Injuries in Arizona and Boston wreaked havoc with the closer rankings last week just a couple of days after they were published.
After J.J. Putz walked off the mound in the ninth with an elbow injury last Tuesday, Heath Bell replaced him and picked up his first of three saves in three days. That left him unavailable Friday, at which point David Hernandez stepped in and notched a save of his own. On Sunday, the Diamondbacks went back to Bell and watched him give up two runs to blow a save against the Phillies.
Obviously, Hernandez projects as the better of the two pitchers going forward. Kirk Gibson, though, made up his mind and will go with his proven closer, at least until Bell gives him reason not to. Sunday's bad day probably won't result in a change just yet. Since giving up two homers in a horrible season debut April 2, Bell has allowed six runs in 15 2/3 innings and posted a 19/2 K/BB ratio.
Bell isn't really doing anything differently this year except spotting his fastball better. So far, that's been good enough. He is going to give up some homers, though. For what it's worth, lefties have torched him to the tune of a .417 average, five doubles and one homer in 24 at-bats so far.
There's serious doubt over whether Putz will return this season. Even if he does, it will probably happen too late for him to earn the closer's role back. My expectation is that Hernandez will eventually get the job. After all, this is a guy who posted a 98/22 K/BB ratio in 68 1/3 innings last year, and while he's given up some early homers this year, his stuff has been fine. He's also not going to have platoon splits like Bell does now.
While Putz's fate is still up in the air, the Red Sox have already announced that Joel Hanrahan will undergo season-ending surgery after hurting his elbow last Monday. They caught me by surprise by naming Junichi Tazawa as the temporary closer over Koji Uehara. It's a choice that's proven irrelevant so far, as the Red Sox haven't had a save chance since. Tazawa entered a tie game in the ninth on Saturday and gave up a homer to Adam Lind to take his second loss, but he probably would have been the choice there regardless.
Boston's hope is that Tazawa is just keeping the seat warm for Andrew Bailey, who is in line to return from the DL this week after missing time with biceps soreness. Still, Bailey's long-term outlook is always iffy. Ideally, Daniel Bard would reemerge as a fallback closer option, but given that he's walked 12 in 11 2/3 innings in Double-A, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. So, it'll probably be worth holding on to Tazawa in fantasy leagues after Bailey returns. I suspect the Red Sox will be in the mix for Brian Wilson (elbow) once he's ready to sign, but it sounds like that day is still a couple of months away.
- While blowing a save against the Indians on Sunday, Tigers closer Jose Valverde threw 29 pitches, every last one a fastball. His splitter is still a complete non-factor, leaving him without any sort or wrinkle to go along with his heater. Now, that didn't stop him from pitching five consecutive hitless innings prior to Sunday. But it's hard to see him lasting as an effective closer without any tricks up his sleeve.
- Discouraged by the state of their pen, the Angels appear poised to rush Ryan Madson (elbow) back to the majors after one or two rehab appearances this week. It's unlikely that they'll be so quick to turn him into a closer, what with Ernesto Frieri doing a fine job there. Still, I think they will eventually make the switch, provided Madson stays healthy. Frieri's ability to maintain a bigger workload and get four or five outs at a time would make him a great bridge to Madson in the ninth. The Angels are going to use both to protect leads anyway, so they might as well give Madson the lesser workload that comes with closing games. Of course, this all hinges on Madson staying healthy for a few weeks first.
- It's not certain yet that the White Sox will agree, but Hector Santiago seems to have done enough since joining the rotation to unseat Dylan Axelrod when John Danks (shoulder) returns, something that could happen this weekend. Santiago hasn't been going to the screwball much, but since he's throwing 91-94 mph and getting very good results with his changeup, he hasn't needed to. If he sticks in the rotation, his next four starts will come against the Twins, Angels, Marlins and Cubs, making him a nice play in mixed leagues. Axelrod has been just fine, too, but he lacks Santiago's upside.
As for Danks, the reports indicate that his velocity is still down following shoulder surgery. I'd say he's more likely to be a liability than an asset, at least in the short term.
- When Curtis Granderson (arm) comes off the DL on Tuesday, it doesn't look like he'll be a strict center fielder after all. He's played some left and right on his rehab assignment, suggesting that Brett Gardner is going to remain the Yankees' primary option in center. Granderson's return seems like worse news for Ichiro Suzuki than Vernon Wells. Ichiro has warmed up at the plate -- he's batting .281/.324/.500 through nine games this month -- but Wells has been the Yankees' second biggest power threat so far and isn't likely to take a seat. My guess is that the hit to Ichiro's value will be a short-term thing. Wells has already faded some after a big first three weeks, and Travis Hafner is likely to find himself on the DL at some point.
- There hasn't been much in the way of Kevin Youkilis (back) news lately, even though he's eligible to come off the DL on Monday. He was hoping to return then, but it's a safe guess that he won't. With Eduardo Nunez (ribs) joining Youkilis on the DL, the Yanks will go with Jayson Nix at shortstop and Chris Nelson at third for at least a few more days.
- Just as the Royals moved Johnny Giavotella to third base at Triple-A Omaha, Mike Moustakas went on a little binge, homering in three straight games last week. Had Moustakas continued to struggle, the Royals might have had those two switch places. As is, it seems like bad news for Giavotella that he's now behind Moustakas on the depth chart, rather than the awful second-base duo of Chris Getz and Elliot Johnson. The Royals have decided to give Johnson a chance to win that job, but they may need to look for some outside help soon.
- In happier Royals news, Jarrod Dyson is getting a chance to start over Jeff Francoeur against right-handers. It's not a lock to help the offense, but the switch gives the team an outstanding outfield defense with Dyson in center and Lorenzo Cain in right. It'll also give Dyson quite a bit of fantasy value for however long it lasts. Dyson won't hit for any power at all, but he's one of the league's best basestealers, going 55-for-63 in 161 games as a major leaguer.
- With Wei-Yin Chen suffering a strained oblique Sunday, the Orioles might recall Steve Johnson to join the rotation after sending him down Saturday. Jake Arrieta would have been a possibility, but he's out with a shoulder strain. I don't think it's Kevin Gausman time just yet, though I would be very interested in seeing what he could do in the majors. The top prospect is 1-4 with a 3.35 ERA and a 39/4 K/BB ratio in 40 1/3 innings for Double-A Bowie.
-Oakland's Jarrod Parker probably saved his rotation spot by beating the Mariners on Saturday. Brett Anderson (ankle) is returning on Friday, and someone is going to have to be sent down. It figured to be the struggling Parker, but he had a better outing than the one Dan Straily turned in against the same offense a day earlier.
- The A's will get Chris Young (quad) back on Wednesday. Coco Crisp (hamstring) is also eligible to return then, but he seems less likely to be activated. Mixed leaguers should keep him reserved. AL-only leaguers with weak outfield alternatives can gamble that he'll play a few games this week.
- The Astros keep trying to shake things up, as if they didn't know they were going to be this bad. Not that any of the players were great bets, but what was the point of giving opportunities to Brett Wallace, Fernando Martinez and Brandon Laird only to cut them after 24, 33 and 35 at-bats, respectively? Even Rick Ankiel got a mere 62 at-bats. Of the recent callups, Jimmy Paredes is the best bet to have a little value in AL-only leagues. I'm not a big fan, but he can do a little bit of everything offensively, including steal bases. Robbie Grossman could be the next player to go, though in his case, it would be an option and not a DFA. All things considered, it's kind of surprising he's lasted this long.
- As ridiculous as Colby Rasmus's strikeout rate is (53 in 114 at-bats), it's not like he's been that bad of a hitter, what with his .237/.310/.439 line and six homers for the Blue Jays. Some have called for Anthony Gose to be brought up to replace Rasmus, but Gose is hitting .228/.338/.339 with strikeout problems of his own (32 in 127 at-bats) in Triple-A. He's also just 5-for-9 stealing bases, which is quite a disappointing total for a guy who went 70-for-85 in Double-A two years ago. Now that the Blue Jays are getting more comfortable with Emilio Bonifacio at second base, Rasmus figures to be a lineup fixture, for better or worse. Also, Rajai Davis (oblique) is on the DL for at least a couple of weeks, but he wasn't playing center anyway.
- With Desmond Jennings hurting, the Rays had Sam Fuld and a pair of infielders in Kelly Johnson and Sean Rodriguez starting in their outfield on Sunday. If only Wil Myers were tearing up the International League, one would think it'd be about time for his callup. However, he's batting just .200 during May and is now sitting at a modest .264/.358/.416 in 125 at-bats for the season. He has four homers and 44 strikeouts. Against righties, he's been particularly poor, hitting .204/.315/.290 with one homer in 93 at-bats.
- Of course, I've long supported Brandon Guyer for a spot in the Rays' outfield, but he's doing no better. He's at .257/.342/.410 in 105 at-bats for Durham.
- A.J. Pierzynski (oblique) will have to remain on the DL through at least May 21, leaving Geovany Soto as the Rangers' primary catcher. He's been a bust so far, hitting .179 with one RBI in 39 at-bats.
- The odd thing about Jon Niese giving up 15 runs over 8 1/3 innings his last two starts is that his velocity is better now than it was while he posted a 3.31 ERA in April. His strikeout rate has collapsed, though; after three straight years of 7.3-7.9 K/9 IP, he's at 4.6 right now, with more walks than strikeouts. I've never been particularly high on Niese -- I don't think his abnormally high hit rates are a function of luck -- but I also don't see these recent trends as likely to continue. Niese battled a sore back last month and it's led to some erosion of his mechanics. I suspect that he'll figure it out soon and return to being a reliable starter in NL-only leagues and a fringe pitcher in shallow mixed leagues.
- It came against a struggling Mets offense, but Francisco Liriano's season debut Saturday was quite encouraging. Throwing 92-95 mph and mixing up his pitches well, he struck out nine while allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings. Health and command issues have always plagued Liriano, but his other problem is that he gives up too many hits on his fastball. It's why he's posted ERAs over 5.00 three of the last four years. On Saturday, his changeup was very effective, giving him eight swings and misses on 18 pitches. With the changeup working, just 41 of his 90 pitches were fastballs. There's no doubt about Liriano's slider, so if can keep that change going, he should be of use in mixed leagues, at least for a little while.
- Already down Giancarlo Stanton, two starting pitchers and their top three first basemen, the Marlins placed their first- and second-string second basemen on the DL just one day apart last week. That led them to jump another prospect from Double-A to the majors, with Derek Dietrich getting his chance and homering in just his second game up. Dietrich, acquired from the Rays for Yunel Escobar over the winter, was hitting .282/.405/.505 in Double-A, a nice improvement over his .279/.338/.457 line from high-A and Double-A in 2012. His defense at second base is an issue, which is one reason the Marlins had given him eight starts at third in the minors.
If Dietrich keeps hitting, the Marlins will have an interesting choice to make when Donovan Solano (intercostal strain) returns at the end of the month. Solano is the better defender of the two, but he's never going to be much offensively and he might be more useful in a utility role anyway. On the other hand, as little as Placido Polanco has showed so far, one could make a case for Dietrich at third and Solano in second. Still, that would only make sense if the Marlins were willing to give up on Dietrich at second. Most likely, Dietrich will find himself back in the minors with the Marlins still trying to figure out his long-term role. In the meantime, he has some value in NL-only leagues. Even if Dietrich does stick, it's hard to see him contributing in mixed leagues, since he has little stolen base ability (five steals is his career high) and he hits in an awful lineup.
- Brandon League is living dangerously in Los Angeles after giving up runs for a third straight appearance on Sunday. Then again, it probably doesn't help matters that those are his only three appearances in the last 14 days. League is used to getting plenty of work -- he made 74 appearances last year -- but the Dodgers haven't presented him with a save situation since April 28. League is actually 7-for-8 saving games this year, but since he took losses in a couple of tie games, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly gave some thought to pulling him from the closer's role. I don't think that makes much sense; the Dodgers are better off using Kenley Jansen the way they are now than they would be saving him for leads in the ninth (if they ever have one again). Consider than Jansen has made seven appearances while League has made three the last two weeks. If Jansen were the closer and League was the setup guy, those totals might be reversed.
Of course, all that said, League probably will be yanked from the role if he does blow a save this week. Jansen is the obvious replacement. It'd be much better for the Dodgers if it doesn't come to that, though.
- The Diamondbacks' Adam Eaton (elbow) has played nine games on his rehab assignment, but since he's still limited to DH duties, he remains at least 10 days away from rejoining the team. Things are going to get awfully crowded in the Arizona outfield after he comes back. A.J. Pollock was supposed to be the odd man out, but he leads the Diamondbacks with 14 doubles and five steals and is second with 14 RBI. Then there's Gerardo Parra, whose .848 OPS is easily the best in the group. Arizona's two expensive outfielders, Jason Kubel (.758) and Cody Ross (.709), lag well behind. Those two are also the worst defenders in the group. It's going to be interesting to see how it all shakes down. On merit, the best answer would be a Kubel-Ross platoon in left and a Parra-Pollock platoon in right, with Pollock also occasionally subbing for Eaton in center. But that arrangement seems unlikely. Pollock is going to have to keep applying pressure while Eaton continues his rehab.
- Michael Cuddyer's poorly timed neck injury will put Charlie Blackmon and Eric Young Jr. in right field for the Rockies. It could turn into a strict platoon, given that Blackmon is a left-handed hitter and Young, a switch-hitter, has typically been better against lefties. Blackmon was hitting .336/.452/.545 with three homers and five steals in 110 at-bats for Colorado Springs. That's a favorable offensive environment, but Blackmon had actually hit all three of his homers on the road. He's not going to show quite as much power for the Rockies, but he makes for a great short-term add in NL-only leagues. He can also be a spot starter in mixed leagues when the Rockies are at home.
- Burch Smith's dreadful debut for the Padres -- he gave up six runs in an inning against the Rays -- won't prevent him from getting at least one more start. The 2011 14th-round pick throws in the mid-90s, but the rest of his arsenal is lackluster and he's destined to end up in the pen unless he comes up with a better changeup to go along with his curve. With Petco Park on his side, he's a sleeper in NL-only leagues. I don't expect big things, though.
- Frank Francisco's elbow setback Saturday gave Mets closer Bobby Parnell's fantasy value another little boost. Not that Parnell should have had all that much to worry about anyway. Parnell has been getting more wins than saves lately, but he's allowed just two runs in 15 innings on the season.
- Break up the Cubs: Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva both rank in the top 25 in the NL in ERA, but one of the two is going to be sent to the pen later this month when Matt Garza (lat) comes off the disabled list. Garza is slated to make two more rehab starts first, so something might give before the Cubs have to make a difficult decision. Right now, Villanueva seems the likelier victim.
- Back already from a broken left collarbone, Zack Greinke will start Wednesday against the Nationals. Those disappointed that Carlos Quentin wasn't suspended for the duration of Greinke's absence can take heart; he's certainly done more harm than good since returning from an eight-game suspension. The Padres would have been better off with Kyle Blanks in left field. They still might be.
- John Gast is up to make two starts for the Cardinals with Jake Westbrook on the shelf due to an elbow injury. As you've probably heard, Gast was one of the PCL's best pitchers so far this year, going 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA and a 35/13 K/BB ratio in 38 2/3 innings. This comes after he posted a 5.10 ERA in 20 starts in his intro to Triple-A last year. Gast is probably a fifth starter at best, and the Cardinals have a much more interesting prospect in Michael Wacha potentially ready to make the jump should a long-term spot open up. That said, it'd still be worth it for NL-only leaguers to grab Gast for these two spot starts and see what happens.
- The Nationals figure to rotate Roger Bernadina, Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore in the outfield with Jayson Werth (hamstring) out, so none gets much of a value boost. All have struggled with the bats to date, though that's partly due to a lack of consistent playing time. Bernadina, nominally the fourth outfielder, started just two games in April and finished the month 1-for-18.
- Jason Heyward (appendix) could be activated as soon as Monday, but given the way he struggled in his first couple of rehab games, it wouldn't be a bad idea for shallow mixed leaguers to leave him reserved this week. NL-only leaguers will want him active.
- The Reds' Chris Heisey (hamstring) is scheduled to come off the disabled list on Friday, but he'll probably do so as a part-time player. Donald Lutz and Derrick Robinson have both played well in limited action, but one of those two will be sent down to make room.
- With the Pirates' Neil Walker (finger) on his rehab assignment, fill-in second baseman Jordy Mercer hit a pair of homers Saturday. Walker is going to get his starting job back, of course, but perhaps the Pirates will decide to keep Mercer and let Brandon Inge go when Walker is activated early this week.
- Russell Martin (neck) avoided a trip to the disabled list and appears safe to start this week.
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- Junichi Tazawa