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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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Yankees SP CC Sabathia nearly '100 percent'
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"It's definitely a huge relief," Sabathia said. "I feel good enough to do all my workouts, to play catch and kind of have a normal offseason."

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(8:05 pm ET) Nationals third baseman/outfielder Ryan Zimmerman will likely shift over to first base in 2015, MLB.com reports. He's currently resting his right hamstring after suffering a Grade 3 strain in July.

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"Obviously, I love playing third base. But some of the injuries over the last two or three years made it tougher for me to be an above average third baseman. It's hard to accept that, but I think that's the truth. Sometimes, the truth hurts sometimes. But Anthony has a great chance to be very good over there. I could be an above average first baseman if I work at it during Spring Training and the rest of this offseason. But that's not just my decision. Obviously, I'll talk with [general manager] Mike [Rizzo] and Matt and see what their plans are. I'm sure we'll find out in the next week or two."

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(6:19 pm ET) The Diamondbacks have added pitcher Enrique Burgos to their 40-man roster, the Arizona Republic reports. He's now protected from the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

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(6:06 pm ET) Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo is day-to-day after suffering a bruised hand/thumb during Arizona Fall League play Monday, WEEI.com reports.

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(5:34 pm ET) An MRI on the injured shoulder of Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha came back clean, MLB.com reports.

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