CHICAGO -- Kevin Burciaga, an Upland, Calif., native who spent six years serving in the United States Marine Corps, was selected by fans to represent the Angels in Major League Baseball's "Tribute for Heroes" campaign.
The program, done in conjunction with MLB and PEOPLE Magazine, identifies one winner for each team as part of a national initiative to recognize veterans and military-service members. The 30 winners will be included in All-Star Week festivities and be honored during a ceremony prior to Tuesday's Midsummer Classic at Citi Field.
Burciaga, 27, spent a full year in Iraq and was part of the Incident Response Team, which focused on detonating homemade bombs. He earned numerous medals throughout his service time, then donated his bone marrow to a complete stranger shortly after returning home -- and spending his birthday recovering in the emergency room.
Fans nationwide cast their votes TributeForHeroes.com to select 30 winners from a pool of 90 finalists. Justin Verlander of the Tigers, Nick Swisher of the Indians, Barry Zito of the Giants, Jonny Gomes of the Red Sox, Brad Ziegler of the D-backs, Chase Headley of the Padres and Craig Stammen of the Nationals assisted in selecting the 90 finalists, along with retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, MLB and PEOPLE Magazine.
Frieri has given Angels more than bargained for
CHICAGO -- When the Angels acquired a little-known reliever named Ernesto Frieri from the Padres on May 3, 2012, they were desperate -- looking for an additional weapon for a beleaguered bullpen and hopeful that Frieri, mainly a long reliever in San Diego, could become a suitable option in the back end.
What they got, it turns out, is arguably one of baseball's best closers.
From May 23, 2012 -- the day the 27-year-old right-hander recorded his first career save -- to Wednesday's series finale at Wrigley Field, Frieri is tied for ninth in the Majors in saves (45) and tied for eighth in save percentage (90.0). In that span, he's held batters to a .579 OPS -- the league average is .708 -- while posting a 2.81 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.
This offseason, Frieri is arbitration-eligible for the first time, and he can expect a big bump from his 2013 salary of $530,000.
"I still think I have a lot to learn in this role," Frieri said. "This is a role that comes with a lot of responsibility. It's a role where you have to control your adrenaline a lot, and every day you pitch, every day you're in a game, you learn something new. You just have to try to take advantage of that, to use that in the game and to keep developing, learning from your mistakes.
"I feel very satisfied personally with what I've been able to do and with the confidence they're giving me. I just have to keep working."
Unlike last year, Frieri has had his struggles in the first half -- particularly from May 18-29, when he gave up six runs in five appearances -- but he's been able to overcome the blown saves and the long stretches without an appearance. In 39 2/3 innings, Frieri has posted a 2.95 ERA with 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.16 WHIP.
As for the cutter and changeup Frieri was working on in Spring Training? Forget that. Frieri has thrown 89.3 percent fastballs this season, per pitchF/X, up from last year's 86.2 percent.
"There are two differences in my fastball -- there's the fastball that only travels with the speed of my arm, and then there's the one that travels with the rotation of the ball and moves a lot," said Frieri, who compiled eight strikeouts in three scoreless innings on Saturday and Sunday. "I think that's what's happened these last few days. I've refined my mechanics a bit, and I'm letting go of the ball at the ideal point. I think that's why my ball has had more life."
Kendrick gets rare day off against Cubs
CHICAGO -- Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick -- with three hits in his last 25 at-bats, yet still batting .308 on the season -- got only his second day off on Wednesday, sitting out the finale of a two-game set against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Kendrick doesn't like to take days off, but he believes they can help. He remembered talking to White Sox slugger Adam Dunn on May 12, prior to a game against the Angels in which he was begrudgingly held out of the lineup. Then the White Sox went to Minnesota, and Dunn compiled three homers and six RBIs in a three-game series.
"Hopefully I can just regroup and finish the first half strong," said Kendrick, who also sat out the June 26 game in Detroit.
"He's played a lot; he's playing through some things," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Today, coming out of the day off on Monday, a day off today and tomorrow, and hopefully finish the weekend strong and have the All Star break to freshen up a little bit."
• As expected, Tommy Hanson threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, his first since suffering a right forearm strain prior to a start on June 26. He'll throw another in Seattle this weekend and still looks on track to return by July 23, the next time the Angels will need a fifth starter.
• Jason Vargas, who was cleared to start throwing on Tuesday, will need a week to 10 days before progressing towards getting off a mound, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. He, too, is expected back by late July.
• Sean Burnett (left elbow impingement) played catch for a second straight day on Wednesday and continues to feel good. But the true test for the lefty reliever, who has appeared in only 13 games this year, will come when he throws off a mound in a couple of weeks.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.