Closing Time: Scott Kazmir, James Paxton, Josh Fields and the usual closer madness

Scott Kazmir authored a terrific comeback story last year in Cleveland. He struck out 162 batters in 158 innings while posting the best walk-rate of his career (2.68 BB/9). Kazmir finished the season with a not-terrible ERA of 4.04, and the underlying stats told an even better story (3.36 xFIP). His velocity returned and his command was, weirdly, better than ever — impressive stuff for a guy who was pitching for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012.

Kazmir, now with Oakland, faced his former employer on Wednesday afternoon, and the lefty brought his best stuff to the park. He tossed 7.1 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and no walks while striking out five. Everything was humming. Kazmir even managed to work around a lead-off E5 in the seventh, facing the heart of Cleveland's order.

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It's tough not to like the full-season setup for Kazmir this year, as he's a flyball pitcher in a spacious, friendly park. This is an excellent pairing of player and team. Fantasy-wise, I'm fully on board. Kazmir is still available in over one-third of all Yahoo leagues as of this writing, so we've got some adding to do. Wednesday's start was no fluke.

All was not perfectly right in Oakland, however...

A's closer Jim Johnson blew the second game of a doubleheader, allowing three hits, two walks and three runs in the ninth. That's two losses in two appearances for Johnson so far. Not great. Oakland's 'pen is full of quality arms — Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, soon Ryan Cook — so it's not as if Johnson can't be replaced. But apparently manager Bob Melvin isn't panicking just yet.

Emilio Bonifacio had another many-hit night for the Cubs (5-for-7), in another loss. He swiped a pair of bags, too. Bonifacio has nine hits through two games, which is completely ridiculous. Obviously he won't continue to binge like this — he's a career .265/.324/.343 hitter — but he's a top-of-the-order guy with wheels, eligible at multiple spots (2B, 3B, OF). Definitely an asset.

Jose Veras and Jason Grilli each blew save chances on Wednesday, because it was that sort of night. If you're speculating in the Cubs' bullpen, Pedro Strop is the play.

Houston is officially in closer-by-committee mode, but that sort of arrangement rarely lasts. Josh Fields converted a save opportunity on Wednesday, delivering a clean inning against the Yankees, preserving a two-run lead against New York's 7-8-9 hitters. Not necessarily a degree-of-difficulty save, but a promising appearance nonetheless. (Matt Albers actually had the tougher assignment, and he was great.) Fields has a clear opportunity to emerge as committee chair for the Astros; we're not talking about a 'pen that's loaded with talent.

Fields earned a favorable postgame review from his manager, naturally:

“Came in, threw strikes, pounded the zone, pitched at the top of the zone,” manager Bo Porter said. “Threw some no-hit fastballs when he had an opportunity to expand the zone.”

The best news that broke on Wednesday, at least for me, involved a player who wasn't actually in action. Check out this graf from Eno Sarris' FanGraphs piece on Danny Salazar:

Other than the slow spring, the team hasn’t given the pitcher any indication he’s on an innings limit. The Indians are “just going to let me go this year,” Salazar said with a smile. But what about in-game pitch limits? “I hope not. Maybe the first couple games — maybe they do that — but they haven’t told me,” Salazar admitted, though he reiterated the idea he’s ready to go this year, and the training wheels are off.



So that's good news. Hat tip to Eno for the fine work, per his usual. Let's hope Salazar has indeed been de-wheeled, because he's a monster.

In yet another victory for the closers of 2010, Jonathan Broxton will apparently own the ninth for Cincinnati upon his return from the disabled list (at least until Aroldis Chapman rejoins the team). Broxton could return as soon as soon as next week, taking over the closing gig shortly thereafter. Here's the word straight from his manager, Bryan Price:

"Once [Broxton] gets reacquainted with being back here, he'll be that guy to hold down the fort until Chapman's ready to go."

Not sure what else you might need to hear. Broxton is just 5 percent owned, available to most of you. Make the move.

JJ Hoover is Cincy's end-game plan for now, and he picked up a win on Wednesday night, pitching a scoreless frame. Hoover had a shaky spring, so any early success is a good sign.

James Paxton was dealing against the Angels, spinning 7.0 shutout innings, racking up nine Ks, generally making left-handed batters look silly. He allowed just two hits and two walks. Paxton impressed in a cameo role with the Ms last season (3-0, 24.0 IP, 21 Ks, 0.92 WHIP), and the kid owns a career minor league K/9 of 9.6. This is a pitcher of interest. He'll get the Angels again next week.

I'm gonna assume you all understand that Mark Buehrle isn't going to give us many 11-K performances. He can be left alone in fantasy, except in spot-start scenarios. Still, we should acknowledge the terrific performance in Toronto's 3-0 win against the Rays. We also need to note that Brett Cecil earned a one-out rogue save, called upon to face Matt Joyce in a lefty-lefty matchup. Sergio Santos was given a chance to close, but walked the only batter he faced.

Welp, the "stash Nate Jones until he closes!" plan is not exactly paying dividends. Sorry about that. Jones posted an awful line against the Twins on Wednesday (0.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, BB) in a mostly-awful game. It felt entirely appropriate that the ballgame ended on a walk-off wild pitch.

Charlie Blackmon got another start in center for the Rox, and he was again hitting in the lead-off spot. Blackmon may not have been the OF you were rooting for in Colorado, but he offers modest power and speed, with on-base ability. He's on the radar in deeper formats.

Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon retired just one batter on Wednesday while blowing a save chance in Texas. His final stat line was ... well, it was scary: 0.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, K. Papelbon has lost a few ticks on his fastball, as most of you know, but he undoubtedly has a long leash. Antonio Bastardo owns the eighth for Philly, if you're handcuffing.

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