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Fantasy Relief: Bullpen bargains to be had

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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I have to thank Javy Guerra and Jim Johnson for proving that it's not worth Fantasy owners' time on Draft Day to be chasing closers.

As I pointed out last week, Guerra was drafted behind teammate and setup man Kenley Jansen in most formats, and Johnson was drafted behind both Dodgers relievers. On average, Johnson was drafted in the 19th round of Rotisserie formats and 20th round in Head-to-Head leagues (mixed leagues).

Let's not forget that Guerra and Johnson weren't even drafted in all Fantasy formats. Guerra's ownership was at 55 percent at the start of Week 1 and Johnson was at 39 percent. Their low ownership had a lot to do with uncertainty about their bullpen roles, but nonetheless it strengthens the point that Fantasy owners need to divert their resources to hitters and starting pitchers on Draft Day and only worry about saves in the mid-to-late rounds.

Top non-closers in Week 3 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Cory Luebke, RP, Padres 57.5
2. Pedro Strop, RP, Orioles 28.5
3. Anthony Bass, RP, Padres 27
4. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 27
5. Jose Veras, RP, Brewers 23.5
6. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 21.5
7. Luis Perez, RP, Blue Jays 20
8. Juan Cruz, RP, Pirates 18.5
9. Duane Below, RP, Tigers 18
10. Lucas Harrell, RP, Astros 17

Heading into Tuesday, Guerra was the highest-scoring closer (72 Fantasy points) and Johnson was second (63) in Head-to-Head formats. Behind them were Fernando Rodney (62.5), Grant Balfour (55), Chris Perez (52.5) and Rafael Betancourt (50.5) -- all players that were either nabbed off waivers or drafted in the late rounds.

Is that to say Jonathan Papelbon or Craig Kimbrel, who were the two-highest drafted closers in CBSSports.com leagues, were bad investments? Not at all. In the end, both closers will likely finish the year as top 10 Fantasy relievers.

But both players on average were going in the early rounds of drafts this spring, which definitely seems like a reach as we see the type of value you can get in the late rounds or off waivers when it comes to relievers.

What's done is done. We just have to learn from the past, but hopefully the way the 2012 season has started for closers will serve as a lasting memory when Draft Day 2013 rolls around.

Closing Time

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

Toronto: Sergio Santos is not having a good start to his Toronto career. First, he blows his first two save chances and now he's on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. As of Monday, Santos isn't expected to throw for 10-14 days. Francisco Cordero, who has 328 career saves, steps into the closer's role in Santos' absence.

Pittsburgh: We saw further proof in Week 3 (April 16-22) that the Pirates aren't ready to trust Evan Meek in a key late-inning role by leaning on Juan Cruz to close out games while Joel Hanrahan was hurt. Hanrahan returned over the weekend from a hamstring injury, but now we know who the Pirates will turn to in the event Hanrahan needs a rest or misses time again.

N.Y. Mets: Mets manager Terry Collins continues to back Frank Francisco as his closer despite some recent struggles. Francisco entered play Tuesday with a 23.14 ERA in his last three outings. Setup man Jon Rauch has an unblemished ERA through 8 1/3 innings and has experience as a closer, but Collins is committed to Francisco. Francisco said his issues stem from a flaw in his delivery, which he said he has fixed. Only time will tell if Francisco, who also has a balky left knee, will be able to hold off Rauch.

Miami: All is back to normal for Marlins closer Heath Bell, who blew his first two save chances this season. According to the Sun-Sentinel, all Bell needed was a pep talk from his wife. Bell's wife left him a Facebook message after his April 14 meltdown against the Astros. Bell called the message "inspirational." Fantasy owners aren't going to complain about the means of his turnaround with Bell back on track. He's 2 for 2 in save opportunities since blowing his first two saves. The Marlins and Fantasy owners can take their fingers off the panic button.

Top non-closers Week 3 (Roto)
Player Rank
1. Cory Luebke, RP, Padres 2
2. Pedro Strop, RP, Orioles 8
3. Jose Veras, RP, Brewers 15
4. Luis Perez, RP, Blue Jays 32
5. Anthony Bass, RP, Padres 35
6. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 37
7. Clay Hensley, RP, Giants 43
8. Matt Belisle, RP, Rockies 45
9. Rafael Perez, RP, Indians 58
10. Marco Estrada, RP, Brewers 63

Washington: Manager Davey Johnson is sticking with his co-closer tandem of Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez, despite Lidge having blown two saves and Rodriguez a perfect 4 for 4. Lidge, who has a 5.14 ERA, admits to battling some location problems. He was very efficient for the Phillies the last two seasons when he wasn't injured and has years of experience as a closer. Rodriguez is new to the closer's role, which is why Johnson isn't giving up on his current approach. He probably doesn't want to put a ton of pressure on Rodriguez while continuing to ease him into the ninth-inning role.

San Francisco: Clay Hensley earned a save during an extra-inning win against the Mets on Friday. Don't be surprised if Hensley is in the mix for some save chances in Bruce Bochy's committee approach to the closer's role. Hensley worked as a setup man for Juan Oviedo with the Marlins and even had seven saves in 2010. However, Santiago Casilla (owned 51 percent of leagues) is the option Fantasy owners want to nab off waivers. We still feel he's the top candidate to get most of the save chances.

Call to the 'pen

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

Mitchell Boggs is emerging as the primary setup man for Cardinals closer Jason Motte. He has appeared in the eighth inning in four straight appearances and entered play Tuesday tied for second in the majors with five holds ... Chad Qualls is surprisingly getting a lot of setup work for closer Jonathan Papelbon, even with Antonio Bastardo and Jose Contreras healthy. All six of Qualls' appearances have come in the eighth inning and he already has four holds. He also has tossed six scoreless innings ... He might have lost out on the closer's role, but White Sox reliever Matt Thornton hasn't let it affect his performance. He's opened the year with eight scoreless innings and four holds ... Tigers manager Jim Leyland said pitcher Duane Below, who lost out on the final spot in the team's rotation this spring, will remain as the team's left-handed long reliever. Below's name surfaced as a potential rotation replacement while Doug Fister is on the disabled list, but Below has pitched so well in long relief that Leyland would rather keep him in that role ... Indians reliever Tony Sipp hasn't been efficient through his first seven outings, posting a 11.57 ERA and 2.14 WHIP, but that hasn't cost him his seventh-inning role. He has four holds through 4 2/3 innings and remains a viable Fantasy option in leagues that reward for that category ... Speaking of Holland, at least we now have a reason for his early-season struggles. Holland is going to be shut down for a few days and might not resurface in a game for at least three weeks. He has immense strikeout potential and is an option for holds when healthy, so he might be worth stashing in deeper Fantasy formats ... I'm not sure how long Cory Gearrin will be in the majors with Braves starting pitcher Tim Hudson set to come off the disabled list on Sunday, but this kid is a reliever to watch. Gearrin posted a 7.85 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in his first taste of the majors last year, but he struck out 12.3 batters per nine innings. Before his recall Tuesday, Gearrin tossed 12 1/3 scoreless innings at Triple-A Gwinnett and had a 15-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If he can stay in the majors, Gearrin might emerge as a viable Rotisserie Fantasy option.

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 pitcher Edwin Jackson allows just one hit Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:56 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson surrendered just one hit Sunday in 4 2/3 innings against the Royals. Jackson, who missed his last start after his GPS sent him to the wrong ballpark, is battling with Travis Wood for the final spot in the starting rotation.

"It was a little bit of everything working in my favor today," Jackson said to MLB.com.

Jackson is now 2-1 with a 5.28 ERA in five spring training starts.


Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez strikes out eight in outing Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:51 pm ET) Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez surrendered an opening-inning home run, but settled down to throw eight strikeouts over five innings Sunday against the Cubs. Manager Ned Yost was happy to finally see why the team signed him this offseason, reports MLB.com.

"I don't see him struggling," Yost said before the game. "The importance I place on Spring Training performance and the importance you place on Spring Training performance are two different things. I'm looking for him to gain arm strength and I'm looking for him to refine his mechanics where he's down [in the strike zone] consistently. To me, he's right on schedule."

Volquez allowed two runs on six hits, making his ERA now 7.79.


Brewers pitcher Michael Blazek struggles in outing Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:44 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Michael Blazek allowed three runs on four hits, including a home run, in 3 2/3 innings of work Sunday against the Athletics. Blazek, who is competing for a spot in the bullpen, knows it just wasn't there, reports MLB.com.

"I just didn't really feel like I had my best stuff today," said Blazek, who entered the game with a 3.29 ERA. "I didn't really have the breaking ball like I had the last few outings. I was kind of battling trying to get command of that. It was kind of an off-mechanics day, really is what it felt like. I was kind of fighting it."


Brewers pitcher Chris Perez leaves game Sunday with ankle sprain
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:29 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Chris Perez left Sunday's game after recording just one out with a right ankle sprain, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Although it appears to be a slight sprain, Perez is competing with Michael Blazek, Tyler Thornburg and Rob Wooten for the final two spots in the bullpen and could make this injury the deciding factor.

"They did (struggle)," said manager Ron Roenicke. "But it's one outing. We're not concerned with that. We still have seen enough of guys that we have a pretty good idea. We’ll probably make a decision here in a couple days on a couple of them, and then we’ll see."


Athletics reassign three players to minors Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:22 pm ET) The Athletics decided to reassign three players Sunday including: shortstop Andy Parrino, catcher Luke Carlin and first baseman Max Muncy, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Carlin git .273 with six RBI in 22 plate appearances this spring while Muncy hit .375 in 32 at-bats with two home runs and 10 RBI. Parrino hit just .196 with four doubles and 11 strikeouts in 46 at-bats.

Carlin is likely to be back with the team Tuesday to catch for Barry Zito, according to the report.


Angels pitcher Andrew Heaney likely to be sent to Triple-A
(7:02 pm ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia has indicated that pitcher Andrew Heaney will begin the season in Triple-A, according to MLB.com.

The team's top pitching prospect, Heaney has allowed 13 earned runs in 14.0 innings (8.36 ERA) in four starts this spring.

The Angels are expected to open the season with a four-man rotation that will included Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago.

Starter Garrett Richards is recovering from knee surgery.

"One of the things is, a lot of guys who are playing well, it might come down to what the fit is on the team. So there's a couple different ways," Scioscia said. "There's some things that might happen that might affect somebody's standing on the team in a positive or negative way, just to get the whole roster to be as deep as you can."


Reds pitcher Jason Marquis continues to make case for pitching staff
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) Reds pitcher Jason Marquis gave up three earned runs on seven hits in six innings of work Sunday. Marquis, who also added three strikeouts, now has a 3-1 record with a 3.46 ERA in six starts.

"He's really taken advantage of his opportunity," manager Bryan Price said. "I'm pleased with the way he's thrown the ball. When he’s been down in the zone with that sinker and slider and split combination, he's been pretty effective. He had another pretty good start today."

Marquis used 96 pitches to get through his outing.

"After the last outing, I felt pretty good with going deep into games," Marquis said. "I responded really well after the last start. Today coming in, I didn't know what my pitch limit was but I felt good enough to treat it like a regular season game. I was glad I was able to get that far."


Orioles reassign three players to minor league camp Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:45 pm ET) The Orioles made another wave of cuts Sunday, reassigning outfielder Dariel Alvarez, utility man Chris Parmelee and pitcher Chaz Roe to minor league camp, reports MASN.com.

Alvarez hit .343 in 35 spring training at-bats with two home runs and seven RBI. Parmelee hit .241 in 29 plate appearances with one double and two RBI. Roe posted a 5.91 ERA in seven appearances in 10 2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts.


Angels 'most likely' to start year with four starting pitchers
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:39 pm ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia thinks he will start the season with a short staff, reports MLB.com. The team will "most likely" start the year with four starters in the rotation and 12 pitchers overall, Scioscia said Sunday.

The expected starters would be Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago with Garrett Richards still recovering from knee surgery.

"One of the things is, a lot of guys who are playing well, it might come down to what the fit is on the team. So there's a couple different ways," Scioscia said. "There's some things that might happen that might affect somebody's standing on the team in a positive or negative way, just to get the whole roster to be as deep as you can."


Blue Jays LHP Mark Buehrle said he'll make first start April 10
(6:35 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle said he will make his first start of the season April 10 in Baltimore, reports MLB.com.

The Blue Jays have not yet officially announced their rotation but it is expected they'll go in the order of: Drew Hutchison, R.A. Dickey, Daniel Norris, Buehrle and Aaron Sanchez.

"Doesn't matter to me," Buehrle said when asked if he had a preference. "I'm going to get 33 starts in by the end of the year, so it doesn't matter."

The left hander has started three games this spring, posing a 2.45 ERA in 9 2/3 innings.

 
 
 
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