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Fantasy Relief: Say it ain't Joe?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
  •  

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
Farrell: Red Sox OF Ramirez will need time to adjust
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9:27 pm ET) The difficulty transitioning into the outfield for Red Sox newcomer Hanley Ramirez could be seen Saturday against Baltimore, but John Farrell expressed an understanding that it will take time.

Ramirez misplayed a fly ball hit by Jimmy Paredes. He appeared to have a bead on it, but as the ball arrived at the wall, he made an unnecessary jump and it bounced off the heel of the glove.

"We knew it was going to be a transition for him," Farrell told WEEI radio. "There was going to be work to be done. ... To me, there's nothing alarming and the more games played, the more comfortable he's going to get."

Ramirez has certainly remained comfortable at the plate. He boasts a slugging percentage of .564.


Indians pitcher Nick Hagadone throws two scoreless Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:15 pm ET) Indians pitcher Nick Hagadone went two scoreless innings in Cleveland's 4-2 win over the Twins Saturday. Manager Terry Francona loves what he's seen from Hagadone so far, reports MLB.com.

"Hags threw the ball so well," Francona said. "He has the ability to do this. If you let an outing or two [affect your thinking], if you kind of put a guy in the penalty box, you're not going to get to see what he can do. That doesn't help anybody."

Hagadone has now thrown 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and just two walks with a 3.38 ERA.

"He did an outstanding job," closer Cody Allen said. "Hags is a big part of this team. He's a guy that I know Tito likes to lean on, because he's a left-hander that can get righties and lefties out. He's got great stuff. He did a great job for us last year and we're looking for him to do the same thing this year."


Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez earns first win of the year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:07 pm ET) Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez worked six strong innings in St. Louis' 5-2 win over the Reds Saturday. Martinez allowed one run on three hits with four strikeouts in the outing.

His only mistake of the day came in the fifth inning when he allowed a lead off home run to Zack Cozart. He set the next three batters down in order. 

"He seems to have a pretty good feel for the changeup and the breaking ball, to kind of put a little more on, take a little off," manager Mike Matheny said to FOXSports.com. "That's something you don't necessarily teach. It's just a feel."

He will look to keep things rolling Friday against the Brewers.


Astros manager A.J. Hinch please with Josh Fields' (groin) progress
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(9:07 pm ET) Astros manager A.J. Hinch was encouraged with pitcher Josh Fields' (groin) Triple-A outing on Friday, despite giving up a run on three hits in a relief appearance, reports the Houston Chronicle

"The reports are that was some of the best stuff that Fields has featured while on rehab," Hinch said. "So that’s a good sign. Gave up a run, threw just north of 20 pitches. His stuff was together. His changeup was really good. He’s inching closer to coming back." 

Fields, who is on the disabled list with a groin strain, is to make another relief outing on Sunday.


Athletics pitcher Jesse Hahn leaves start Saturday with apparent injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:54 pm ET) Athletics pitcher Jesse Hahn was forced to leave his start Saturday against the Royals with an apparent injury. Hahn left with one out in the sixth after picking up a possible blister on his finger, according to the announcing team.

Hahn went 5 1/3 scoreless innings with three hits allowed and no strikeouts.


Red Sox OF Shane Victorino (ribs) remains questionable for Sunday
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(8:47 pm ET) Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino's status for Sunday's game against the Orioles remains unknown, reports the Boston Herald.

Victorino was a late scratch from Saturday's lineup because of sore ribs he suffered crashing into the outfield wall during Friday's game.

"When he hit the wall, he made a great effort to try to bring back a home run," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "The left rib area was sore here today. He was no go. We’ll check him in the morning on his availability."

Rockies P David Hale (oblique) to get minor league start on Monday
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(8:40 pm ET) Rockies pitcher David Hale (oblique), who began the season on the 15-day disabled list, will get a start on Monday with the organization's High-A team (Modesto), reports the Denver Post.

He'll be held to three innings or 45 pitches.

Hale, who joined the Rockies in the offseason via a trade, was placed on the DL to begin the season.

Royals ace Ventura ejected for beaning Athletics' Lawrie
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(8:16 pm ET) Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura was ejected by umpire Jim Joyce in the fourth inning Saturday night for hitting Athletics third baseman Brett Lawrie with a pitch.

The benches emptied, but no punches were thrown and the players soon dispersed, according to Comcast SportsNet.

Lawrie has been in the center of a controversy after a hard slide into second base Friday caused injury to Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar.

Ventura collapsed in the fourth after three no-hit innings. He had already given up five runs when he beaned Lawrie.


Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman cracks fourth homer Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:05 pm ET) Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman went 2 for 4 at the plate in Atlanta's 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays Saturday in 10 innings. 

Freeman cranked an 0-1 pitch from R.A. Dickey over the right field wall in the third inning, driving home Nick Markakis.

"The ball's never gonna do the same thing, so there's no point in seeing a pitch," said Freeman to MLB.com. "He throws between 67 and 80 [mph], so you just try to see one up and hope it doesn't move as much," Freeman said.

He is now hitting .478 in his career against knuckleball pitchers with three home runs.


Tigers pitcher Joe Nathan throws bullpen Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:58 pm ET) Tigers pitcher Joe Nathan was able to throw a 15-pitch bullpen session Saturday for the first time since landing on the disabled-list, reports MLive.com.

"I planned on just long tossing, but I felt awesome," Nathan said. "(Pitching coach Jeff Jones) might had a plan but I didn't know about it. But I said, 'Let's do it.'"

Nathan, who has been on the DL with a right elbow flexor strain since April 7, is eligible to be activated Wednesday. He is expected to throw a full bullpen session Monday.

"I'm eligible, but I don't want to speculate on what we're going to do." he said. "I assume they would want me to get some game action to make sure (I'm ready)."


 
 
 
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