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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
James Loney average production more pronounced lately
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:59 am ET) Rays first baseman James Loney has gained a reputation for a lack of power production despite a strong average. He has done nothing to dispel that perception in recent weeks.

Loney has improved his average from .273 to .284 with 17 hits in his last 47 at-bats and four multi-hit games in the last five. But he has just two extra-base hits with no home runs since July 1 and four RBI since July 2.

He has, however, been more than serviceable this season with 47 RBI and 41 runs scored in 99 games.


Justin Ruggiano remains sidelined by groin issue
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:52 am ET) Cubs outfielder Justin Ruggiano is out of the lineup again Friday against the Cardinals, as he continues to deal with groin soreness.  

Ruggiano has not played since Tuesday, and continues to receive treatment for the injury> He is day to day at this point. 


Pablo Sandoval maintaining productivity after break
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:48 am ET) Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval has taken the momentum gained before the All-Star break and run with it.

Sandoval had nine hits in six games before the break and is 10-for-31 since despite managing just one hit in the last two games. He has both scored and driven in seven runs in the last 10 games to sweeten his stat line to .277/.327/.433.


Walks keeping Kevin Kiermaier valuable despite mini-slump
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:42 am ET) Rays surprising rookie right fielder Kevin Kiermaier has cooled off a bit with the bat lately, but his eye at the plate has made up for it.

Kiermaier has just one hit in his last eight at-bats after an 11-for-18 tear, but has five walks in the last three games as his on-base percentage remains strong at .360. His eight home runs in 170 at-bats has resulted in a fine .553 slugging percentage this season.


Derek Jeter little more than singles hitter in swan song season
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:29 am ET) One might have expected that the production of 40-year-old future Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter was destined to slip this season - and it has.

Jeter has been serviceable for the Yankees with a stat line of .270/.325/.320, numbers that pale in comparison to those he achieved even two years ago. He has just three hits in his last 17 at-bats with just one extra-base hit since July 1. He has not homered in more than a month.


Jhonny Peralta coming on strong for St. Louis
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:19 am ET) A current .256 batting average owned by Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta might not seem too impressive, but it is when considering it's at its highest point in more than two months.

Peralta has been steadily improving all his numbers. He has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games, during which time his average has soared 17 points. He has three home runs since July 3. His overall production has been decent. Peralta owns a stat line of .256/.331/.453 with 14 home runs and 44 RBI in 344 at-bats.


Phil Hughes 'feels a responsibility' to make next start
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:57 am ET) Slumping Twins right-hander Phil Hughes feels thankful that his shin wasn't broken when it took a smash off the bat of Adam Dunn on Thursday. The blow forced him out of the game after three innings.

Negative X-rays could allow him to make his next start Tuesday in Kansas City.

"[I] feel a responsbility to not miss any time," Hughes told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press.

Hughes has given up 12 earned runs on 25 hits in the last 15 innings to lower his record to 10-7 and raise his ERA to 4.10.


Mark Appel finally shows signs of life in Class A
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:57 am ET) Astros pitching prospect Mark Appel finally showed a flash of brilliance Thursday, as he worked his way through the best start of his season at Class A Lancaster.

Appel, who entered the start with a 10.80 ERA in 11 starts, tossed a season-long six innings while using just 74 pitches, according to the Houston Chronicle. Appel allowed two runs on five hits in his six innings of work while striking out a season-high seven batters in the game. Lancaster manager Rodney Liranes said it was the best outing he has seen from Appel.

"I was really, really impressed," Linares said. "He still had something in the tank to go back out, but it was just such a great outing and a good game that I wanted to stop it right there and start from there for the next time."

Appel still has a 9.74 ERA in 44 1/3 innings of work for the season, while allowing 15 hits and 1.8 home runs per nine innings. He has 40 strikeouts and 11 walks in 44 1/3 innings on the season. 


Locked-in slider helping Joe Nathan lock in
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:46 am ET) In the wake of a trade for possible replacement Joakim Soria, Tigers closer Joe Nathan managed his most impressive performance of the season Thursday night. He fanned the side against the host Angels to collect his 21st save. And he had a rediscovered slider to thank for it.

Nathan has been working on that pitch recently. That work certainly paid off in that appearance.

"That was as long as I've seen his slider, I think all year possibly," Brad Ausmus told mlbblogs.com. "It was clear that the hitters weren't picking up the rotation on his slider. It looked like a fastball to them and they swung right over the top. That's the slider I remember facing. ... You start your swing and it just drops out of the strike zone. It almost has a split-finger action to it."

Nathan has been coming around after his latest slump. He has pitched scoreless ball in his last three outings with five strikeouts and just one hit allowed in three innings. He has picked up two saves in the process.


Jerome Williams set to get start Friday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:43 am ET) The Rangers have tabbed pitcher Jerome Williams to start Friday against the Athletics, after Nick Tepesch had to be scratched from his scheduled start.

The Rangers will purchase Williams' contract from Triple-A Round Rock prior to the start, though it is not yet clear what the corresponding roster move will be. Williams has not started in the majors since 2012, and has a 6.10 ERA in 10 1/3 innings at Round Rock this season. 


 
 
 
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