From 2004 to 2009, no pitcher that doesn’t wear Jackie Robinson’s 42 has been more rock steady in the closer role than Joe Nathan. After winning 12 games coming out of the Giants bullpen in 2003, Nathan took his talents to the Twin Cities, finding himself immediately in the closer role, where he would reel off six consecutive 35-plus save seasons. His WHIP only topped 1.00 once during the stretch — and really, who’s complaing about a 1.02? Because of that sheer dominance, we in the rotosphere expected him to bounce right back to his elite level after missing all of 2010 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
How wrong we were.
After blowing two consecutive save opportunities, Joe Blows now sits in the bullpen with an 8.44 ERA and 2.06 WHIP next to his name. That’s prodded the Twins to remove him from the closer’s role until he gets back on track. Luckily for the team, they have a guy with four years experience in the ninth inning waiting in the wings to take over. But no matter now well Matt Capps pitches, all Nathan needs to earn his job back is a week or two of his normal sparkling statistics. Fantasy owners left and right are dropping him from their teams; be sure you’re there to pick up the pieces.
What else is going on in The Bottom of the 9th? Let’s take a trip around the league and find out.
Baltimore Orioles – Both Kevin Gregg and Koji Uehara had made four appearances this season heading into Sunday action, with Gregg putting two men on in each inning of work and Uehara only allowing one base runner all season. Despite Uehara’s two-walk scoreless inning yesterday, he looks like the much better reliever, and I’d bank on him leading all Baltimore relievers in saves this season, health willing. Don’t drop Gregg quite yet, but be prepared for a change once Uehara’s back to 100 percent.
Chicago White Sox – The Chicago bullpen is a mess right now with new closer Matt Thornton forgetting how to close out games. He’s 0-2 with no saves this season and the not-so-proud owner of a 3.21 WHIP. Chris Sale has a much better K:BB ratio but nothing to show for it, as his ERA is up to 7.36 after allowing three runs to score without recording an out on Wednesday. I’ve grabbed Sergio Santos in my mono-league; he’s went 8.2 innings without allowing a run this season, striking out 11 while giving up four walks and five hits. He walks his fair share of people but racks up strikeouts. If anything, he can’t be worse than Thornton, right?
Colorado Rockies – Considering they’ve gotten to know Huston Street pretty well, you would think the Rockies would have reservations about using him nine times in a two-week span. Lucky for his owners, Street has brought in six saves during that timeframe before allowing two runs to the Mets a few days ago while recording only one out. Street owners should have Matt Lindstrom’s number in their back pocket for the inevitable trip to the DL (I’ve got May 9th in the pool).
Los Angeles Angels – Fernando Rodney hasn’t allowed a run sine being yanked from the closer role at the beginning of the season, pitching 4.1 scoreless innings and even picking up a surprise save. However, Jordan Walden is doing absolutely nothing to make Mike Scioscia doubt himself for the move, as the youngster has pitched 8.1 scoreless innings while saving three games this season. If that’s not impressive enough, hitters have managed just three hits off Walden in 2011. I’ve picked up Rodney in a few leagues just in case, but Walden looks like he’s here to stay.
St. Louis Cardinals – The hits just keep coming for Ryan Franklin. Literally. He’s now allowed runs in five of his six apperances this year after giving up a walkoff homer to Matt Kemp on Sunday. If Tony LaRussa wants to get any positive performances from Franklin at all this year, he has to stop the bleeding immediately. Jason Motte would get the job if it were up to seniority, but Mitchell Boggs is just killing it right now, racking up a dozen Ks in nine innings while allowing just three hits this year. Throw out the two runs allowed in a three-inning performance to start the season and Boggs has been virtually perfect. He’s worth a pickup for those mining for saves.
Tampa Bay Rays – Sorry, Jake McGee owners, because while your boy has been decidedly ordinary in middle relief this year, Kyle Farnsworth has slammed the door shut three times, allowing one run in 5.1 innings of work. Amazingly, Farnsworth hasn’t walked a guy yet in his seven appearances. Could he be morphing into a quality closer right before our eyes? I’ve ditched McGee where I had him, because he’s a long ways away from earning saves.
Toronto Blue Jays – Frank Francisco has spent the last two-plus weeks on the DL, but he’s expected to rejoin the Blue Jays on Tuesday. Jon Rauch has been solid filling in, posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP while recording three saves. In fact, I would expect Frank Frank to ease his way back, pitching a few times in the middle innings before inheriting closing duties after Rauch is rocked a few times. Keep patiently waiting.