PEORIA, Ariz. -- Hank Conger is earning manager Mike Scioscia's confidence as he bids to be the Angels' backup catcher behind Chris Iannetta.
A veteran of 73 big league games over parts of three seasons, Conger is having a big spring at the plate, hitting .462 (6-for-13) with a double, a homer, and eight RBIs, but Scioscia highlights his throwing as an area of focus this spring.
"As far as his progress behind the plate, it's been very tangible," Scioscia said. "The one area I think we're feeling more comfortable is his throwing. But this spring, it hasn't manifested itself on the field the way we'd like. Just yesterday, his exchange was long, his arm stroke was long, and he really wasn't doing the things that he has improved on, so he was a little erratic throwing the ball yesterday."
Most of Conger's experience in 2012 came with Iannetta on the disabled list due to a right wrist injury, and Conger is hoping to put a package together that would convince the Angels he's ready to crack another Opening Day roster, having made the club out of Spring Training in 2011. He made 48 starts that year and threw out 16 percent of basestealers.
"On the practice field, he's making a lot of strides," Scioscia said. "At some point, you need to bring that consistency to the game, and we're very confident he will. He has to find it. At times, he's shown he can throw the ball with great proficiency, and at times he's been erratic, but it's in him for sure to find that consistency."
Conger has a .979 career fielding percentage behind the dish, compared to Iannetta's .995 spanning a 505-game career. And though he played less than one-tenth of Iannetta's 623 innings in 2012, Conger's small sample size yielded a comparable percentage of catching 25 percent of those attempting to steal against him.
"A catcher has to be able to deter a running game, there's no doubt," Scioscia said. "But that doesn't mean you're throwing rockets right on the corner of the bag every time. There's a level that you need where teams have to either work for their stolen bases or they know the timing's against them. A catcher's tag time will deter them from running. I think Hank has that ability to get to that level. There's no doubt he has the arm strength to control the running game to the extent we would need him. It's really going to be a function of that consistency."
Frieri adding cutter and changeup to arsenal
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Ernesto Frieri is starting his fifth big league campaign after going 5-2 with a 2.32 ERA while splitting last season with the Padres and Angels. He converted 23 of 25 save opportunities for the Halos, but he's still working on getting better, adding a changeup and cutter to complement his fastball.
"I'm excited," he said about his cutter after using it effectively in Thursday's win over the Padres. "Can't you see the smile on my face? I'm excited about those two pitches. They're going to help me a lot."
He didn't throw his changeup, because he's working on it primarily against left-handers, and the only lefty he faced was Yonder Alonso, who popped out on a first-pitch fastball. The cutter was especially effective against Cameron Maybin, who grounded to third on a full-count cutter.
"Camerin Maybin looked bad with that pitch," Frieri said. "That was a cutter from inside to right down the middle. He didn't hit the ball that good. That means it's a good pitch. It means it looks just like my fastball. That's what I want. They see my fastball all the time. Last year, they knew the fastball was coming, and I threw the fastball. Now they know the fastball is coming, and [I throw the] cutter. Got him!"
Frieri admitted if the season started tomorrow, he wouldn't feel ready to use the cutter or the changeup, but he's optimistic of having confidence in them by Opening Day.
"This is the best level in baseball," Frieri said. "You got to make adjustments to stay here. You have to keep working. Just because you had a great year, are you going to sit there and relax? No. That's not me. I keep improving myself. I like to compete, to get better, and to try new stuff."
Manager Mike Scioscia was pleased with the results as Frieri capped his fourth Cactus League outing with his fourth scoreless inning, keeping a perfect 0.00 ERA next to his name.
"Ernie looked sharp," Scioscia said. "The whole pitching staff's doing a good job. Garrett [Richards] pitched well. C.J. [Wilson] had good life and really threw some good breaking balls. Those guys are right on pace with where they need to be."
Pujols gaining strength through running program
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Though Albert Pujols made his spring debut on Tuesday, he did it in the designated hitter's slot while the Angels stood ready to use a designated runner for Pujols if he made it on base.
He went 0-for-3, and spent the following two days working on running drills in preparation for his next start, expected to come on Friday at home against the D-backs.
"He's getting two good running workouts in -- yesterday and today," manager Mike Scioscia said. "And then he'll be ready to get out there [in a game] tomorrow. He's still got a little work to do on the practice field running before we want to push him hard into playing games, but he's getting there. He could have played today, but our medical staff felt better with him getting a good workout on the cuts and running and maybe getting ready to play tomorrow."
Pujols is still a week or so away from taking the field at first and running full steam, but easing him into the lineup in the DH slot is helping him get his timing down against live pitching while he hones the other elements of his game.
"He got very aggressive on the outfield cuts, and he'll repeat that and probably transfer it to some easy base[running], Scioscia said. "It's a progression. I don't think it's going to take too much time until you're seeing him out there running the bases. Certainly within a week's time, if he has no setbacks, he should be out there running."
Scioscia said Pujols is already running at 90-100 percent along the edge of the outfield grass, noting, "He was getting after it."
Former Angel Washburn helping young hurlers
PEORIA, Ariz. -- At 38 years old, the left-hander from Wisconsin looks like he could still win 10 games for the Halos, but Jarrod Washburn isn't in camp to try to crack the roster.
The 107-game winner is only back for a week, passing on some of his southpaw wisdom to the pitching prospects vying for a spot on the roster. Washburn went 75-57 from 1998-2004, pacing the club with an 18-6 record and a 3.15 ERA in 2002, when he started the first game of the Angels' World Series triumph.
"It's kind of nice if there's a lefty throwing a bullpen. Me and [Mark] Langston and [Mike] Hampton, we just kind of tag-team," Washburn said.
Langston is in his first year providing color commentary on the Angels' radio broadcasts, and Hampton is the new pitching coach for Double-A Arkansas. Together they have 48 seasons and 343 wins under their belts, but don't ask Washburn for insight on hot young pitchers.
"I don't know if I'm smart enough to [identify prospects]," Washburn said. "I'd be able to tell you, 'I like that guy,' but I don't know if I'd know his name. If I see his face, I'll tell you.
"[Jason] Vargas is great," Washburn said of the 14-game winner picked up from the Mariners to bolster the rotation, noting that the two crossed paths in Washburn's final season. "I love him. When I played in Seattle, I liked him a lot. That's going to be a nice, solid addition."
Washburn is playing his part in developing new talent, signing on as the head baseball coach for his alma mater, Webster High School in Webster, Wis., population about 643. He has been working with younger players in his hometown, and is poised to reap the rewards.
"Since I retired, I've been working with the youth program [in Webster], building it up," Washburn said. "The first grade I've worked with, they're eighth graders now, so they'll be in high school next year, and I figured with the talent level coming up, it just needs some stability in the program."
Asked if he was forging a path to a Major League managing job in the tradition of Walt Weiss, who parlayed a 20-6 record with Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., last spring to a job managing this year's Rockies, Washburn laughed it off.
"You never know," Washburn said. "I doubt it."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.