Bullpen Report: April 17, 2019

The Phillies, Red Sox and Twins have made it difficult to know who we can rely on for saves, but that’s been pretty much by design. Suddenly, the Braves’ bullpen has become possibly the toughest one to figure out.

When the Braves placed Arodys Vizcaino (shoulder) on the IL on Sunday, that appeared to actually simplify their bullpen situation, as A.J. Minter figured to inherit virtually all of the save opportunities. The lefty fared well enough on Sunday night, pitching a perfect ninth inning in a Braves 7-3 win over the Mets. The stakes were a little higher on Tuesday night, as Minter was charged with keeping the score knotted at 6-6, giving his offense a chance to top the Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth inning with a single run. It took only two pitches for Minter to allow the Diamondbacks to surge ahead, as Christian Walker drove a cutter in the middle of the strike zone for a solo home run. He was charged with two more runs when Jacob Webb allowed an Adam Jones double that brought in two inherited baserunners.

Minter has just an 8.0 percent SwStr% over his first 4.2 innings of the season, and his average fastball velocity is down by close to 1 mph from where it was early last season. He has been solid against lefties so far, as they have gone just 1 for 8 against him, but righties are a collective 5 for 12 with two home runs and two doubles. Just maybe these heatmaps of Minter’s pitch location against righties from 2018 and 2019 will shed some light on his recent troubles.

The Braves don’t have any clear options to replace Minter as the closer, so he may get a chance to work out his location issues while keeping his current role. Chad Sobotka has floundered, and on Tuesday night, he exited in the seventh inning after starting off the frame with two hit batsmen and a walk. Jesse Biddle relieved Sobotka and added to the turmoil, allowing a 2-RBI single to Eduardo Escobar and a four-pitch walk to David Peralta.

Owners should avoid this entire situation for now, though we should keep an eye on Minter to see if he rebounds. Also, recent callups Dan Winkler and Shane Carle could emerge in high-leverage roles, as could Wes Parsons, who has already been used in some crucial situations.

As expected, Jeremy Jeffress was activated by the Brewers on Tuesday, but he did not see action in their 8-4 win over the Cardinals. The Brewers held that four-run lead going into the top of the ninth inning, so it could have been an opportunity to Craig Counsell to ease Jeffress into something close to a save situation. Instead, he opted to use Alex Claudio to face Matt Carpenter, Matt Wieters and Yairo Munoz. Handedness could have played a role in Counsell’s choice, as the left-handed Carpenter was followed by the switch-hitting Wieters, who has struck out far more frequently against lefties than righties over his career.

Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com reported that the Brewers remain interested in Craig Kimbrel, and how Jeffress fares in the coming days could impact their level of interest going forward. Kimbrel, for his part, said he is getting closer to deciding where he wants to sign.

Matchup considerations likely played a role in Kevin Cash’s bullpen usage in the Rays’ 4-2 win over the Orioles. He went to primary closer Jose Alvarado in the eighth inning, with the Orioles sending their 1-2-3 hitters up. Jonathan Villar, like Wieters, is a switch hitter who, going back to last season, has struck out more often versus lefties. He was followed by righty Trey Mancini, and then followed by lefty Dwight Smith Jr. Alvarado retired all three batters to earn his second hold of the season. Then Diego Castillo retired the side in the ninth inning for his second save. It feels a little premature to call the Rays’ closer situation a committee, but we’ll be watching this one closely in the coming days.

Shane Greene proved himself to be fallible, allowing his first runs of the season on Tuesday night. The Pirates broke open a 3-3 tie in the 10th inning against Greene with a two-run Starling Marte home run. Greene dropped to 0-1, but he is still 8 for 8 in his save opportunities.

The Tigers only needed Greene in this game because Keone Kela blew the Pirates’ 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth. Detroit was able to force the game into extra innings, as Christin Stewart led off their portion of the ninth with a double, and Jeimer Candelario drove him in with a line drive single. Kela was pressed into temporary closer duty, as Felipe Vazquez was still getting rest after having thrown 43 pitches on Sunday.

Ken Giles made his first appearance since missing time with an illness, but his results suggested that he may not have been at 100 percent. He averaged 96.3 mph in fastball velocity, whereas he has typically been in the 97-98 mph range this season. Giles coughed up a leadoff home run to Marwin Gonzalez, which reduced the Blue Jays’ lead over the Twins to 6-5. He did get a pair of outs after walking Nelson Cruz, but Byron Buxton nearly drove home the tying run on a double into the left field corner. If not for on-target throws from Teoscar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis, C.J. Cron almost certainly would have scored, leaving Giles with his second blown save in six days.

Quick hits: David Robertson has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 flexor strain in his right elbow. He does not yet have a timetable to return, but he will not throw for at least a couple of days….Ryan Tepera (elbow) is expected to be activated on Wednesday, and he is expected to eventually return to a setup roleKyle Crick (triceps) was activated by the Pirates on Tuesday, but he did not appear in the team’s victory over the Tigers.

Not Very Stable
Hot Seat
Bullpen Report — 4/17/2019

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.

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CC AFCmember
3 years ago

If only there were a totally available late inning reliever familiar with the Atlanta area that the Braves could add to the roster. Especially, if that person only cost money and the Braves had just saved a ton by signing two young stars to comically underpriced extensions.

Nah, but that would be such a fortunate set of circumstances, it’s hard to believe.

3 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Enjoyed the comment. To be fair though, Atl also loses a draft pick (I believe their third highest pick) so Kimbrel does not “only cost money”.

3 years ago
Reply to  D

The Braves have more to lose than any other team in the majors since I believe, as a non-revenue sharing team, the Braves would lose their 2nd pick which is #21 overall. That is the highest pick that could be forfeited by any team.

Of course, in the entire 54 year history of the draft, there have only been 7 guys drafted #21 who accumulated more than 10 career bWAR led by Rick Sutcliffe’s 33.9. Jason Varitek is the only other guy over 20. Is it worth risking a less than 5% chance that you might get a decent player in the draft for Kimbrel or Keuchel?

Ghost of Jair Jurrjens
3 years ago
Reply to  Anon

Michael Trout was the 25th overall pick once upon a time. I’d take my chances waiting until June. Sadly, the system is setup in such a way that drastically reduces any chance any MLB club will sign Kimbrel until then at this point.

Ghost of Jair Jurrjens
3 years ago

Facts do hurt sometimes