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Fantasy Relief: A whirlwind week for closers

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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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
Braves OF Melvin Upton unable to finish workout due to toe injury
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:49 pm ET) Braves outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. was unable to complete Friday's workout with the club because of discomfort near the big toe on his right foot, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports. He will be evaluated at some point Friday afternoon to determine the severity of the injury.

Upton is seeking a bounce-back campaign after seeing his power numbers drop recently. Since joining Atlanta in 2013 on a five-year contract, Upton is batting .198 with a .279 on-base percentage, .314 slugging percentage and .593 OPS in 267 games.


Back injury keeps Tigers' Alex Avila out of workouts Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:43 pm ET) Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said catcher Alex Avila didn't participate in workouts Friday due to a sore back. He is being listed as day to day, per MLB.com.

D-Backs prospect Will Locante turning heads with improved command
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:41 pm ET) Diamondbacks prospect Will Locante was advised by the organization a few years ago to lower his arm angle in hopes of improving his command. As a result, Locante has turned heads with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and slider from a low, slinging arm slot during his most recent live batting practice on Thursday, according to the Arizona Republic.

"He throws really hard, his arm angle, his slider, the sink on his fastball -- all those things make him really hard to hit," manager Chip Hale said. "Those are those impact, lefty arms that are hard to find."


Yankees' Burton: I want to re-emerge as one of the better RPs in majors
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:39 pm ET) Yankees reliever Jared Burton is in camp on a minor-league deal trying to earn a spot in the bullpen. Even though spring training just began, Burton likes how he is throwing the baseball, per NJ.com.

"I still think my stuff is as good as it's been," said Burton, who typically uses a fastball-changeup combination. "It's just the beginning of spring training. Everybody feels pretty fresh. But I feel like the ball is really coming out of my hand pretty well right now."

Although Burton didn't have an awful year in 2014, he is hoping he can bounce back in some regards since his ERA (4.36) was well higher than his career ERA (3.44) and his strikeout total also dropped last season.

"There's a little extra motivation as well," he said. "So I want to reestablish myself as one of the better relievers in the game."


A's plan to keep Coco Crisp out of early Cactus League games
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:30 pm ET) In an attempt to keep him fresh for the start of the season, the Athletics are expected to keep Coco Crisp out of game action in early on in the Cactus League exhibition season, per the Bay Area News Group. Crisp recently told reporters that he will ease up a bit in 2015 after collisions with outfield walls led to neck pain in 2014.

He was limited to only 126 games last season. He has not played more than 136 games since 2007.


Brewers SP Jimmy Nelson dealing with minor hamstring injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:27 pm ET) Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson rested again Friday due to a hamstring injury, according to MLB.com. However, manager Ron Roenicke continues to indicate it is not a serious injury.

McClendon not considering Erasmo Ramirez as relief option for M's
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:23 pm ET) Mariners starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez is out of minor-league options and faces an uphill battle to make the starting rotation, but manager Lloyd McClendon saod Friday he is not looking at Ramirez as a potential reliever, per MLB.com.

“We’ve got some talented arms in that bullpen,” McClendon said. “The competition may be even stiffer down there.”


Reds' Homer Bailey after 'pen session: 'It was kind of really rewarding'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:21 pm ET) Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey completed a 20-pitch bullpen session on Friday without any issues, per the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"I've been looking forward to it, really," Bailey said. "Even in the offseason, playing catch and stuff, you see guys throw bullpens and in your mind, you think you can still do it. Getting out of a brace the first time, you think you can walk on the mound and throw, and that's not necessarily the case. It was kind of really rewarding, it felt really good."

Bailey, who is coming off September elbow surgery, is in danger of starting the season on the disabled list. The right-hander was limited to 23 starts in 2014, posting a 9-5 record with a 3.71 ERA. It was the first time in three seasons he finished with less than 10 wins.


McClendon: Iwakuma still throwing bullpens, but 'everything is fine'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) While most of Seattle's pitchers are tossing live batting practice, Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma threw his third bullpen session of the spring Friday, per MLB.com. However, manager Lloyd McClendon stressed the veteran pitcher is not behind due to injury.

“This is by design,” McClendon said. “We’re just stretching him out a little more. Kuma is A-OK and everything is fine. He has no issues at all. I don’t think he needs the live BPs. The guy is such a technician, he gets more done in a bullpen session than he would in a live BP.”

Iwakuma was 12-6 with a 2.57 ERA in his first 21 starts last season before going 3-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his final seven outings. 

“I kind of ran out of gas there,” he said through translator Antony Suzuki. “It wasn’t like I was very, very tired. I was just fatigued mentally and physically and that’s something I need to work on in spring training.

“I’m very excited (for 2015). It’s a different year compared to where I was last year. I’m very motivated. I look forward to the season and I’m looking forward to a good spring training.”


Yankees' Brendan Ryan to miss five days of camp with back strain
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:14 pm ET) Yankees infielder Brendan Ryan underwent a precautionary MRI on his back which revealed a mid-back strain, the team announced. The injury occurred while lifting weights in the days leading up to the start of spring training, and it will keep him sidelined from on-field activities for approximately five days.

Ryan, who is seeking more playing time this season, hit .167 over 114 at-bats in 2014.


 
 
 
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