Injuries unfortunately play a part of every season, but 2011 seems to be the year of the afflicted closer. Multiple stoppers started the year on the disabled list, and several others joined their counterparts on the DL over the course of April. In fact, one contender has lost both its closer and his replacement, forcing them to go with the guy that caused the GM of the team to say, “Can we necessarily rely on him? I don’t think so,” and the pitching coach to add “What did he do, take a crash course in how to close or something?” Tough room.
Though at 2-0 with two saves and a 0.90 ERA, Ryan Madson is well on his way to getting the last laugh.
Not every team has been as lucky with their fill-in closers, and even with Madson’s success the Phillies cannot wait to have their ‘pen back to full strength.
With so much inaction to talk about, let’s get right to it.
Brad Lidge (60-day DL)
The Phillies transferred Lidge to the 60-day DL over the weekend, but he did start a throwing program this weekend, as well. With doctors telling Lidge his rotator cuff has fully healed, the Albert Pujols batting-practice pitcher can finally begin the road to recovery. Optimistic timetables have him back by early June; realism is thinking the All-Star Break.
In the meantime …
Jose Contreras really took to the closing role for three weeks, racking up five saves while not allowing a run in eight innings. Sadly, his right elbow then remembered it belonged to Jose Contreras, a 40- to 50-year-old former starter. As we said, Madson has done nothing wrong since backing into the job. Should he continue his solid run, Contreras is likely to return to a setup role. He can be dropped in leagues without reserve lists, while Madson is a must-own.
Andrew Bailey (15-day DL)
Bailey hasn’t pitched at all this year, hitting the DL on March 22. An amazing closer when healthy, Bailey’s talent made him worth spending a mid-level closer price to nab even with the injury. He managed to throw 35-plus pitches on Friday after doing the same last Tuesday. While he appears to be making steady progress, the A’s are understandably handling him with kid gloves, so while he looks like a guy that will be back in two weeks time, the team may hold him out an extra week or two just to be perfectly safe.
In the meantime …
Brian Fuentes opened the season by giving up three runs (two earned) on three hits in one inning against Seattle. He then converted five straight save opportunities before another huge blowup — like six runs, three earned — pushed his ERA north of 5.00. He’s been solid since and now has seven saves on the season. Brad Ziegler recorded a save last week after Fuentes blew his chance at it, but the interim closer did add a win. Plan on having Dirty Fuentes on your roster for at least three more weeks.
David Aardsma (15-day DL)
Aardsma has been sidelined all season while recovering from hip surgery, but he looks to be on the verge of coming back. In fact, he started a rehab assignment nearly two weeks ago and has suffered no setbacks down on the farm. So what’s the holdup? The Mariners clearly know they can’t win the AL West crown this year, so the organization has its sights set on bringing Tacoma a championship in Triple-A. That, and it turns out Aardsma might not be very good. His extended stay in Triple-A could also be an indication his arm strength isn’t where it needs to be.
In the meantime …
Brandon League has been perfect in his month with the closer’s role. In fact, you could say that he’s been in a league of his own? See what I did there? With his last name? Fine, I’ll stop. League went seven-for-seven in save chances over the course of April, and only allowed three earned runs in 11 innings of work. Even if Aardsma were to come back tomorrow, League would stay in the closer role until Aardsma proves his arm is back to normal. Cause when you only plan on winning 70 games, you can’t afford to have your closer give any away.
Neftali Feliz (15-day DL)
Let’s shift gears and talk about one of the best closers in the game, shall we? Feliz tallied five saves in eight games of work before hitting the DL with inflammation in his throwing shoulder. He seems to think he didn’t need a full 15 days off, but the Rangers decided the extra rest couldn’t hurt and placed him on the disabled list. He threw a bullpen session over the weekend and will be activated on May 6.
In the meantime …
Darren Oliver recorded the first non-Feliz save of the season for the Rangers on April 23 before Arthur Rhodes matched it the next day. Oliver came back a few days later to nab another save. And after May 6, we likely won’t have to talk about either 40-year-old fill-in again this season.
Drew Storen looks like a first-round pick, while Sean Burnett is now yesterday’s news … Tony LaRussa’s next book should be called Three Days in April, as Mitchell Boggs racked up three saves before allowing one run and then making way in the 9th for Fernando Salas, who’s picked up the Cards last two saves; deep-league owners will rush to add Jason Motte and hope the pattern sticks … Dodgers GM Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly put Jonathon Broxton through the longest week of his life, playing interview tug-of-war with Broxton’s closer role while Vicente Padilla picked up a rogue save on Wednesday.
Sergio Santos still looks like the closer in Chicago, though the White Sox haven’t given him many opportunities to prove it. The team as a whole has just three saves this season … Joe Nathan turned in another poor effort on Saturday. No word if he’s going to take himself out of the middle innings as well … The Rays optioned Jake McGee to Triple-A so he could work on actually getting hitters out (11 hits and three walks allowed in seven innings). Kyle Farnsworth is a rock-solid stopper right now … Frank Francisco looked excellent on Thursday, closing out his own win after the Blue Jays scored three runs in the ninth. Three of his four outs in the performance were Ks. Jon Rauch is still serving as the team’s closer, but that won’t last much longer. Add Francisco wherever available.