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Fantasy Relief: Getting comfortable with closers

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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The National League Central held a "Welcome Back Party" for Francisco Cordero over the weekend as the veteran reliever made a return trip to the Senior Circuit after the Astros acquired him in a 10-player deal with the Blue Jays.

Unfortunately, Cordero didn't get much time to settle in before he was thrust into the limelight. One day after the deal, Cordero was named the Astros' closer following Brett Myers being dealt to the White Sox.

The NL Central is quite familiar with Cordero. He first brought his craft to the division in a July 2006 trade that landed him in Milwaukee. A few years later, Cordero made the move to Cincinnati, where he held the closer's role from 2008-11.

The Astros know Cordero's talents all too well. The 37-year-old reliever owns a 1.85 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 24 saves in 46 career appearances (48 2/3 innings) against Houston. Entering Monday, he also had a 1.59 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and was striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings in his career (20 games) at hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park.

While Cordero has a strong history in the NL and at his new home ballpark, we still have to ponder what kind of closer will Cordero be down the stretch?

Remember, he was given the opportunity to close games for the Blue Jays earlier this season, but he faltered and eventually lost the job to Casey Janssen. Will Cordero suffer a similar fate in Houston?

He has been an improved pitcher since losing the closer gig with the Jays. Before Monday's blown save against the Reds, he posted a 3.75 ERA in his previous 30 appearances (24 innings), which isn't too far off from his ERA (3.10) during his tenure in the NL Central from 2006-11.

Top non-closers Week 16 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 45.5
2. Matt Moore, RP, Rays 31
3. Mike Fiers, RP, Brewers 29
4. Josh Collmenter, RP, Diamondbacks 28.5
5. Aaron Laffey, RP, Blue Jays 25
6. Kyle Kendrick, RP, Phillies 24
7. Garrett Richards, RP, Angels 24
8. Jose Quintana, RP, White Sox 23
9. Carlos Villanueva, RP, Blue Jays 22.5
10. Samuel Deduno, RP, Twins 22.5

A closer look at Cordero's early season numbers show he relied heavily on his changeup, according to PitchFX data compiled by TexasLeaguers.com. Cordero threw the pitch 30.7 percent of the time over a 12-game period from April 5-May 8, during which Cordero compiled a 9.53 ERA and three blown saves. In his last 30 appearances, Cordero has thrown his changeup 26.4 percent of the time, relying more on his four-seam fastball (40.1 percent) and slider (27.6 percent), which have always been his bread-and-butter pitches. Cordero really didn't start to throw his changeup heavily until last season.

Cordero's most effective pitch remains his slider, which has resulted in a 17 percent whiff rate in 2012. Although, it's concerning to look at Cordero's numbers on his four-seamer. His average velocity on the pitch this season is 92.7 mph and his whiff rate is 5.4 percent. From 2002, when he recorded his first MLB save, through last season, Cordero averaged 94.3 mph and had a 6.5 percent whiff rate on his four-seamer, which is the pitch he throws most often.

The numbers show Cordero isn't fooling hitters this year. His hits (12.2) and home run per nine inning (1.8) rates are the highest they have been in his career. He also has a career-worst .357 BABIP, which is well above his career norm (.298).

I do feel Cordero will remain effective enough to maintain the role as Astros closer the remainder of the season. However, keep expectations low. It seems Father Time is catching up with Cordero, and the save chances might also be scarce seeing how the Astros continue to rebuild and have won just twice in July.

Closing Time

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

Chicago White Sox: The acquisition of Brett Myers puts pressure on rookie closer Addison Reed. The White Sox obviously had to back Reed as the team's closer over the weekend, but Myers was added as insurance in case the 23-year-old buckles under the pressure of a pennant race. Since recording his first save of the season May 5, Reed has posted a 5.47 ERA. He also has three blown saves, with two of them coming in his last five appearances. It's definitely Reed's job to lose, but now he has a reason to look over his shoulder.

Milwaukee: John Axford's demotion out of the closer's role might not last too long. Francisco Rodriguez has been awful since taking over, allowing the tying run to reach third base in all three appearances since the change. On Monday, he allowed six of the eight batters he faced to reach base. You also have to think the K-Rod trade market has soured due to his recent struggles. In the meantime, Axford has tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings over four appearances, recording a win and a hold. I told you last week I still believed in a second-half bounce back for Axford and to hold onto him in deep formats.

N.Y. Mets: Frank Francisco can't catch a break. He had to postpone a rehab assignment for the second time Monday after he felt discomfort in his knee following a bullpen session. Francisco was slated to make the first rehab appearance Tuesday for Class A Brooklyn. Luckily, this latest setback won't be as long as his last one, when his oblique was still grabbing. Francisco is finally expected to begin a rehab assignment Wednesday. The only good news for Francisco is the Mets have struggled mightily in his absence, which could mean the team won't upgrade at the trade deadline and Francisco has a good chance to keep his closer's role once he returns. It's worth stashing Francisco is deep Fantasy formats.

Top non-closers Week 16 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Kyle Kendrick, RP, Phillies 17
2. Greg Holland, RP, Royals 24
3. Casey Fien, RP, Twins 37
4. Octavio Dotel, RP, Tigers 42
5. Dale Thayer, RP, Padres 45
6. Carlos Torres, RP, Rockies 57
7. Rex Brothers, RP, Rockies 58
8. David Phelps, RP, Yankees 62
9. Vicente Padilla, RP, Red Sox 68
10. Alfredo Simon, RP, Reds 70

San Francisco: The Giants reportedly have interest in Indians closer Chris Perez. It's not surprising given Santiago Casilla's recent struggles. Entering Monday, Casilla had five blown saves and a 9.35 ERA in his last 11 appearances. Sergio Romo would likely be a viable replacement for Casilla, but he might be too good as a setup man to remove him from that role. The Giants might be better off finding an upgrade via a trade for a proven closer like Perez or Jonathan Broxton. Casilla owners need to be put on notice because there's a chance he gets ousted from the closer's role as the July 31 trade deadline nears.

Boston: Andrew Bailey, who has been sidelined all season recovering from thumb surgery, is expected to begin a rehab assignment early next week. It could be a lengthy process because of how long Bailey has been sidelined. When he does finally join the Boston bullpen, it could be a situation similar to what happened in Washington with Drew Storen. The Red Sox could look to ease Bailey back into action and leave Alfredo Aceves in the closer's role, especially since he hasn't done anything lately to lose his job. Aceves has just one blown save in his last 25 appearances. If you can afford to stash Bailey in deep formats, then it's worth holding onto him. But it's far from guaranteed that he will see save opportunities once active.

San Diego: The Padres might not be sellers at the trade deadline after all. After locking up outfielder Carlos Quentin, it is reported the Padres are now set on signing closer Huston Street to a contract extension. That's good news for Street owners, especially the ones in NL-only Fantasy formats who could have lost eligibility had Street been traded to the AL, but bad news for owners stashing Dale Thayer, who likely would be the top candidate to ascend to the closer's role if Street is dealt.

Call to the 'pen

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

Bryan Shaw's fall from grace concluded Sunday when was optioned to Triple-A. Shaw was an early season surprise when he recorded two saves by April 15 and could have been considered an option for the closer's role had something happened to J.J. Putz. But major-league hitters began to adjust to Shaw and manager Kirk Gibson called him a "one-pitch pitcher right now" after optioning him to the minors. Feel free to cut Shaw in all Fantasy formats … Sean Doolittle is a remarkable story. Once considered one of Oakland's top position player prospects, durability issues deterred Doolittle's progress and the 2007 supplemental first-round pick eventually converted to pitching. The A's brought Doolittle to the majors in early June and has quickly ascended to a late-inning role for the team, recording his first career save Saturday against the Yankees. Doolittle has posted a 1.86 ERA and three holds in 15 appearances. He also has 29 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. He is getting setup work in front of closer Ryan Cook, so Doolittle has emerged as a viable Fantasy option in leagues that reward for holds … Kevin Jepsen returned from a two-month, minor-league banishment in early July, but it seems his time down on the farm has been beneficial. Jepsen has tossed eight scoreless innings since his return, recording eight strikeouts, one save, one win and two holds. His last three appearances have come in either the seventh or eighth innings of victories, meaning manager Mike Scioscia is starting to trust Jepsen in high-leverage situations. Jepsen is emerging as a viable Fantasy option in leagues that reward heavily for middle relievers … Darren Oliver continues to defy Father Time and remains an excellent left-handed reliever at the ripe age of 41. Oliver has a 1.23 ERA and 36 strikeouts through 36 2/3 innings, and he's proving to be more than just a lefty specialist. He has worked the eighth inning in all but two his last 22 appearances dating back to late May. Oliver also is 2-0 with one save and six holds in his last 15 appearances since June 15. Oliver has emerged as a viable source for holds and could be considered a nice flier in Rotisserie formats … Alfredo Simon is no longer in a Pitch-22. After being claimed off waivers in early April by the Reds, Simon -- who bounced between the bullpen and rotation in Baltimore -- has settled into a role as a long reliever for Cincinnati. The results have been spectacular. Simon is 2-1 with a 1.46 ERA in 22 appearances (37 innings). He is yielding a career-low 8.8 hits and 0.2 home runs per nine innings. He is also striking out a career-high 8.5 batters per nine innings. Simon doesn't have much Fantasy value without regular save or hold chances, but he could be a candidate to vulture wins, which could give him value in the deepest Rotisserie formats.

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
Matt Harrison to make return with Rangers on Sunday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:42 pm ET) Rangers left-hander Matt Harrison is set to return to a big league mound for the first time since April 6, 2013. He will start Sunday in Seattle, the Dallas Morning News has reported. He has been out with a back injury that required two surgeries.

Harrison proved himself ready in his last rehab start Saturday with Double-A Frisco. He pitched eight shutout innings, using just 86 pitches in the process.


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(1:36 pm ET) Opposing pitchers have not been able to cool off red-hot Rangers third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, but a back ailment has. He is out of the lineup Wednesday afternoon against Oakland after leaving the game Tuesday with the issue.

Kouzmanoff had at least two hits in five of his previous nine games.


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(1:24 pm ET) Indians top prospect Francisco Lindor is off to a slow start at Double-A Akron. The shortstop is slated to take over that position with Cleveland when Asdrubal Cabrera is either traded this year or leaves in free agency after this season.

Lindor has just one hit in his last 10 at-bats. His stat line of .239/.320/.373 must improve for the Indians to promote him. He is still just 20 years old, however.


Two injured Mariners SPs cleared to play catch
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:22 pm ET) The Mariners announced Wednesday starting pitchers James Paxton (lat strain) and Taijuan Walker (shoulder) have been cleared to start playing catch. Paxton will throw Friday and Walker on Monday.

Rangers acquire outfielder, sent pitcher to DL
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:57 pm ET) The Rangers have acquired minor league outfielder Dan Robertson from the Padres and sent pitcher Pedro Figueroa to the disabled list with elbow inflammation, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Robertson is batting .364 in 22 at-bats with Triple-A El Paso.


Jon Gray back on track at Double-A
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:51 pm ET) After two rough starts to open the season at Double-A Tulsa, Rockies starting pitcher prospect Jon Gray got back on track in his last start. Gray tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks, while striking out five.

The 2013 first-round pick (No. 3) is 1-1 with a 6.57 ERA and 1.38 WHIP through three starts. The numbers are elevated because Gray allowed six runs on seven hits in two-thirds inning during his second start.

Gray has struck out 11 batters in 12 1/3 innings, while allowing three walks and two home runs.


Report: Daniel Nava sent to minors
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:47 pm ET) Struggling outfielder Daniel Nava has been demoted from the Red Sox to Triple-A Pawtucket, according to radio station WEEI. His first two-hit game of the season Tuesday apparently could not save him.

Nava is 3 for 21 in his last six games and owns a terrible .149/.240/.269 stat line. The numbers represent a tremendous drop from those he achieved in a breakout 2013, during which he batted .303 with 12 home runs, 66 RBI and 77 runs in 458 at-bats.


Rangers waiting for 'consistency' before recalling Neftali Feliz
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:44 pm ET) Rangers reliever Neftali Feliz has had some good success since his demotion to the minors in late March. Feliz is 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in five outings (5 2/3 innings).

Feliz has allowed just one run on two hits and two walks, while striking out six. While it seems Feliz is deserving of a recall, the Rangers aren't there yet.

Feliz hasn't pitched on back-to-back days and continues to take a few days off between outings.

"It’s not really about his velocity," manager Ron Washington said, per The Dallas Morning News. "There are still some things he’s working on. Things like recovery. We just have to make sure we get consistency in how he recovers."


Report: Red Sox to promote Alex Wilson on Wednesday
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(12:39 pm ET) Right-hander Alex Wilson will be promoted Wednesday from Triple-A Pawtucket, sources have told the Boston Globe.

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Micah Johnson filling up the stat sheet at Double-A
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(12:35 pm ET) White Sox second base prospect Micah Johnson is doing a good job filling up the stat sheet early in the season for Double-A Birmingham. 

Johnson is batting .356 with a .453 on-base percentage, .507 slugging percentage and .960 OPS in 19 games. He has totaled one triple, two home runs, three doubles, nine RBI, 10 runs, 12 walks, 12 strikeouts and seven stolen bases.


 
 
 
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