On Saturday, after Brad Lidge blew his second save in four chances this season, he offered a few candid comments about the quality of his stuff:
"My location is bad. I'm able to get ahead of guys sometimes and I'm not able to put them away with the slider that I've been used to in the past. ... Sometimes, when I am [executing my pitches], they are doing a good job, especially lefties. I'm not really fooling any lefties right now."
If you were to compile a Big Board-style list of the scariest things a closer can possibly say, "I'm not fooling lefties right now" would rank pretty high. For me, that quote would be slotted just after "I can't feel my fingers" and just before "I was talking to Rob Dibble the other day..."
Ideally, a team's closer should be someone whose usage isn't dictated by the handedness of opposing hitters. Lidge has been solid enough against lefties over the course of his career (.243/.343/.373), but they've owned him this year. Mocked him. Humiliated him. Destroyed him. Of the 12 lefties he's faced thus far, nine have reached base (or they've cleared the bases). Left-handed hitters have gone 4-for-7 against Lidge and they've drawn five walks. So when the man says he's not fooling lefties, he's dead-on accurate.
Still, for now, Lidge retains his "co-closer" status in Washington alongside Henry Rodriguez, a 25-year-old flamethrower who hasn't experienced much trouble getting anyone out. Rodriguez has yet to allow an earned run this year, he's converted all four of his save opportunities, and he's struck out nine batters over 7.1 innings. The only blemishes on his year-to-date record are the six walks, but free passes are less of an issue when you don't allow any hits. Rodriguez has yielded only one base-hit in his eight appearances for the Nationals this season, a Daniel Murphy single. The walk-rate is a problem, no doubt — it was lousy last year, too (6.17 BB/9) — but his triple-digit fastball and Nintendo slider nonetheless give him the look of an elite reliever.
Of course it figures that the one place in Washington we'd find cooperation is the place where it's needed least, in the Nats' bullpen. Lidge has been entirely hittable, Rodriguez not hittable at all. And still they share a job, which means the Washington 'pen ranks last in this week's index...
Job Security Index
30. Washington — Henry Rodriguez, Brad Lidge, Tyler Clippard
29. Boston — Alfredo Aceves, Daniel Bard, Franklin Morales
28. New York Mets — Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Bobby Parnell
27. San Francisco — Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez
26. Kansas City — Jonathan Broxton, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins
25. Toronto — Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver, Luis Perez
24. Tampa Bay — Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, JP Howell
23. Minnesota — Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Jared Burton
22. Cleveland — Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith
21. Baltimore — Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, Pedro Strop
20. Chicago White Sox — Hector Santiago, Matt Thornton, Addison Reed
19. Los Angeles Dodgers — Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier
18. Cincinnati — Sean Marshall, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Arredondo
17. Oakland — Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, Ryan Cook
16. Texas — Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando
15. Houston — Brett Myers, Wilton Lopez, Fernando Rodriguez
14. Colorado — Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle, Rex Brothers
13. Los Angeles Angels — Jordan Walden, Scott Downs, LaTroy Hawkins
12. Arizona — JJ Putz, David Hernandez, Bryan Shaw
11. San Diego — Huston Street, Andrew Cashner, Luke Gregerson
10. St. Louis — Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas
9. Milwaukee — John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Kameron Loe
8. Detroit — Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel
7. Chicago Cubs — Carlos Marmol, Rafael Dolis, James Russell
6. Seattle — Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen, Lucas Luetge
5. Miami — Heath Bell, Edward Mujica, Steve Cishek
4. Pittsburgh — Joel Hanrahan, Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli
3. Atlanta — Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Kris Medlen
2. Philadelphia — Jonathan Papelbon, Chad Qualls, Jose Contreras
1. New York Yankees — Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano
Daniel Bard's scheduled start on Sunday was rained out, so he'll spend a few days pitching out of the Boston bullpen, returning to last year's role. He recorded a pair of eighth inning outs on Monday, earning a win over the Twins. Bard wasn't exactly lights-out — he was greeted by a line-drive out, then later issued an IBB — but he didn't allow a run. That's unusual for a Red Sox reliever this season. The fact that a temporary visitor to the Boston 'pen immediately takes over a critical set-up position tells you pretty much everything you need to know about this sketchy relief corps. It's not unthinkable that Bard would be reassigned to the late innings, though he clearly prefers to remain in the rotation.
Jon Rauch still hasn't allowed a run over his 8.1 innings for the Mets this season. Meanwhile, closer Frank Francisco has given up six earned over his last three appearances. New York manager Terry Collins expressed confidence in Francisco after the reliever's latest mess, telling reporters, "I know Frankie is going to be fine." Of course the rest of us know that Francisco has often been the opposite of fine. Rauch is the appropriate handcuff.
Kansas City's Greg Holland has hit the 15-day DL due to a "left rib stress reaction," leaving Aaron Crow as the primary set-up man ahead of Jonathan Broxton. Crow has allowed just one hit and two free passes over his last 7.0 innings, striking out five. Broxton has been a roller coaster this season, to no one's surprise. Crow has already proven himself to be the sort of reliever who can assist fantasy owners, even in a non-closing role. Consider making the preemptive add.
Speaking of ninth inning roller coasters, Francisco Cordero converted saves in back-to-back games on Sunday and Monday, filling in for the injured Sergio Santos (shoulder). While Santos rests his shoulder for 10-14 days, Cordero has unchallenged possession of the ninth. He's only pitched one clean inning so far this season and his WHIP is 1.62, but saves are saves. We should note that Toronto left-hander Luis Perez has been outstanding in relief so far, allowing just four hits over 11.1 innings, striking out 12. Perez picked up a hold in his last appearance and a win the time before.
Juan Cruz saved a pair of games for the Bucs last week, while closer Joel Hanrahan was inconvenienced by a hamstring issue. Cruz has still not been scored upon over seven appearances this season, although he always seems to give up a hit or two.
On Sunday, Aroldis Chapman finally issued his first walks of the 2012 season (to the Cubs, which is no easy feat). Chapman still hasn't allowed a run, earned or unearned, and he's given up just three hits over 10.1 innings, striking out 18. Repeat: 18 Ks. He's still available in 26 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Make the move, public league gamers.
Atlanta relief ace Jonny Venters has been nearly as dominant as Chapman thus far, totaling 12 Ks in just 6.2 innings. In Venters' last appearance, he mowed down the top of the Arizona batting order in the eighth inning on Saturday, striking out the side. Despite the dominance, Jonny is unowned in 47 percent of Yahoo! leagues.