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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
Cubs RF Jorge Soler hits game-tying double on Saturday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(2:00 am ET) Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler broke out of his recent mini-slump with a two-hit night in Saturday's win over the Diamondbacks. Soler went 2 for 4 with a big game tying, two-run double in the top of the eighth inning.

Soler's two-bagger knotted the game up at six, and set the stage for the team to post three more in the ninth for the victory. 

This was Soler's fourth two-hit performance in his last seven games. However, he was hitless int he other three games, and he is now 8 for 29 over that stretch.


Diamondbacks getting aggressive on the basepaths
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:58 am ET) The Diamondbacks have been speed demons so far this season. Arizona entered Saturday's game tied for second in the National League with 40 stolen bases, led by A.J. Pollock with 10 and Paul Goldschmidt with eight.

"What we've really tried to do the whole year is if there's an opportunity there, be aggressive with it," Goldschmidt said to MLB.com. "It's just another way we can get a guy into scoring position and make it a little bit easier on offense to score."

Pollock is tied for fourth in the NL with his stolen bases and 12 different players have recorded at least one stolen base.

"If it is a good spot and it's a good opportunity to take one, we'll try to take it," Pollock said. "We've got a pretty dynamic team and overall our team speed is pretty good. You've got a couple guys that kind of fly under the radar with speed and they can sneak one here and there."


Diamondbacks LF David Peralta hits three-run double on Saturday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:56 am ET) Diamondbacks left fielder David Peralta belted a bases-clearing double in the bottom of the fifth inning in Saturday's loss to the Cubs. It was Peralta's only hit of the game, and it gave his team a 5-4 advantage.

Saturday was Peralta's second three-RBI performance in his last four games as he continues to have a solid year at the plate in his second year as a big-leaguer. He's now hitting .257 with four home runs and 21 RBI on the year.


Rockies SS Daniel Descalso blasts second home run of the year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Rockies shortstop Daniel Descalso went 1 for 4 at the plate in Colorado's 5-3 win over the Giants on Saturday.

Descalso did his damage in the sixth inning when he belted a two-run home run off of Yusmeiro Petit, his second of the season. Descalso is now hitting .200 with 11 RBI in 54 at-bats this season.


Rockies reliever John Axford nails down sixth save of the season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Rockies relief pitcher John Axford worked a nearly perfect ninth inning on Saturday in Colorado's 5-3 win over the Giants, earning his sixth save of the season.

After allowing a leadoff single, Axford managed to get a fly out to center field, who then doubled off the baserunner trying to advanced to third. Axford then forced a groundout to end the game. Axford lowered his ERA to 0.90 in 10 innings of work.


Giants pitcher Yusmeiro Petit allows four runs in losing effort
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Giants pitcher Yusmeiro Petit allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings of work in San Francisco's 5-3 loss to the Rockies on Saturday.

Petit didn't have any issues until the fourth, when he allowed three consecutive batters to reach base safely, including an RBI double by Brandon Barnes. Then, he forced a groundout by Daniel Descalso, but that also brought home a run.

In the sixth, Petit surrendered a two-run homer to Descalso. Petit, now 1-1, moved his ERA to 3.86 in 28 innings of work. 


Rockies pitcher David Hale earns first win of the year in spot start
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Rockies pitcher David Hale allowed three runs, two earned, on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings of work on Saturday in Colorado's 5-3 win over the Giants.

Hale, who was called up from Triple-A to make a spot start in a doubleheader for Colorado, ran into some issues in the second when he allowed a run to score on a wild pitch. Then in the fifth, Hale put runners on second and third with two out before allowing an RBI single to Nori Aoki, scoring a run. 

Hale would allow one more run in the seventh before getting the hook. Hale, now 1-0, moved his ERA to 2.70 on the season. 


Diamondbacks' A.J. Pollock continues hot hitting roll
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:52 am ET) Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock went 1 for 4 in Arizona's 9-6 loss on Saturday. It was Pollock's first "bad game" in his last five. Entering Saturday, Pollock was 10 for 16 in the last four, something he can't explain, according to MLB.com.

"Just clicking, I don't know what's going on," Pollock said. "It's just baseball, you feel like you've got something, you're not getting hits, then you do the same thing and you're getting hits. It's just how the game is."

Manager Chip Hale noted his approach change to his recent success.

"He's really turned it up in just the mental part of the game, of picking the pitches that he wants to go after, whether it's the first pitch or a pitch with two strikes," Hale said. "Instead of trying to guess or wait, he's looking for a good pitch to hit out over the plate and using the whole field."

Pollock is now hitting .308 with 16 RBI in 156 at-bats this season.


Diamondbacks C Tuffy Gosewisch blasts first home run of 2015
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:51 am ET) Diamondbacks catcher Tuffy Gosewisch launched his first home run in over a year, as Arizona fell to the Cubs 9-6 on Saturday. Gosewisch's only other home run came on April 22, 2014.

Saturday's solo shot came in the sixth inning off Cubs' starter Jake Arrieta, and gave the D-Backs a 6-4 lead. The 31-year-old Gosewisch has hit safely in nine of his last 11 games and owns a .231 batting average on the season.


Cubs RP Jason Motte picks up relief win on Saturday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:44 am ET) Cubs reliver Jason Motte (2-1) earned a win in relief in Saturday's 9-6 victory over the Diamondbacks. Motte entered the bottom of the eighth inning with one away and managed to retire the two batters he faced. The Cubs put up three runs in their half of the ninth, which allowed Motte to pick up the win. 

The hard-throwing right-hander lowered his season ERA to 4.76 and he has not been scored upon in his last four outings.


 
 
 
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