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Fantasy Relief: Say it ain't Joe?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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It wasn't supposed to go down like this. When Rangers closer Joe Nathan took the hill last Wednesday against the Mariners eyeing a save for a second straight day, it was expected to be automatic.

Nathan went into last Wednesday having converted 102 of 107 save chances when pitching without a day of rest (95.3 percent). Sadly, his 108th attempt was unsuccessful as the Mariners handed Nathan his first blown save of the season.

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The veteran closer, who missed the 2010 season following Tommy John surgery, had a 0-2 record and 9.00 ERA after that outing -- his fourth appearance of the season. This came following a horrid spring exhibition season as well.

Yet, last Thursday manager Ron Washington faced the firing squad and stood behind his closer, even with relievers Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando off to fantastic starts.

"People ask me if that puts pressure on me, knowing there are other guys that can close," Nathan told MLB.com. "If anything, that takes pressure off of me. We have lots of guys who can do a lot of different things if we need a rest or we're not as sharp as we need to be. If you play 162 games, you're not going to be sharp every single day. I think it's a good situation."

Adams and Ogando both picked up saves last week after Washington decided to give Nathan a rest. Washington refuses to name a "backup closer," but he said Adams, Ogando and Koji Uehara will all be possibilities for saves if Nathan is unavailable.

Nathan returned to action over the weekend, first appearing in a non-save opportunity Saturday against his former team, the Twins, and then getting his 109th opportunity to close out a game without a day of rest. There was no need for dramatics as Nathan needed just nine pitches to retire the side for his 264th career save.

"We've got to watch Joe, no doubt about it," Washington said. "But Joe is here to help us win ballgames. If Joe has a few outings where he's thrown a ton of pitches and we've got to stay away from him until he builds up strength and stamina, we've got guys who can do that. But he's our closer, and he's here to help us win ballgames."

Closing Time

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

Top non-closers in Week 2 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Neftali Feliz, RP, Rangers 33.5
2. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 28
3. Craig Stammen, RP, Nationals 25.5
4. Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds 25
5. Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers 23
6. Hector Noesi, RP, Mariners 20.5
7. Chad Gaudin, RP, Marlins 20
8. Jeff Gray, RP, Twins 19
9. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 18.5
10. Jon Rauch, RP, Mets 18

San Francisco: Brian Wilson revealed earlier this week that he was "pitching on borrowed time" due to elbow problems he's been battling since 2010. Wilson seems resigned to sitting out the rest of the 2012 season and could be looking at another Tommy John surgery, but that verdict will come down later in the week. For now, the Giants bullpen has to pick up the slack, and as expected, manager Bruce Bochy won't name a closer. Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo are the leading candidates in Bochy's committee approach, but if I'm taking a flier on any player, then it's Casilla. He was second on the team in 2011 with six saves, which all came from late August on after Wilson was limited because of elbow problems. He was also the first player to record a save for San Francisco since Wilson went on the disabled list this year.

Arizona: Through Monday, reliever Bryan Shaw had as many saves (two) as Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and more saves than Tigers closer Jose Valverde. Both Rivera and Valverde were must-own Fantasy relievers on Draft Day. Shaw was on no one's radar ... until now. The Diamondbacks have had so many save opportunities to begin the season that manager Kirk Gibson has had to rest oft-injured closer J.J. Putz at times. Takashi Saito's calf injury has opened the door for more opportunities for Shaw, who Gibson said has "a fearless attitude." Setup man David Hernandez now has some competition for closer's role in the event an injury shelves Putz.

Houston: The Brett Myers trade rumors have already begun. General manager Jeff Lunhow responded to them by saying he's not shopping any of his players at this time. But don't totally dispel what's going on. Myers has a $10 million vesting option ($3 million buyout) for the 2013 season. In a most likely scenario when the Astros begin to fall out of the playoff race, contending teams will come calling and Myers could be on the move later this summer. If that happens and Brandon Lyon is still struggling, Wilton Lopez and Fernando Rodriguez could be the top candidates to step into the closer's role.

Toronto: Sergio Santos seems to have a fix for his early-season struggles. He said he was trying to be too perfect with his pitches, which resulted in two blown saves to begin the year. Santos said he's going back to attacking the strike zone and not overthrowing. Since the change in philosophy, Santos passed his first test with a save last Thursday against the Red Sox. The call for Francisco Cordero to elevate to the closer's role will have to be put on hold for now.

L.A. Angels: It's been so bad for Jordan Walden that he doesn't even have a save chance through his team's first 11 games. It's definitely frustrating for Fantasy owners, but at least Walden has pitched two perfect outings this year, which we hope is a sign that he's more ready to handle the closer's role in 2012 after recording 10 blown saves in 2011.

Top non-closers Week 2 (Roto)
Player Rank
1. Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds 13
2. Craig Stammen, RP, Nationals 18
3. Robbie Ross, SP, Rangers 23
4. Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers 28
5. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 33
6. Jeff Gray, RP, Twins 35
7. Neftali Feliz, RP, Rangers 36
8. David Phelps, SP, Yankees 43
9. Bryan Shaw, RP, Diamondbacks 49
10. Chad Gaudin, RP, Marlins 50

L.A. Dodgers: How smart does Don Mattingly look for sticking with Javy Guerra as his team's closer and not turning the job over to Kenley Jansen? Before recording his first blown save on Tuesday, Guerra entered play leading the majors with five saves. He allowed no runs and just two hits in his first six appearances (six innings), which included a win. Guerra's 58.5 Fantasy points through Monday was good enough to lead all relievers. Not bad value for a guy that on average went 30 picks later than Jansen, and that was in the leagues he was drafted! Guerra had just 55 percent ownership when Week 1 began.

Cleveland: Chris Perez owners can start to breathe easy again. Following a blown save in his first appearance April 5, Perez has tossed four scoreless innings, allowing three hits and two walks, while striking out three. He has three saves in that span as well. Indians manager Manny Acta doesn't have to call on Vinnie Pestano just yet.

Call to the 'pen

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

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Reds hitters hope to never see Nationals reliever Craig Stammen again. During their four-game series over the weekend, Stammen tossed four scoreless innings, recording two wins and nine strikeouts. The former starter has found his calling in the majors. He has a 1.00 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 12 relief outings (18 innings) since last season. He's also striking out 11.0 batters per nine innings in that span. ... Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen continues to look like the heir apparent to closer Brandon League, if Seattle can't sign League to a long-term deal. ... Red Sox reliever Vicente Padilla finally seems past his health problems and is pitching effectively out of the Boston bullpen. He even tossed four scoreless innings against Detroit on April 8. Padilla will likely handle the long relief role for Boston and might be called on to spot start in a pinch. ... Dodgers reliever Josh Lindblom needs to be on the radar of Fantasy owners in leagues that value non-closers. He's becoming one of the most valuable arms in the Dodgers' bullpen. Lindblom is piggybacking on the success he had in his first taste of the majors last year and has the faith of skipper Don Mattingly with three chances at holds already. ... You shouldn't need any more proof than Kevin Gregg's 12.27 ERA through three outings as evidence why he's no longer the Orioles' closer. Manager Buck Showalter continues to stand behind the veteran reliever and said his struggles might stem from Gregg's unsettled role in the bullpen. Pedro Strop and Matt Lindstrom look like much better options to close if something happens to Jim Johnson. ... Braves reliever Eric O'Flaherty is struggling to find his rhythm after posting a career-best 0.98 ERA and 32 holds last season. He has a 7.71 ERA and one blown save in his first five outings this year. ... Rockies reliever Matt Belisle has allowed one unearned run through four innings this year after yielding just five earned runs in his final 25 innings last year. Manager Jim Tracy calls Belisle "an incredibly efficient pitcher". ... Efficiency hasn't been in Angels reliever Hisanori Takahashi's vernacular this year. He's been tagged for at least one hit in four of five outings. In total, he's allowed five runs on eight hits and two walks in 4 1/3 innings (10.38 ERA, 2.31 WHIP). ... Phillies reliever Antonio Bastardo's spring velocity problems appear to be in the past. Bastardo hasn't allowed a run in three outings and has struck out his last four batters. ... We haven't seen much of A's reliever Fautino De Los Santos, who was in the mix for the closer's job this spring. De Los Santos has made two appearances through his team's first 12 games and they have come eight days apart.

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
Clayton Kershaw goes eight strong for win No. 15
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:10 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw had a no-hitter going against the Padres until the sixth inning. The ace surrendered his first hit to opposing starter Tyson Ross.

Kershaw went eight innings strong for the win at home on Thursday, improving to 15-3 on the year. The southpaw permitted one run on three hits and two walks while striking out 10 in a 2-1 victory. Of his 103 pitches, 69 were strikes. He improved to 15-3 on the year, matching Johnny Cueto, Wily Peralta and Adam Wainwright for the major-league lead in victories. 

Over his last three starts covering 25 innings, Kershaw has allowed five earned runs. He has gone eight-plus innings in seven of his last nine starts. He owns a 1.82 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP over 21 starts (153 1/3 innings). He will make his next start Wednesday at Arizona.

Kenley Jansen slams door shut on Padres
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:07 am ET) Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen struck out two and worked past a walk in a scoreless ninth inning for the save Thursday night at home against the Padres. Jansen has converted 36 of 40 save chances, with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 52 1/3 innings of relief.

Tyson Ross goes the distance in losing effort
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:59 am ET) Padres pitcher Tyson Ross tossed a complete game but took a tough-luck loss to the Dodgers Thursday night, dropping to 11-12 on the season. The right-hander permitted two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out eight over eight innings of a 2-1 defeat.

Ross is 0-4 with a 2.67 ERA and 29 strikeouts over 27 innings pitched against the Dodgers this season. The offense has only backed him with two runs over that span. He'll look to bounced Tuesday at home against Milwaukee.

Travis Wood suffers 11th loss of the season
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:53 am ET) Cubs pitcher Travis Wood took the loss Thursday night at home against the Giants, dropping to 7-11 on the season. The left-hander permitted four runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out six over six innings of a 5-3 defeat.

Over his last two starts covering 11 1/3 innings, Wood has allowed seven earned runs. He owns a 4.91 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP over 26 starts (150 1/3 innings). He will look to bounce back Wednesday in Cincinnati.

Jason Heyward scores two runs Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:50 am ET) Braves outfielder Jason Heyward scored two runs Thursday against the Reds.

Heyward singled twice during the game. He would come around to score in the third inning on a Justin Upton hit, and again in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly. Heyward finished 2 for 4, with two runs scored and one RBI. 


Santiago Casilla closes out Cubs
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:47 am ET) Giants reliever Santiago Casilla struck out two and worked past a hit for the save Thursday night against the Cubs. He needed only 15 pitches to complete a scoreless inning. He has converted 11 of 14 save chances, with a 1.59 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP over 45 1/3 innings of relief.

Madison Bumgarner fans season-high 12 in win over Cubs
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:45 am ET) Giants starter Madison Bumgarner twirled a gem Thursday night against the Cubs, striking out a season-high 12 for the win, improving to 14-9 on the season. The left-hander pitched seven strong innings and allowed three runs on seven hits and one walk. Of his 116 pitches, 79 were strikes.

Bumgarner has struck out nine-plus in three of his last four starts. Over that span covering 22 innings, he has allowed seven earned runs. He owns a 3.17 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP over 27 starts (176 innings). His next start will come Tuesday at home against Colorado.

Buster Posey shrugs off injury concern with four-hit game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:39 am ET) Giants catcher Buster Posey shrugged off any injury concerns, reaching base five times Thursday night at Wrigley Field against the Cubs.

Posey doubled in the third, homered in the fifth, singled in the seventh and doubled again in the ninth. He finished the game 4 for 4 with a walk, two runs scored and an RBI in a 5-3 victory.He is hitting .284/.345/.438 with 14 homers and 59 RBI over 425 at-bats.

Derek Holland could start Tuesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:26 am ET) Rangers pitcher Derek Holland could make his first start of the season Thursday against the Mariners, according to the Dallas Morning News

Holland was able to go 87 pitches during his most recent rehab start. Following the game, he declared himself ready to pitch in the majors. The club will need a fifth starter Tuesday with Yu Darvish sidelined. Holland is being considered for that start. 

Holland has been sidelined the entire season after having offseason surgery on his knee. 


Justin Upton drives in three
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:03 am ET) Braves outfielder Justin Upton drove in three runs Thursday against the Reds.

Upton singled in two runs in the third inning, and drove in another on a sac fly. He finished 2 for 3, with one run scored and three RBI. Upton also walked during the contest. 


 
 
 
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