We often begin this column with the grisly details of the latest reliever meltdown. So why not start things off this time with some good news?
A pair of closers who had forgettable 2018 seasons are off to a nice start in 2019. Ken Giles recorded his third save in as many tries on Tuesday, securing the Blue Jays’ 7-5 win over the Red Sox. He has yet to allow a run in 5.2 innings, though this appearance was a little more eventful than his past ones from this season. Giles issued his first walk of the year, which came on the heels of a Dustin Pedroia leadoff single. Then he needed all of three pitches to retire Blake Swihart and Andrew Benintendi, and after going to a full count on Mookie Betts, Giles finished him off by getting him to chase a low slider.
The Angels’ bullpen brought some stability to a back-and-forth game with the Brewers. Cody Allen followed up on scoreless frames thrown by Cam Bedrosian and Luis Garcia by shutting out the Brewers in the ninth inning for his third save. Allen has not allowed a hit or a run over five innings.
I do have to spoil the feel-good vibe, however, as Allen has induced only five swinging strikes on 72 pitches for a 6.9 percent SwStr%. Maybe he can make that work if he continues to freeze batters at an outrageously high rate. So far, Allen has totaled 18 called strikes for a 25.0 percent rate.
Despite even higher average fastball velocity than he had last season, Jose Leclerc is also struggling to get swings-and-misses. After compiling a 6.5 percent SwStr% through his first four appearances, Leclerc got only one whiff in his 17 pitches to the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night. He couldn’t protect a 4-2 lead, instead allowing a Christian Walker lead-off single, an Eduardo Escobar RBI double and, two batters later, a two-run walk-off home run to Jarrod Dyson. Despite Leclerc’s surprising contact-friendliness, he had not allowed a run prior to this outing, and his only baserunners came on a single and a walk.
If you were looking for clarity on the Phillies’ bullpen situation, you’ll need to look again on Wednesday night. In Tuesday night’s game against the Nationals, a pair of seventh-inning home runs bounced Aaron Nola from the contest, but Seranthony Dominguez came in and kept the Phillies’ one-run lead. Hector Neris, who earned a save on Sunday, pitched a scoreless eighth inning. With Dominguez and Neris already used and David Robertson (used on back-to-back days) and Pat Neshek (used three times in four days) apparently unavailable, the stage was set for Edubray Ramos to get his first save.
He came so close, too. After retiring Wilmer Difo and Kurt Suzuki, Ramos had Victor Robles at a 2-2 count. Then Robles smashed the fifth pitch of the at-bat to left center field for a game-tying home run. Jose Alvarez, who had been warming up since the top of the inning, had to come in and get the final batter out. Kyle Barraclough and Sean Doolittle kept the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, and after the Nationals broke out for four runs in the top of the 10th against Alvarez, Doolittle came back for a 1-2-3 inning and the win.
Dominguez and Robertson have pitched well recently in setup situations, but that doesn’t necessarily rule them out for saves in the future. The Phillies’ situation appears to be wide open.
The same may still be true for the Twins’ bullpen, even though Blake Parker appeared to be settling in as the team’s closer. On Tuesday night, Parker entered the game in the seventh inning, with the Twins holding a three-run lead over the Mets. It was a curious decision by Rocco Baldelli, given that he had already used Trevor May and Trevor Hildenberger. Taylor Rogers had not been used, but he had thrown a combined 43 pitches on Saturday and Sunday.
After getting one out in the seventh and another out to begin the eighth, Baldelli replaced Parker with Ryne Harper. By that point, the Twins’ lead had expanded to six runs, so we can only guess who would have pitched the remainder of the game if they were still in a save situation.
For the second time in a row, Scott Servais handed a ninth-inning save situation to Anthony Swarzak, who tossed a scoreless frame to finish off the Mariners’ 6-3 victory over the Royals. Particularly given the lack of viable alternatives, we can presume that Swarzak is the Mariners’ primary closer, at least until Shawn Armstrong (oblique) is ready to be activated.
Quick hits: Jeremy Jeffress (shoulder) may be ready to get activated after a rehab appearance on Wednesday night…Roberto Osuna is 4 for 4 in his save opportunities after closing out the Yankees with a perfect ninth inning. Chad Green got saddled with the loss, having allowed George Springer’s game-winning RBI double in the eighth inning…Richard Lovelady made his major league debut on Tuesday night, and he pitched a perfect eighth inning against the Mariners…John Brebbia pitched 1.1 scoreless innings against the Dodgers in relief of Dakota Hudson. He has now pitched 7.2 innings this season without having allowed a run, and he has 10 strikeouts and a 17.1 percent SwStr%…The Mariners placed Chasen Bradford on the 10-day IL with right shoulder inflammation. Prospect Erik Swanson was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma to take Bradford’s place in the bullpen. If Swanson makes an appearance, it will be his major league debut.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.