TAMPA, Fla. — Ernesto Frieri called joining the Yankees “a dream come true.”
One can only imagine his reaction if he makes it back to the majors with them.
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The Yankees brought in the former Angels closer, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2015 with Tampa Bay, on Thursday on a minor-league contract.
He made his first appearance Saturday, allowing a solo homer by Aneury Tavares in the ninth inning that lifted the Orioles to a 5-4 victory. But Frieri, 31, did strike out the side looking, making it an overall good day.
The Yankees were impressed with Frieri’s recent work for the Colombian national team in the World Baseball Classic, especially against the loaded Dominican Republic lineup.
Frieri, who posted a 3.80 ERA and saved 37 games for the Angels in 2013, pitched two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out one. Among those retired: Robinson Cano, Jose Bautista, Carlos Santana and Nelson Cruz. Frieri struck out Cruz with a slider to end the eighth.
“Made some huge pitches in that game,” said one opposing American League scout who covered the WBC. “Fastball touched 94-95 [mph], which he hasn’t done since 2014. Still throwing the same ‘slurvy’ breaking ball in the high 70s, and that was OK. Looked a lot better than when he was in Phillies camp last year.”
Frieri said his quick downfall came about because he lost the mechanics that made him effective. With the help of Manuel Ezquivia, a Cubs scout with whom he worked in Colombia during the offseason, he finally felt like his old self again.
“I got my deception back,” Frieri said. “I proved myself in the WBC. Hitters couldn’t hit the fastball. Even they talked to me after and they said, ‘Dude, man, you’re back. I can’t pick the ball up.’ ”
Frieri knows he’s highly unlikely to break camp with the Yankees, but he’ll happily take a minor-league assignment to try to work his way up.
“I’m with the Yankees. I’ll do whatever,” he said of accepting a demotion out of camp. “I have to prove to myself that I’m ready and that I can get big-league hitters out.”
Hicks to start in right?
Though it seemed a long shot at the start of camp that Aaron Hicks would beat out Aaron Judge for the starting job in rightfield, there’s increasing buzz that that very well could happen. Judge doubled in the sixth inning Saturday, but he is in a 2-for-14 slide that has lowered his slash line to .270/.357/.514. Hardly horrible numbers, but with general manager Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi both talking up Hicks — a better defender who has a .258/.361/.581 slash line — throughout spring training, it’s not inconceivable that he will end up the starter.
“Hitters are going to go through that,” Girardi said of Judge, 24. “But we still have two weeks to go.”
Montgomery sticking around
Jordan Montgomery entered spring training highly regarded by the Yankees, and his performance has only improved his stock. The 6-6, 225-pound lefthander, taken in the fourth round of the 2014 draft out of the University of South Carolina, pitched four perfect innings Friday in Lakeland against the Tigers. Before that game, and again after, Girardi didn’t rule out the possibility that Montgomery will make the club out of camp. If he does, it will be as a reliever; otherwise, he will be in the Triple-A rotation.
Girardi said Montgomery likely will start Thursday’s game against the Rays.
“Fastball is above average with life to it, has a little jump to it at the end. Breaking ball is very good, too,” one opposing team scout said. “It’s a good mix. He has a good feel for pitching. He looks tough to pick up, too. High release. I think it’s a tough look.”