended that I didn't know anything. I followed him, and it worked out really well."

Frieri said that he expects to make two or three appearances in big league camp, and he is willing to go to the Minors to continue proving himself.

"I didn't think that a team like the Yankees was going to be interested. That made me feel good," Frieri said. "When my agent said the Yankees called me, I said, 'What? Do whatever. I want to go there.' That's the team of my dreams, and I can't believe it. I feel that I'm dreaming. I don't want to wake up."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.