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Fantasy Relief: Suddenly, it's a big deal

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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I bet the May 3 trade between the Angels and Padres was pretty much glanced over by everyone, including hardcore baseball enthusiasts.

The Angels acquired reliever Ernesto Frieri, who spent parts of seven seasons in the minors trying to break through at the major-league level, for Alexi Amarista, who was a promising infield prospect that hit just .154 in 24 games with the Angels, and minor-league hurler Donn Roach, who was a third-round pick in 2010.

If you did take a gander at the trade, then you probably rated the Padres the winner in this deal because they received the most upside, especially with Roach, who is a 22-year-old hurler with three quality pitches. At the time, all the Angels were acquiring was a reliever that had no career saves at the major-league level and mostly pitched last season in losses or blowouts.

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Fast forward to nearly a month later and Frieri is not only one of the hottest names in baseball, but also in Fantasy, where he has been the most added player in CBSSports.com leagues.

Frieri has been nothing short of sensational since switching leagues. Through Monday, he opened his Angels career with 11 scoreless innings, striking out 23 along the way. Dating back to his time with the Padres this year, Frieri is striking out 16.3 batters per nine innings.

Frieri's surge could put him in the mix as one of the most important acquisitions of the 2012 season. He's not only brought stability to the Angels bullpen, but he's on the verge of being elevated to the most important reliever role on the team -- closer.

The 26-year-old hurler has recorded two saves since May 23. Scott Downs, who was named the team's closer after Jordan Walden was removed from the role earlier this year, has as many saves as Frieri over that same time as well. And let's face it -- Downs hasn't done anything to lose the job. However, manager Mike Scioscia views Downs as a more versatile reliever and it appears he would like to use him in other situations, leaving the door open for Frieri to emerge as the team's full-time closer.

There does seem some hesitancy on the Angels part to make this move. Can you blame the Angels given the uncertain state of closer situations around the majors?

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Some of Frieri's numbers suggest a market correction could be on the horizon. Frieri's ground-ball rate is at 17.6 percent, which is well below his career norm of 23 percent and has aided in his .212 BABIP this season. It's also easy to point out Frieri is walking 4.8 batters per nine innings, but that's nothing new for him dating back to his time in the minors. The more frightening number might be his declining first-pitch strike rate. For the fourth straight season it's been on the decline, with Frieri throwing first-pitch strikes at a 53.9 percent rate through 22 2/3 innings.

Frieri's deceptive delivery and electric fastball make him a force to reckon with and a rising reliever in the majors, but is he on the path to being the next great closer or is just the latest flavor of the month?

Closing Time

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

Mariners: Brandon League is out as closer, but it seems the Mariners only want this to be a temporary move. League went through a similar hiccup in 2011. From May 8-13 last season, League blew three saves and took a loss in four straight outings, prompting manager Eric Wedge to give his closer a mental break. League pitched in one non-save outing before returning to the closer's role on May 18 and eventually wound up as an All-Star reliever. Wedge said he anticipates League making the adjustments needed and could already be on his way back to the closer's role. League fired a scoreless outing Monday against the Rangers. Wedge didn't name a closer in League's absence, saying everyone but League and Hisashi Iwakuma would be in the mix. Although, the leading candidate would seem to be Tom Wilhelmsen, who is first on the team with seven holds and is second in appearances (eight) in save situations. Steve Delabar and Lucas Luetge could also be two dark-horse candidates. But League is worth stashing in deep Fantasy formats, particularly AL-only.

Top non-closer RPs Week 8 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Kyle Kendrick, RP, Phillies 44
2. P.J. Walters, RP, Twins 39
3. Felipe Paulino, RP, Royals 32.5
4. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 30
5. Hector Noesi, RP, Mariners 29.5
6. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels 28.5
7. Raul Valdes, RP, Phillies 28
8. Jake McGee, RP, Rays 23
9. Lucas Harrell, RP, Astros 23
10. Jose Quintana, RP, White Sox 21

Cubs: It's been an interesting turn of events for Cubs reliever Rafael Dolis. First, he was removed from the closer's role Sunday because of his inability to throw strikes. Then, he found himself demoted to the minors on Monday in favor of Carlos Marmol, who was the pitcher Dolis replaced in the closer's role earlier this year. Marmol's return from the DL, however, doesn't mean he's headed back to the closer's role. Manager Dale Sveum said Marmol would pitch in the seventh inning and as matchups suggests, leaving the ninth-inning role up for grabs. Kerry Wood would have been the ideal candidate had he not retired, but Sveum said Tuesday James Russell, Shawn Camp and Casey Coleman are the leading trio in the mix for saves. It seems like the best bet, however, is Russell, who recorded his first career save in Tuesday's win over San Diego. Russell's name surfaced the first time Chicago needed a replacement closer, but handed the job to Dolis. Sveum did say that Coleman would have been called upon for a save Monday had a chance arose, but he doesn't have any saves to his credit, even in the minors. Then again, Russell never recorded a save in the minors either, so it seems Sveum is targeting new blood for the closer's role. In order of waiver priority, I'd go Russell, Coleman and then Camp, who actually has 10 career saves at the major league level.

Nationals: Apparently Nationals manager Davey Johnson can spare Tyler Clippard from his role as setup man. When Johnson removed Henry Rodriguez from the closer's role last week, Johnson voiced his hesitancy to remove Clippard from his current role because he was so valuable in it. Well, Clippard's sales pitch seems to have swayed his manager. Clippard has recorded all three saves for Washington since Rodriguez's demotion, tossing 2 2/3 perfect innings in the process. Even with Brad Lidge due back in mid-June, Clippard could potentially keep the closer's role until Drew Storen comes off the disabled list in July.

Marlins: It seems like every week the Marlins come to the defense of troubled closer Heath Bell. Manager Ozzie Guillen once again had to back Bell as the team's closer following Bell's removal from two save situations last week. Obviously, Juan Oviedo's return to the United States could make the Marlins' bullpen situation interesting later this summer once his eight-week suspension ends. But that gives Bell plenty of time to solidify his role, and he started Monday by recording his eighth save.

Padres: Huston Street, who has been sidelined since early May with a strained right lat muscle, is nearing a return. He could begin a rehab assignment during Week 8 (May 28-June 3), which would likely put him on track to return during Fantasy Week 9 (June 4-10). It's only fitting that Street nears a return on the heels of interim closer Dale Thayer's first bump in the road. Thayer has yet to blow a save chance, but after opening the year with 10 scoreless innings, Thayer's numbers don't look so impressive anymore after allowing five runs in the eighth inning Saturday against the Mets.

Top non-closers Week 8 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Kyle Kendrick, RP, Phillies 7
2. Raul Valdes, RP, Phillies 10
3. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 15
4. Jake McGee, RP, Rays 16
5. Jose Veras, RP, Brewers 20
6. P.J. Walters, RP, Twins 21
7. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels 27
8. Felipe Paulino, RP, Royals 34
9. Tim Collins, RP, Royals 37
10. Hector Noesi, RP, Mariners 44

Yankees: The Yankees said Monday that reliever David Robertson, who is rehabbing from a strained left oblique, won't return until June 5 at the earliest. He did play catch Monday without any discomfort, but his return might be too late with Rafael Soriano picking up steam in the closer's role. Soriano has allowed one run on five hits in his last six appearances (5 1/3 innings), recording five saves and six strikeouts along the way. It wouldn't seem logical for New York to go to a co-closer approach if Soriano is showing no weaknesses in the role.

Royals: CBSSports.com baseball insider Danny Knobler reported Royals closer Jonathan Broxton, who is under contract on a one-year deal, could be on the move later this summer. The team is currently trying to decide whether or not to extend Broxton's contract or get some value out of him on the trade market. If that happens, then it might finally be Greg Holland's time to showcase his talents in the closer's role. Since returning from the disabled list in mid-May, Holland has allowed one run on two hits in eight outings (6 2/3 innings). Holland has walked six batters, but it hasn't backfired as he's recorded one win, two holds and eight strikeouts in that span. Aaron Crow's name would also likely surface as a closer candidate if Broxton is dealt.

Call to the 'pen

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

The Braves optioned reliever Kris Medlen to the minors on Tuesday in order for him to stretch out as a starter. Medlen might only need a few minor-league starts before joining the Atlanta rotation. He's worth a flier in deep Head-to-Head formats because he will retain his relief-pitcher eligibility. Medlen is 6-2 with a 4.18 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 18 career starts at the MLB level. ... Josh Collmenter seems to have found his calling as a long reliever for the Diamondbacks. In six relief appearances since being booted from the rotation, Collmenter has allowed three runs on 13 hits and one walk in 12 1/3 innings (2.19 ERA). He also has nine strikeouts in that span. ... Journeyman reliever Raul Valdes has emerged as one of the Phillies' most-valuable arms since his mid-May promotion to the majors. The 34-year-old reliever has begun his 2012 campaign with 7 1/3 scoreless innings. He's picked up two wins and struck out 10 as well. The odds of Valdes keeping up this pace aren't in his favor given his track record, so Fantasy owners in formats that use middle relievers should take a wait-and-see approach with Valdes. ... The Padres have another rising reliever in Miles Mikolas. After posting a 13.50 ERA in his first five appearances and pitching his way back to the minors, Mikolas has allowed just one unearned run in his last 8 2/3 innings. He's also cut down on his walk rate. After walking seven batters in his first 3 1/3 innings, Mikolas has walked one in his last 8 2/3 innings. Mikolas was a closer in the minors and might eventually emerge with late-inning opportunities down the road. For now, however, the Padres are using him as a long reliever. If Mikolas continues on his current path, then he could emerge as a viable Rotisserie reliever. ... Jake McGee finally seems settled into his role as a major league reliever. The former minor league starter and pitching prospect has a 0.60 ERA and .170 opponents' batting average in his last 18 outings (15 innings). He's also 2-0 with five holds and 19 strikeouts in that span. McGee might eventually emerge as a closer candidate down the road, but as of now he's being used in a variety of situations out of the Rays' bullpen. He has the most Fantasy value in Rotisserie formats and leagues that reward for holds. ... Reds rookie reliever J.J. Hoover is another name surfacing as a potential add in Rotisserie formats. He's posted a 0.69 ERA and 0.69 WHIP through 13 innings. He also has 12 strikeouts, one hold and one win in that span. He's pitching in a lot of low-impact situations right now to ease him into the majors, but if he keeps at his current pace, then the Reds might move him into more pressure-packed situations to see what the former Braves farmhand is made of. ... Darren O'Day is back. After a tumultuous 2011 season marred by injuries, O'Day is healthy and is one of the Orioles' most valuable relievers. He is 3-0 with a 1.78 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 25 1/3 innings. He also has 28 strikeouts to just four walks. O'Day is back to being a valuable Rotisserie reliever. ... Rockies reliever Matt Belisle and Padres reliever Andrew Cashner have seen a spike in their strikeout rates. Belisle had struck out 11 batters in his last 6 2/3 innings, while Cashner has 12 strikeouts in his last 6 2/3 innings. Both players have the potential to be good Fantasy arms in Rotisserie formats and leagues that reward for holds.

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
Cam Bedrosian getting the call Thursday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:58 pm ET) The Angels are expected to recall pitcher Cam Bedrosian Thursday, the Orange County Register reports.

Bedrosian has a 1.30 ERA over 41 2/3 innings in three stops in the minors this season, and will make his major-league debut upon appearing in his first game with the Angels. 


Angels to recall Wade LeBlanc, who could join rotation
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:54 pm ET) The Angels recalled pitcher Wade LeBlanc from Triple-A Salt Lake Thursday, to replace Garrett Richards (knee) on the active roster.

LeBlanc will be available out of the bullpen beginning Thursday, but the Orange County Register reports he is in line to start in Richards' place Monday against the Marlins. LeBlanc appeared in one game earlier this season for the Angels, allowing four runs over six innings of relief. 


Chad Qualls likely unavailable Thursday as well
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:14 pm ET) Astros pitcher Chad Qualls told MLB.com Thursday he does not expect to be available for that day's game against the Yankees, due to tightness in his lower back.

Qualls has not pitched since Tuesday, but does not think  the injury will require a disabled list trip. 


Yohan Pino set to start in Saturday's doubleheader
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:03 pm ET) The Twins will recall pitcher Yohan Pino for Saturday's doubleheader against the Tigers, manager Ron Gardnehire told MLB.com Thursday.

Pino will start the first game of the doubleheader, his first start since he was sent down last week. Pino's stay with the team will not last long, as he will be called up and sent down as the team's 26th man for the doubleheader. 


David Murphy begins physical activities
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:02 pm ET) Indians outfielder David Murphy began core exercises Thursday, manager Terry Francona told reporters.

Murphy began his exercises Thursday, though it sounds as if he is limited at this point. Murphy is expected to be out until at least mid-September due to a strained right oblique. 


Steven Souza starting rehab at Class A Hagerstown
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) Nationals outfielder Steven Souza will begin his rehab assignment Thursday at Class A Hagerstown Thursday, as he continues his recovery from a shoulder injury.

According to the Washington Post, Souza is expected to play at Hagerstown before moving to Class A Potomac for a few more games. It is not clear when he will be considered a candidate to return to the majors.  


Justin Verlander appears set for Saturday start after bullpen
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:40 am ET) Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander seems likely to make his scheduled start Saturday against the Twins, after getting through a bullpen session Thursday.

Verlander, who missed his last turn in the rotation with shoulder soreness, got through a 35-pitch session without issue. According to MLive.com, he walked into manager Brad Ausmus's office after the session to deliver a high five, undoubtedly a good sign.

Verlander has not pitched since lasting just one inning in his Aug. 9 start against Pittsburgh. 


Miguel Cabrera serving as DH with ankle issue
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:38 am ET) Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera was serving as the designated hitter for Thursday's game against the Rays after aggravating an ankle injury Wednesday, manager Brad Ausmus told reporters.

Cabrera has served as the DH in 13 of his 123 games this season. Ausmus does not think this injury is much of a concern moving forward. 


Masahiro Tanaka set for live BP Saturday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:12 am ET) Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will take another step forward this weekend, as he is set to face hitters in a live batting practice session Saturday, manager Joe Girardi announced.

Tanaka, who is working his way back from a partially torn UCL, will face hitters for the first time since suffering the injury. He has been working in bullpen sessions in recent weeks as part of his rehab, and the next step will likely be determined after he gets through Saturday's session.

Tanaka has been out since early July due to the injury, but remains hopeful he will be able to return to action this season.  


Carlos Beltran sidelined again Thursday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:52 am ET) Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran is out of the lineup for the second day in a row Thursday against the Astros, as he continues to deal with an elbow injury.

Beltran was examined Wednesday, but the results of that are not yet known. He had a cortison injection in the elbow, his third of the season, and manager Joe Girardi told reporters Thursday he expects to know if Beltran will be available moving forward by Saturday. 

The elbow began bothering him again in recent days, possibly as a result of his return to the outfield last week. He has just one hit in his last 28 at-bats.  


 
 
 
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