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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
Astros top prospect Carlos Correa off to torrid start at Double-A
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:26 pm ET) Astros top prospect Carlos Correa is putting up some big numbers at Double-A Corpus Christi to begin the 2015 season.

The former No. 1 overall pick (2012) is batting .382 with a .440 on-base percentage, .735 slugging percentage and 1.175 OPS in 16 games. He also has one triple, four home runs, 10 doubles and 21 RBI.

“I feel great up here,” he said, per the Houston Chronicle. “My body feels great. I’m just really happy to be out there playing every single day. After you’ve been injured you appreciate it even more.

“Everything is going great. We’re playing great baseball as a team. I feel good at the plate, and the team is doing a great job.”


Padres' Jedd Gyorko on sporadic playing time: 'It's always tough'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:12 pm ET) Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko was out of the starting lineup for the fifth time in six games Monday, and he has been working with hitting coaches Mark Kotsay and Alonzo Powell to jump-start his lagging bat, U-T San Diego reports.

"It's always tough," Gyorko said about the sporadic playing time. "But at the same time, we're trying to win games, obviously. So when the opportunity presents itself, you've just got to go out there and perform. I think that's the main thing for now."

Gyorko has hit just .149/.231/.191 in 47 at-bats.

"We need to get Jedd going," manager Bud Black said before Gyorko's start Sunday.


Orioles-White Sox game postponed again Tuesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) The Orioles-White Sox game was postponed for a second straight day Tuesday due to protests near Camden Yards. No makeup date has been announced for the game yet.

White Sox starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and Orioles starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez were scheduled to start Tuesday's game. No word yet on how this will affect both teams' rotations moving forward.


Blue Jays' Gibbons continue to show confidence in Castro, Osuna
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:43 am ET) Blue Jays rookie relievers Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna have both endured some struggles as of late

Castro suffered his second loss of the season Monday against the Red Sox, which came two days after he suffered his second blown save. He has allowed at least one run in four of his last five appearances.

Osuna has allowed one run in two straight appearances and suffered his first blown save Monday.

"[Castro has] had a couple of tough ones," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after Monday's loss, per MLB.com. "Maybe we'll back him down a little bit. But same way with [Roberto] Osuna, we have confidence in these guys. We're asking a lot out of them, but it's just the way it goes. You find some things out.

"I love both of them, I think they're both going to be great pitchers when it's all said and done, but we're asking a lot out of them, and I'm not sure how fair that is."

It appears Castro might be pitching his way out of save opportunities, as Brett Cecil could return to the closer's role shortly. Still, Gibbons is hoping the 20-year-old Castro can overcome his recent struggles.

"I hope he understands the reason I'm putting him in there is because I have confidence in the kid," Gibbons said. "I also understand how tough it is in the big leagues, and you take your lumps. He's a tough kid, he really is. He's going to be a [heck] of a pitcher."


Rangers' Choo working through some major offensive struggles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:27 am ET) It doesn't matter where Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo bats in the lineup these days -- he still can't buy a hit

Choo, who was dropped to seventh in the batting order Saturday, went 0 for 4 on Monday against Seattle, extending his hitless slump to 20 at-bats. He last got a hit April 19.

"You watch him and he's definitely not getting the desired results," manager Jeff Banister said of Choo, per MLB.com. "It's been a challenge for Choo this month. He continues to work. He continues to study."

Choo is batting .096 (5 for 52), which is a league-low among qualified hitters. His only multihit game came on April 9. 

"This is a guy that has proven to be a professional hitter, lifetime .290 hitter, this is a guy that we believe in what he's going to be," Banister said. "This has been a tough stretch for him."


Astros OF Colby Rasmus thriving on the road in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:13 am ET) Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus has been a different hitter on the road than at home in 2015. Through 17 games, he is batting .067 (1 for 15) with no home runs or RBI at home, while he is batting .350 (14 for 40) with one triple, three doubles, three home runs and seven RBI on the road.

Rasmus is batting .345 (10 for 29) with four multihit games, two doubles, two home runs and five RBI through seven games on the team's current road trip.

"I say in the last homestand I was just seeing some things and feeling my way through what was going on with my swing and where I needed to be, and in this road trip I've been able to make some adjustments on what I felt I needed to do and they helped me a lot," he said, per MLB.com. "Yeah, I feel good about it, just battling."


Rockies' Weiss expects Tyler Matzek to make next start
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:07 am ET) Rockies pitcher Tyler Matzek said he was just suffering from cramping Monday when he came out of his team's 5-4 win over the Diamondbacks prematurely due to a hamstring injury, MLB.com reports.

"It was just cramping up," Weiss said. "It cramped up on a few of those warmup pitches and on the first pitch of that inning, and I didn't want to push it."

Manager Walt Weiss considers the injury a short-term issue and expects it won't keep Matzek from pitching later this week in San Diego.

"Yeah, he'll make his next start," Weiss said. "I expect him to make his next start."

Matzek moved to 2-0 with his win Monday and owns a 2.70 ERA and 13:13 K:BB ratio in 20 innings over his first four starts.


Dodgers' Mattingly: 'We're going to have to find at-bats for' Guerrero
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:00 am ET) Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after Monday's game that the team has to find more playing time for infielder/outfielder Alex Guerrero after the rookie's hot start, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"We're going to have to find at-bats for Alex the way he is swinging," Mattingly said.

Mattingly said that Guerrero could play at shortstop, third base and left field. He may start to see extended action in left field if Carl Crawford, who is dealing with an injury to his side, has to go on the disabled list. Guerrero is 11 for 22 with five home runs and 13 RBI in 11 appearances.


Dodgers to evaluate LF Carl Crawford Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:55 am ET) Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after Monday's game that left fielder Carl Crawford will be evaluated Tuesday after coming out of the game with pain in his right side, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Mattlingly added that the issue "sounds like" an oblique injury, which typically take about a month to heal. That timetable would likely land the outfielder on the disabled list.

"Historically, things like that don't really go away overnight," Mattingly said. "But we've got to give it a shot."

If Crawford does need a trip to the disabled list, it would be his fifth stint in four years, all for injuries to different parts of the body. He has hit .245/.260/.408 with one home run, three RBI and one stolen base in 49 at-bats.


Astros OF George Springer swipes three bases Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:42 am ET) Astros outfielder George Springer didn't have a hit or RBI on Monday against the Padres. However, he still found a way to make an impact in a 9-4 win.

Springer drew three walks Monday and had a career-high three stolen bases. He had never had more than one stolen base in a game prior to Monday. He also finished with two runs and two strikeouts.

Springer, who is 7 of 8 in stolen-base attempts this season, is batting .235 (8 for 34) with a .500 slugging percentage, .872 OPS, two home runs, three doubles, four RBI, eight runs, eight walks, 12 strikeouts and five stolen bases in his last nine games.


 
 
 
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