Chris Perez openly admits his shoulder hasn't felt right for a couple of weeks. No one doubted those words on Sunday.
A three-run lead in the ninth is supposed to be an easy save conversion, but Perez had nothing in his 31-pitch stint at Boston. He only retired two of seven batters faced (2 H, 3 BB), eventually exiting with a 2-1 count on Jacoby Ellsbury. Perez felt a pinch in his right shoulder during the Ellsbury at-bat and after a couple of warm-up tosses (one wildly scurrying to the backstop), the Indians had no choice. Perez walked off the field and could be on the DL as soon as Monday.
Cleveland might be fine even without Perez; the Indians have one of the deeper bullpens in the league. But picking a specific closer is a difficult task. Let's open the books and take a look around.
Vinnie Pestano used to be the automatic Perez hedge play, but this doesn't look like his year. He allowed four runs in Saturday's loss to Boston and is sitting on a 5.25 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. A sore elbow cost Pestano some time earlier this year, and he's had control and velocity issues since the return. Pestano is the last speculative pickup I'd consider.
Right-hander Joe Smith has been a consistent hold machine for the Tribe and he's in fine form this year (1.06 ERA, 0.94 WHIP). He allowed the game-ending hit to Ellsbury on Sunday and technically takes the blown save, but let's not worry too much about that - he was entering a spot with no wiggle room (bases loaded, 2-1 inherited count). One pitch isn't going to ruin his case.
Second-year righty Cody Allen is having a lockdown year in the middle of Cleveland's bullpen, with 30 strikeouts and just seven walks over 23.1 innings. A 2.31 ERA and 0.99 WHIP look tidy on the sheet. Another emerging righty, Bryan Shaw, is considered a possible closer-of-the-future type. He's posted a 1.85 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, with a strikeout per inning.
Gut feel: Perez probably needs some DL time (or at least an extended rest) and I'd look at Smith as the first hedge. That's simply my best educated guess, to go along with yours. After you're done with points and clicks, feel free to offer your spin in the comments.
Before you go back to your holiday grill, let's quickly look at some other bullpen situations:
• Jim Johnson had another ninth-inning giveaway Sunday, blowing a 5-2 lead in the YYZ (4 H, 4 R, 1 BB). I realize he's handed away four games in 12 days but I still expect Buck Showalter to be patient here. Johnson's velocity seems fine and it's just a matter of locating better and getting some batted-ball luck. Johnson appeared to be back on track earlier in the week, posting two clean innings (one win, one save). If you need a Baltimore hedge, start clipping on Darren O'Day.
• Joe Maddon has been handing out Fernando Rodney endorsements like they're Halloween candy, but every man has his breaking point. The latest Rodney giveaway came in Saturday's loss to the Yankees. Tampa Bay didn't have a save chance in Sunday's win over New York but the ninth inning got dicey; Joel Peralta ultimately put the fire out with a couple of strikeouts. In medium and deep mixers, Peralta looks like an outstanding speculation play. He's ready to add in 76 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• If you picked up Rex Brothers as a Rafael Betancourt hedge, you might want to wait this situation out. The Rockies say Betancourt is fine but he didn't look comfortable at all during Saturday's blown save in San Francisco (five-pitch walk, followed by Angel Pagan's rocket and race around the bases). Brothers picked up a ninth-inning save earlier in the week while Betancourt was being rested.
• No one actually thinks Brandon League is more talented than Kenley Jansen, but the Dodgers are paying League like a closer and they'd like him to be their ninth-inning man. League recorded a smooth save Saturday, on the heels of fine work from Jansen (four strikeouts). If League can keep from making an absolute mess of things, the ninth-inning gig is probably his.