May 09, 2012
Editor's Note: Today's Closing Time is almost exclusively about the bullpens, because that's the way the action fell Tuesday. We don't choose these stories, they choose us. You want a deep hitter pickup? Go to the Andy Dirks section near the bottom. You want to celebrate Josh Hamilton? We'll get to that, but there's nothing immediately actionable when a universally-owned superstar has a monster game. Our initial focus will always be tied to news most of you can immediately put into use. Enough preamble, let's get to the mound.
Anyone have a phone number on Bobby Thigpen? Is Ed Farmer still in game shape? This White Sox closing thing might be a mess all season.
We thought we finally had some closure to the South Side shuffle at the end of last week, when highly-touted Chris Sale was shifted from starter to closer. Note that the White Sox didn't merely say Sale was moving to the bullpen, they specifically used the C-word. We had no reason to doubt the news and the quotes, so we adjusted our expectations accordingly and went on with our save-chasing lives.
And then Tuesday's curveball came down the pike.
John Danks worked seven strong innings at Cleveland but he tired in the eighth, allowing two hits to open the inning. Chicago was nursing a 3-0 lead at the time. With the top of the Indians lineup coming up (and specifically, a pair of lefties), Robin Ventura made the call for Sale.
Ventura's move certainly can be defended, even if it surprised us. If Sale really is the big man of the bullpen, there's no reason not to use him in a critical spot like this. And perhaps Sale could have worked through a six-out save if he were sharp. At it turned out, the Indians squared the game on Sale's watch, helped largely by Alexei Ramirez's infield error. Carlos Santana had the big blow, a two-run single, and Sale also walked Asdrubal Cabrera. The stint covered 26 pitches, so Sale was done after his one inning. No handshake for you.
Hector Santiago was summoned for the bottom of the ninth (tie game on the road, no save chance here) and danced around two hits. The White Sox had a save chance an inning later and Addison Reed got the call, blowing the Indians away on 16 pitches (12 strikes, two punchouts). Reed still hasn't allowed a run over 10 innings this year (3 BB, 14 K).
And to make this closing situation as complicated as possible, Sale still wants to be in the rotation - and he's making those feelings known. Keep in mind, the idea of putting Sale in the bullpen was driven by the idea that he'd be less injury-prone as a reliever (he was dealing with some elbow soreness earlier this season and his funky pitching mechanics have come into question). Sale, for what it's worth, told the Chicago Sun-Times his arm feels great and that the subject of starting again is on the burner.
When asked if starting had been ruled out this year, Sale responded this way: "No, absolutely not. Starting is something I hope I can get back into. We've been kind of talking back and forth. There's a possibility of it. Not ruling it out is the best way to say it."
Okay, let's hear from the coaching staff. What does pitching coach Don Cooper think of this situation?
"We're going to continue to watch it," Cooper told the Sun-Times. "Who knows what we may do? Right now, we just kind of backed off him a little bit. In effect, we've missed a start. He's feeling great right now."
Who knows what we may do. There's your theme to Ventura and Chicago pitching staff this year. Forget the straightforward fastball, we might see curves all year. In the meantime, make sure Reed isn't floating around your waiver wire: he's only owned in 20 percent of Yahoo! leagues. If Sale gets his way and returns to the rotation, Reed's skills might force their way into the closing gig.
2:09 PM ET Update: And now it turns out Sale is getting an MRI on his elbow, just to make sure the all is okay. Reed's stock really shoots up with this news, not that we can ever endorse any save-grabber on this team with supreme confidence. At least Reed's skills make him ownable in most formats to begin with.
• A lot of us are rooting for San Diego closing candidate Dale Thayer. He's got the crazy story (10 years in the bush leagues) and a formidable mustache, and as Eddie Felson told us about 26 years ago, saves found on the waiver wire are twice as sweet as saves paid for at the draft.
Thayer picked up his second handshake in as many days in Tuesday's victory over Colorado, though it was a roller-coaster ride - he allowed three hits opposite a pair of strikeouts, and Marco Scutaro missed a game-tying two-run homer by a few feet (his blast down the left-field line hooked foul). To be fair, one of the hits off Thayer was a stone fluke - Jordan Pacheco's harmless infield grounder (a likely out) caromed off an unaware Scutaro, so it goes down as a single and an out. And when you smoke a fastball past Carlos Gonzalez to finish a ballgame, you impress us.
The bottom line is that Thayer converted, and that puts him squarely at the front of the San Diego committee while Huston Street is out. But Thayer has also worked in four of the past five games, so he'll likely need a rest Wednesday. You can still kick the tires on Thayer in 92 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• The Yankees finally had their first save situation in the Post-Mariano Era and it had a happy ending, though there were some rocky moments. Rafael Soriano allowed two baserunners and a run in the eighth (he also struck out the side) and David Robertson loaded the bases in the ninth (two walks, one hit) before icing the game. It's all about throwing strikes for Robertson: he whiffed two batters Tuesday and has a zesty K/9 rate, but there's no reason to be walking a banjo hitter like Will Rhymes when you're already ahead by two runs. The handshake line has been drawn in the sand: Robertson looks like the primary man (and the pitcher who might take the job and run with it) while Soriano is the second option.
• If Dale Sveum is telling us the truth (and you never know with any big league manager), Carlos Marmol is no sure thing to return to the closing gig in Chicago this year. "I'm not going to make change to make change," Sveum told MLB.com. "If [Rafael] Dolis is doing well and [James] Russell is doing well in that role, I won't make change to make change."
Rafael Dolis is the only non-Marmol pitcher on this team that I could see running away from the pack. While his BB/K rate is in the wrong area at the moment (eight free passes, five strikeouts), he hasn't walked anyone over his last seven appearances. If he can command the strike zone, he has a chance to stick. James Russell I'm less excited about; right-handed batters are hitting .306 against him over his career, and that could lead to some messiness in the ninth. And you can forget about Kerry Wood, who's handed out four runs and three walks in his two appearances off the DL.
Here's my bottom line: if you're looking to roster any Cubs reliever right now, it might as well be Dolis (for the current day) or Marmol (for Chicago hope down the line). I'm not interested in anyone else. If you have a different take on the North Side, please share your wisdom in the comments.
• It's time to get Francisco Cordero out of the ninth inning in Toronto. People are getting hurt. Ballgames are being handed away. Coco Puff allowed a five-spot in Oakland on Tuesday night, capped by Brandon Inge's walk-off grand slam (hey, Inge could do it to anyone). Cordero has been scored on in four straight outings, and his 2012 pitching line is not suitable viewing for anyone under 21. Call this guy a cab.
Cordero, to his credit, owned up to his struggles in the post-game press conference. "I didn't make any good pitches tonight," Cordero said. "It's hard for me to explain but I've got to start getting people out or I won't have any job at all."
Sergio Santos (shoulder) did some throwing Tuesday, his first work in that department since going on the DL almost three weeks ago. He's obviously getting closer to a return date but nothing's written down in ink. John Farrell doesn't have a slam-dunk first pick if he decides to demote Cordero in the meantime: Darren Oliver and Luis Perez have the pretty stats but they're also left-handed; righties Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen are racking up the strikeouts, but their ERAs and WHIPs don't inspire much confidence. Roll the bones, save chaser.
• I suspect you're getting sick of all this closer talk, so I won't offer too much on Jose Valverde's bumpy landing in Seattle. Papa Grande started off doing The Dotel (wayward tosses all over the yard, a couple of walks, one wild pitch) before things settled down; the game eventually ended on Don Kelly's spectacular catch. It's a good thing Jim Leyland was ejected from this game several hours earlier; the Detroit relievers are trying to kill the old man. For all the fleas that come with Valverde, he's got a lengthy leash here.
Detroit's lineup has a stealth pickup candidate if you're feeling frisky today: get to know outfielder Andy Dirks. He's on a 8-for-17 binge the last four days (three doubles, one homer) and he's batted in the coveted No. 2 slot over the last three games. Perhaps he has a chance to be the player we expected Brennan Boesch to be, a sweet-swinging lefty who enjoys the good life in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Dirks had an undistinguished 219 at-bats in his 2011 rookie season (and that .296 OBP is an obvious red flag), but he wasn't afraid to take a pitch in the minors (.351 OBP) and this eventually is going to be a fun offense. Let's have some fun with this and see where it goes - Dirks is owned in just four percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• It was an up-and-down day for the Will Middlebrooks stock market. He had another extra-base hit (a second-inning double) at Kansas City but a tight hamstring forced him out of the game shortly thereafter. And Red Sox GM Ben Cherington says Kevin Youkilis (back) will return to the starting lineup when healthy. Bobby Valentine also tossed around the idea of Middlebrooks possibily shifting to a different position, but keep in mind Middlebrooks has been exclusively a third basemen since turning pro. When you consider the recent medical history on Youkilis, I still see Middlebrooks having an excellent chance to be relevant most (if not all) of the season.
• Yeah, that Josh Hamilton had a pretty nifty ballgame. I don't know what new spin anyone can offer on a well-known, universally-owned star (that's why Hamilton isn't the lead item in the story): we all know that when Hamilton is healthy and fully engaged, he's as talented as anyone in the game. A Triple-Crown run is fully in play if Hamilton can get through the majority of the season. And while contract-year motivation hasn't been proven as a universal thing, you can certainly build a case that Hamilton is more focused and driven right now than usual.
Would you pick Hamilton in the Top 5 if you were drafting today? Would you consider him at No. 1? Do you have the nerve to trade someone just off a four-homer game? The price, in theory, might never be higher than it is right now. I know we had that discussion in this space a week or two ago, but it's a good time to re-open it.