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Fantasy Relief: A whirlwind week for closers

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
  •  

You want to know how to quickly become a major-league closer? Apparently the key is learning how to throw a screwball.

Matt Thornton didn't do it. Neither did Jesse Crain, Will Ohman nor Addison Reed, all of who were in the mix for the White Sox closer's role, which was vacated following Sergio Santos' trade to Toronto.

Hector Santiago surprised everyone on his way to winning the ninth-inning role for Chicago, and he did it because he challenged himself.

"I had nothing to lose," Santiago told CSN Chicago. "I was going into my fifth season as a minor-league player and I was like, 'Let's try to get something in my arsenal that can make me better, get me noticed a little more and stand out.'"

Mission accomplished. Santiago not only surpassed a crafty veteran in Thornton, but he also leapfrogged Reed, who came into spring training as one of the majors' top young relievers to watch.

Nobody threw their lot behind the 24-year-old Santiago, but here we are a week into the baseball season and the left-handed hurler has been the most-added player in Fantasy because he showed no fear in mastering a difficult pitch.

"I have a couple friends that are left-handed, but they won't get into it," Santiago said. "They're scared of injury."

Even before Santiago added the screwball to his repertoire, he was a pretty effective strikeout pitcher in the minors, whiffing 9.6 batters per nine innings. Santiago struck out 13 batters in 11 innings in exhibition games this spring, showing he can still be effective at getting batters to swing and miss.

While Santiago realizes he has a great opportunity, his game still needs some refinement. Santiago walked six batters in his 11 spring innings after walking 4.1 batters per nine innings in the minors.

With that said, Santiago has a chance to thrive in the closer's role for Chicago because he's trending toward being a ground-ball pitcher, which probably has a lot to do with the development of his screwball. That's certainly going to help Santiago in a bandbox stadium like U.S. Cellular Field.

Thornton entered the spring as the odds-on favorite to win the White Sox's closer role, but we were all thrown a curve -- check that, a screwball -- when Santiago entered the fray.

Closing Time

Each week we'll break down closer situations worthy of further examination ...

Top non-closers Week 1 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 35
2. Lucas Harrell, RP, Astros 30
3. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 30
4. Duane Below, RP, Tigers 22.5
5. Josh Lindblom, RP, Dodgers 18.5
6. Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds 17.5
7. Luis Perez, RP, Blue Jays 17.5
8. Casey Janssen, RP, Blue Jays 15.5
9. Tyler Clippard, RP, Nationals 12.5
10. Juan Cruz, RP, Pirates 11.5

Toronto: Speaking of Santos, the Blue Jays might want to use a mulligan on their trade with the White Sox after the 28-year-old right-hander has blown his first two save chances with his new team. I was never a big fan of this trade seeing how Santos struggled at home (5.51 ERA) in 2011, and he was leaving one hitter's ballpark for another. It would be naïve to think former closer Francisco Cordero signed with the Blue Jays because he figured he would be in a setup role all season. Toronto added Cordero as insurance in case Santos proved to be a one-year wonder. If you have an open roster spot and are willing to gamble, then adding Cordero might not be such a bad idea.

Washington: The Brad Lidge/Henry Rodriguez situation at the back-end of the Nationals' bullpen is about to become a more permanent situation with the news that closer Drew Storen will visit Dr. James Andrews for further evaluation on his injured elbow. That's almost like the kiss of death for MLB pitchers. Logic tells us that Washington should turn to Lidge because he has vast experience as an MLB closer. But Rodriguez brings triple-digit heat, which, if harnessed, would be a very effective weapon in the closer's role. It's the reason why Washington is using a two-man rotation at closer. They see the potential Rodriguez brings to the ninth-inning.

Boston: Manager Bobby Valentine was fishing for a lifeline after he watched setup man Mark Melancon and closer Alfredo Aceves meltdown in the team's season-opening series against Detroit. Valentine hinted that moving Daniel Bard back to the bullpen would be a solution. However, general manager Ben Cherington is taking a hard stand and has no plans on moving Bard out of the rotation. Although, I find it interesting that every time Cherington answers a question about Bard being shifted back to the bullpen, he uses the phrase "right now" when he talks about the team's commitment to using Bard as a starter. I always thought it should have been Aceves in the rotation and Bard in the bullpen, and who knows it still might be if Bard continues to get results like Tuesday's.

Chicago Cubs: Cherington's old boss, Theo Epstein, is having his own closer problems in the Windy City. After it appeared using a new grip on his fastball solved Carlos Marmol's problems, his first two appearances this season resulted in a loss and blown save. Even when Marmol finally record his first save, it was of the one-out variety and he walked a batter. The alarming part is that Marmol has no strikeouts in three appearances. The only good news for Marmol is that setup man Kerry Wood is having his struggles as well and there's really no one else in the Cubs' bullpen to threaten Marmol's reign as closer. Manager Dale Sveum said he doesn't consider Marmol to be struggling, but how much longer can he say that if this keeps up?

Top non-closers Week 1 (Roto)
Player Rank
1. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 4
2. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 7
3. Lucas Harrell, RP, Astros 8
4. Duane Below, RP, Tigers 9
5. Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds 21
6. Josh Lindblom, RP, Dodgers 23
7. Luis Perez, RP, Blue Jays 26
8. Casey Janssen, RP, Blue Jays 28
9. Tyler Clippard, RP, Nationals 35
10. Juan Cruz, RP, Pirates 40

Tampa Bay: Manager Joe Maddon is no friend to Fantasy owners. He refuses to name a closer with Kyle Farnsworth on the disabled list, leaving everyone guessing who might take over the ninth-inning role in the interim. With Joel Peralta being the logical choice seeing how he was second on the team in saves in 2011, Maddon used Fernando Rodney for the team's first two save chances over the weekend. Maddon still said he will use a committee approach in the closer's role, but it looks like if you are looking for a stopgap option at closer, grab Rodney off waivers. Remember, Maddon refused to name Farnsworth his closer last year, but he still finished with a team-high 25 saves. It appears Maddon will keep going to Rodney until he proves he can't handle the job.

Kansas City: Manager Ned Yost finally ended the suspense last Thursday and named Jonathan Broxton the team's closer in the wake of Joakim Soria's season-ending injury. Broxton has dominating stuff, but he hasn't had an ERA lower than 4.04 the last two seasons and has already shown mixed results in his first two appearances this season. If I were in an AL-only league, I would make sure to hold onto Greg Holland.

Baltimore: Much like the Kansas City situation, Orioles manager Buck Showalter finally made it a formality when naming Jim Johnson the team's closer. Thus far, Johnson has made his skipper look smart, going 2 for 2 in save chances. Showalter always has fallback options like Matt Lindstrom and Kevin Gregg in the event Johnson falters, but one name to keep tabs on is Pedro Strop, who has closer's experience in the minors and also had a very good strikeout rate (10.8 K/9).

Call to the 'pen

Each week we'll break down pertinent Fantasy news with setup men and other relievers ...

Pirates setup man Evan Meek made his season debut Sunday against the Phillies, pitching the eighth inning of a 4-all game. However, prior to his first appearance Meek said he isn't in an ideal situation right now to be pitching late in games. He's hinting that he might not be fully back to form after being limited in 2011 due to shoulder problems. Meek did have a 4.63 ERA this spring, but he still had a .227 opponents' batting average, so it's not like he was completely ineffective ... Cardinals setup man Fernando Salas still has the confidence of manager Mike Matheny despite his struggles dating back to the exhibition season. Matheny said Salas is falling behind hitters, but he doesn't expect that to last much longer ... Padres manager Bud Black is in love with Micah Owings as his long reliever. Owings bailed out starter Cory Luebke in a 6-0 loss last Friday by tossing 3 1/3 scoreless innings against the Dodgers, saving the Padres' bullpen. Owings' days as a rotation candidate seem numbered. He went 5-0 with a 3.59 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and struck out 7.2 batters per nine innings in 29 relief appearances for Arizona last year, and he's already off to a riveting start as a reliever this year ... The Marlins have a new role for reliever Steve Cishek -- workhorse. Miami has used Cishek in four of the team's first five games. He's responded with four scoreless innings. If Cishek keeps chewing up innings, then Head-to-Head owners in very deep formats will find some use for him ... Dodgers setup man Kenley Jansen seems to have figured out why he was having problems keeping the baseball in the ballpark. Including spring training, Jansen surrendered four homers in 12 innings this year. The Dodgers pitching staff pointed out that Jansen had a mechanical flaw. Jansen fixed it by bending his right knee, which allows him to drive off the rubber and keep his left arm in front of his body for better pitch deception. Jansen responded by firing two scoreless innings against San Diego on Saturday. Crisis averted ... Mets manager Terry Collins said Monday that he would probably use veteran reliever Miguel Batista in a save opportunity if closer Frank Francisco and setup man Jon Rauch were unavailable at the same time.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Michael Hurcomb at @CBSHurc . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Orioles starter Chris Tillman allows one run in 5 1/3 for victory
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(7:34 pm ET) Orioles starter Chris Tillman (2-1) allowed one earned run on six hits and stuck out five in 5 1/3 innings Saturday to earn the win against the Red Sox.

The one run allowed came via Tillman's fielding error in the sixth inning.

Tillman's next start is set for Thursday in Toronto.

Nationals outfielder Denard Span may be activated Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:26 pm ET) Nationals outfielder Denard Span is back with the team after undergoing surgery on a right core muscle in March and may be activated Sunday, reports the Washington Post.

Manager Matt Williams said it's a possibility Span is activated Sunday, but it depends on how he feels. 

"I mean, physically like I said I'm fine," Span said. "I played two games in a row, a little fatigued, but the only way that's gonna get better is by playing games and getting back there every day. Early in season, I think everybody's got a little bit of fatigue, it takes time to get in the swing of the season, but I feel fine."

Span played in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday for Washington's minor league team in Hagerstown.


Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen throws off the mound Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:20 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen was able to throw off the mound Saturday for the first time since foot surgery, reports MLB.com.

Jansen, who is currently on the 15-day DL with the foot injury, is pain free and still targeting a return to the big leagues some time in May. Jansen posted a 2-3 record with 44 saves and a 2.76 ERA in 65 1/3 innings of work in 2014.


Tigers relievers see action Saturday in blowout loss
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:16 pm ET) Tigers relief pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny were able to get some extra work in Saturday against the White Sox in the 12-3 loss.

Both worked a scoreless inning, with Gorzelanny recording two strikeouts in his appearance.

"The thing is we've had one guy pitch however many days, which is great," said Gorzelanny to MLive.com. "I'm happy with that -- it means our starters are going deep and we're winning ballgames. I think everyone would like to get in there just to not only get work in, but save the rest of the guys.

"You want to get guys throw a few innings and save the rest of the bullpen. When they call and say we need to get you in there, I just try to do my job and get out of there as quick as possible."

Manager Brad Ausmus chalked it up to the ebbs and flows of how the starting pitchers do.

"It's tough to stay sharp when you've got starters going eight innings," Ausmus said. "As a reliever, you don't get a chance to get into a game situation. I don't read too much into what happened today."


Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton throws 55 pitches in simulated game
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:09 pm ET) Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton was able to throw 55 pitches in a simulated game Friday against minor league hitters, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune.

"It went well. It was a step forward," Hurdle said. "(Pirates special assistant Jim Benedict) said it was a good day for him and the delivery is syncing up to what we saw '13 and '14 in good stretches."

Morton is currently on the 15-day DL with a hip injury and is yet to step on the mound in 2015 for Pittsburgh.


Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond struggling with his defense
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:06 pm ET) Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond couldn't get things figured out on defense in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Phillies. Desmond was charged with an error after mishandling a throw from Dan Uggla in the third inning, allowing a run to score.

"Both times Desmond didn't get a grip on the baseball. It's one of those things," manager Matt Williams said to MLB.com. "He is going to be back out there tomorrow playing short for us and helping us win a game."

Desmond now has eight errors on the year.

"Brutal," Desmond said. "But I've done it before and I'm going to work my way out of it. … If this is the biggest problem in my life, I guess I'm doing all right. At the end of the year, I will look back at this and know that I made my way through it."


Cubs closer Hector Rondon opens door instead for Padres
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7:01 pm ET) Cubs closer Hector Rondon had been a picture-perfect pitcher early in 2015, but was far from perfect on Saturday.

Entering having not yielded a run in six outings, he sought his third save with his team leading 6-2 and two Padres on base in the ninth inning. He allowed a double and two singles, the second of which, by Yangervis Solarte, tied the game.

Rondon did induce a Wil Myers groundout with the go-ahead run on second to escape further damage.


Pirates not considering sending Jung Ho Kang to the minors
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:01 pm ET) Pirates utility infielder Jung Ho Kang is still working to find his way in the majors. A path that can prove difficult for players coming from overseas, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune.

With the tough transition, manager Clint Hurdle is looking to find something that works for Kang.

"We have conversations on how we're going to use him. Where we're going to use him," Hurdle said. "We've given (sending Kang to the minors) hardly any thought right now."

Kang is hitting just 1 for 9 to start the season with no RBI.

"It's up to Clint, it's up to the team," Kang said. "I'm open to anything the team wants me to do."


Rare defeat befalls Padres closer Kimbrel on Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:54 pm ET) Every so often super closer Craig Kimbrel proves he's mortal. It's rare, but it happens.

It happened Saturday in Chicago when he entered in a 6-6 tie and exited with a defeat, courtesy of two walks and two singles, the last of which was stroked by Starlin Castro and gave the Cubs a victory over the Padres.

Kimbrel had yet to allow a run this season.


Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia to get the day off Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:50 pm ET) Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia will be given the day off for Saturday's matchup against the Marlins after pitching in five straight games, manager Terry Collins said per ESPN.com.

"We have a game Sunday and then another off day," Collins said. "This will get them refreshed a little."

If the team needs a closer for Saturday, Jerry Blevins will fill in, Collins said.

Familia has picked up five saves this season in 6 2/3 innings of work with nine strikeouts and one walk.

"We didn't see any of the sink [in spring training] that Familia has now," Collins said. "Now the games count, and we're seeing the same stuff we saw last season. When his ball sinks, you see guys swing over the top of it. If it's sinking, it's hard to hit."


 
 
 
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