Closing Time: Fernando Rodney struggles, Carson Smith looms

Closing Time: Fernando Rodney struggles, Carson Smith looms

In many of the fantasy questions we face on a regular basis, it’s best to analyze and trust skills and not worry too much about roles

Alas, in the chase for saves, that rule gets flipped upside down. When it comes to the handshake hunt, often the role is what matters, the baton, the ownership of the ninth.

With that in mind, let’s head over to the Seattle bullpen.

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Fernando Rodney was a hot mess in Tuesday’s ninth inning at Tampa Bay, allowing three runs and blowing his second save of the year. Rodney gave up three hits and plunked a batter. There was one intentional walk out of necessity. He didn’t strike anyone out, and his ERA rose to 6.98.

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Ultimately the baseball gods smiled down on Rodney and his nifty, slanted cap - the Mariners won the game in the tenth inning, giving Rodney his second victory of the year. Journeyman lefty Joe Beimel came through as the last hand on deck (two strikeouts, 12 pitches), and Seattle went off to attack the spread.

Where do the Mariners go from here? Manager Lloyd McClendon has been supportive of his closer this year, perhaps over-focusing on Rodney’s 13-for-15 record on save chances. But Rodney is also sporting a 1.71 WHIP in addition to his bloated ERA, and his strikeout and walk rates are both moving in the wrong direction. And keep in mind this is a 38-year-old pitcher we’re talking about.

If you’re in the pro-Rodney camp, you cling to McClendon’s patience and a few other things. Rodney’s velocity hasn’t dropped off from last year and his swinging-strike rate has risen slightly. Maybe his problems are mechanical, easily fixed.

Or maybe he’s reverting back to the sketchy reliever we knew for so many years. You might remember the carnival ride Rodney operated in Detroit and Anaheim from 2007 to 2011, when he posted a 4.42 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. They might give Rodney a golden plantain when he eventually retires, but his profile won’t be headed for a plaque. No one’s going to retire his number.


If and when the Mariners consider a ninth-inning change, they have a dynamite closer-in-waiting candidate in right-hander Carson Smith. He’s turned into a trusted member of the bullpen in his first full year, posting 21 shutdown innings (9 H, 2 R, 5 BB, 24 K). He does three critical things you want from any pitcher: Smith misses bats, throws strikes, and collects a shipload of ground balls (66.1 percent for his brief career). Easy on the ticker.

Most of Smith’s work this year has been in the eighth inning (en route to nine holds), and there’s always the theoretical case that a team’s best reliever shouldn’t necessarily be the closer. But it’s not like the Mariners are taking some new-age look at bullpen usage. Smith isn’t getting the usage of a hero reliever, coming to save the day with men on base; for the most part, he owns the eighth when the Mariners are tied or ahead, much like Rodney would get the ninth in a save spot or in a tie game at home.

Here’s the bottom line - I can’t guarantee you Smith is headed for a closing gig anytime soon. But I know he’s mowing people down and helping fantasy ratios, and I hate to see him owned in just 11 percent of Yahoo leagues. Get him for the quality work, and if the ninth happens to fall into his lap, that’s just a bonus.

Rappin’ Rodney? Maybe you can sell the save total. Maybe you can move him if he has a smooth couple of outings. Perhaps you can sell him to a Smith owner, see if he wants to double up here. I wish I had a better playbook for you, but your opponents have the Internet, too. They see the dark clouds overhead.

Double Deuce (Harry How/Getty)
Double Deuce (Harry How/Getty)

I don't understand it, but there have been some people hunting down reasons to worry about Clayton Kershaw. It didn't add up earlier this month and it doesn't add up now. Kershaw gave us a vote of confidence with a dominant start Tuesday against Atlanta (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 10 K), but if you needed reassurance beforehand, it was all over the stat page.


Kershaw’s fielding-independent ERAs have been strong all season. His velocity is actually increased from last year, and he has the highest strikeout rate of his career. Walks are up slightly, but it's still a minuscule number overall. He’s been unlucky with bequeathed runners to the bullpen, and he’s been unfortunate with batted balls in play.

To be fair on the last point, Kershaw has allowed more hard contact this year (and he’s induced less soft contact), so it's not just variance at play. But given where his velocity and swinging-strike rate is, not to mention his K/BB, the rocky results seem like minor command issues, easily correctable. The 3.86 ERA is not real, and it's not hanging around.

Some might shrug off Tuesday’s bagel parade, noting it came against the Braves, a mediocre offense that in particular doesn’t handle lefties. Fair enough. But the stuff Kershaw had Tuesday was so dominant, I don’t know any team that would have handled him. Consider how Kershaw made Freddie Freeman look silly on a couple of strikeouts; pretty much no one does that. We’re back to appointment TV with Kershaw, especially for the games that fall on Vin Scully's schedule. Pull up a chair.

• How mediocre a batting average will you accept in exchange for some power? That’s the question we ask in St. Louis today.


Matt Adams suffered a quad injury in the middle of Tuesday’s victory over Arizona, and a DL stint is imminent. With that, Mark Reynolds will likely become the full-time first baseman. You know the deal with Reynolds - he has 227 homers into his ninth pro season, but he’s also a career .230 hitter. Lots of pop, tons of strikeouts. Last year he crushed 22 homers in 378 at-bats for the Brewers, but also finished under the Mendoza Line.

Reynolds has been respectable in spot-play this year, hitting three homers and batting .250 over 96 at-bats. The Cardinals have a solid lineup, currently eighth in weighted on-base average. Maybe the neighborhood play is worth looking into. Reynolds is unowned in 98 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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