LAA@HOU: Skaggs fans five over eight in Angels debut

NEW YORK -- There will be growing pains along the way, no doubt, but the Angels' perceived biggest concern heading into the season -- the success of the three young starters in their rotation -- has actually been a bright spot early on.

"Some things aren't always what they appear," Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said of Hector Santiago, Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs.

Together, the trio has posted a 3.12 ERA, giving up 26 runs in 75 innings, while registering five quality starts in 12 outings.

Asked if they've exceeded expectations so far, Butcher said, simply: "Nope."

Skaggs, 22, is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA and is coming off seven innings of two-run ball against the Nationals on Tuesday -- an outing that went under the radar because it coincided with Albert Pujols' 500th home run.

Santiago, 26, has been a lot better since getting over a back issue that bothered him over the course of his first two starts, giving up just one earned run in 12 2/3 innings his last two outings to drop his ERA to 3.68.

And Richards, 25, has emerged as one of the best young arms in the game, with a 2.52 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 25 innings.

"I want them to stay within themselves, stay very humble and just take each game like its own game," Butcher said. "Take every positive out of every game and roll it into the next one, and take every negative and throw it out the window. And just keep building and building and building, until you just feel like you're invincible out there. Because this game can knock you down in a heartbeat."

Smith replaces Frieri as Angels' closer

LAA@WSH: Nats walk off on LaRoche's single to left

NEW YORK -- In the wake of Ernesto Frieri's meltdown in Washington, D.C., the Angels have made a change in the ninth inning, with sidearmer Joe Smith taking over closing duties while Frieri works in low-leverage situations, Angels manager Mike Scioscia announced prior to Friday's series opener against the Yankees.

"We'll go with Joe Smith in the next couple of opportunities and just get Ernie maybe off of that treadmill and let him get an inning or two where he can try to make some adjustments," Scioscia said. "I think historically, Ernie responds well to this. We need him. I think this is the best route to take to get to the final solution that we want."

Frieri, who was charged with four runs, all earned, in Wednesday's 5-4, walk-off loss to the Nationals, has two blown saves, a 9.35 ERA and five homers allowed in 8 2/3 innings to start the season. With Smith, signed to a three-year, $15.75 million contract over the offseason, taking over the ninth, the Angels will handle the setup duties by committee. Michael Kohn, who has a 1.54 ERA in 12 appearances, could pitch the eighth inning off the bat.

"I think he understands it," Scioscia said of Frieri. "And I think that he understands the team's need right now maybe outweighs where he is. He'll get it back. Just as he's worked his way into the ninth-inning role from when we acquired him a couple years ago, he'll work his way back there. He had a great season for us last year, and he'll find it."

Over the previous two years, Frieri -- acquired in a May 2012 trade with the Padres -- has posted a 3.07 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 60 saves, while ranking eighth in the Majors in save percentage. But he's also prone to giving up a lot of homers (1.1 per nine innings in his career), walking a lot of batters (4.3 per nine in his career) and the occasional slump.

Last year, Frieri gave up 12 runs in a 4 2/3-inning stretch that spanned from July 23 to Aug. 6, then made some adjustments in low-leverage situations, started closing again and finished the year with a 1.66 ERA in his last 19 appearances.

In Friday's 13-1 win, Frieri checked into the bottom of the eighth with an 11-run lead and registered a 1-2-3 inning, getting two groundouts and a flyout.

Scioscia hopes for similar results this time.

"I think it's a feel thing with Ernie; it's a release-point issue," Scioscia said. "I think mechanically he's fine. At times he's overthrowing, and I think when he tries to overthrow, you see him miss some of the spots that he can normally get the ball to. He's not really a fine control guy, but he definitely knows what area he wants to throw the ball into and is usually pretty good at getting it there. He's missing anywhere from down and away to up and in to lefties, and that's not a good way to miss."

Kendrick pleased with transfer rule's tweak

LAA@SEA: Call overturned on Mariners challenge in 5th

NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball's Playing Rules Committee provided a clearer interpretation of the transfer rule on Friday, saying that an out occurs whenever a player has complete control over the ball in his glove.

In other words, a catch is an out, and it's still an out even if a player drops the ball while transferring it to his throwing hand.

"I feel like they got it right," said Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, among a vast majority of players who rejoiced when the rule was essentially changed back to its state from before this season.

"When the masses speak up, I think it's pretty cool that they step up and get it done and get the rule changed."

With expanded replay review introduced in 2014, umpires were a lot more strict with the transfer rule to start the season, saying that a catch can occur only when a ball is secured in a player's throwing hand, drawing dissension from players and coaches around the league.

The issue affected the Angels in Seattle on April 8, when Josh Hamilton caught Corey Hart's fly ball, then dropped it as he was casually throwing it back to the infield and watched as umpires overturned an initial out call. Hamilton later expressed disagreement with the ruling, saying: "That's terrible. You can see the replay. I catch the ball, I come down, then I come back and I'm looking to see what's going on."

But the interpretation mainly affected middle infielders, who need to get the ball out of their gloves quickly to turn a double play.

And that's why Kendrick was so happy that the original rule was restored.

"Being a second baseman, you don't want to have any hesitation when you're turning double plays because most of them are bang-bang," Kendrick said. "You want to be able to get the ball and get rid of it as quick as you can, and you don't want to have to hesitate and worry about that. I feel like [before] a few guys might've gotten cheated because they did secure outs, and it changed the game for their team."

Worth noting

David Freese sat against Yankees right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda on Friday, with lefty Ian Stewart getting the nod, but Scioscia stressed that there is no platoon at third base, saying Freese will still get "the lion's share" of playing time and that it's merely "a good matchup day for Ian."

Stewart finished the game 2-for-5 with a two-run homer, his second of the year, and a pair of strikeouts.

• Relievers Dane De La Rosa (right shoulder irritation) and Sean Burnett (recovery from August left elbow surgery) each took part in simulated games in Arizona on Thursday, but as of early Friday afternoon, Scioscia said he didn't have an update on how they came out of it.