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5/4/2014 4:09 P.M. ET

Frieri working his way back to closer role

ANAHEIM -- Joe Smith, 3 for 3 in save opportunities for the Angels, went into Sunday's game against the Rangers still in his temporary role as the closer.

But fellow right-hander Ernesto Frieri, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning to set up Smith in a 5-3 Angels victory Saturday, is closer to regaining the role, manager Mike Scioscia said.

"Our optimum bullpen is really with Ernie back in the ninth inning and being able to move Joe Smith around," Scioscia said. "But we need some bullpen depth to evolve before we can push Joe that far.

"Right now, last night Ernie matched up well with the hitters coming up in the eighth inning and we let Joe handle the ninth. We'll stay that way today and see how it goes. At some point, maybe matchups are better for Joe a little bit earlier and we can have Ernie for the ninth. It's encouraging where Ernie's been his last three outings."

A return to Smith pitching in the eighth inning (or earlier) and Frieri working the ninth has been Scioscia's stated intention since the switch of Smith to closer was made nearly two weeks ago while Frieri was struggling. 

Asked if he's back to being his old self, Frieri -- who had 37 saves in 2013 -- said: "I'm working. I'm working. I don't want to say that I'm 100 percent back because I still have to work on other stuff. I still need to work on making my pitches, keeping the ball down whenever I want it to and just mix my fastball with the slider like I did today."

He said he's close, though.

"I just need to execute my fastball," Frieri said. "At this level, you can throw 100. But if you leave it right down the middle, you're going to get hit. Look at [Jered] Weaver, man. He doesn't throw hard. But he paints the corners and he elevates his fastball whenever he wants to. And he mixes up his pitches pretty good. That's what you need to do to pitch at this level. You can't throw the ball not knowing where it's going to land."

The slider is also a work in progress.

"I've been getting more confidence with that pitch," he said. "And the guys behind the plate -- Hank [Conger] and Chris [Ianetta] -- they're giving me confidence in it. They're calling it more often."

Ibanez offers perspective on retiring Jeter

ANAHEIM -- Veteran Angels outfielder Raul Ibanez offered his perspective Sunday on Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who will visit Angel Stadium for his last regular-season appearance in a three-game series that starts Monday.

"I learned that he wills a lot of things to happen in the field," Ibanez said of their 2012 season as teammates in the Bronx. "And I learned that he's a great leader, in the clubhouse and on the field."

Ibanez, 41, also played against Jeter in the 2009 World Series while with the Phillies, and competed against the Yankees captain throughout their long careers, most of which Ibanez spent in the American League.

"I always knew he was a great player, and obviously a hard worker," Ibanez said. "His competitiveness is off the charts."

Their time together in 2012 enhanced all that appreciation, Ibanez said, and more.

"He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but also a first-ballot Hall of Fame person," Ibanez said. "I've played with a lot of great players. The greatest compliment I can give any player is to say that they're tremendous human beings. That's what he is. His parents did a great job with him.

"His leadership is incredible. He leads by example, but he's also one of those guys who not only always does the right thing, he can say the right things at the right time."

Worth noting

Albert Pujols (hamstring) was the Angels' DH for the second game in a row against the Rangers, with rookie C.J. Cron starting at first base. Pujols said his leg is improving, and that had it been a National League game, he would've played first Saturday and Sunday. Cron had three hits Saturday in his MLB debut.

• Ibanez made his fourth start of the season in left field. He'll likely platoon with just-recalled Grant Green until starting outfielders Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun return from the disabled list.

Earl Bloom is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.