Bullpen Report: June 7, 2017

On Tuesday, Tony Watson blew his third straight save opportunity, letting a two-run lead against the Orioles slip away with a Jonathan Schoop home run. On Wednesday afternoon, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle asserted that Watson was still his closer. Just hours later, Watson botched his fourth consecutive save, and this time it was a Trey Mancini two-run homer that did him in.

After Wednesday’s game, Hurdle took responsibility for the loss, telling reporters, “I make decisions. When they don’t work out, they’re on me.” Whether that means Hurdle intends to make a different decision the next time the Pirates need a closer is unclear, but it can only be a matter of time before Watson is replaced. Since May 9, the lefty has a 7.71¬†ERA with five blown saves in eight chances over 14 innings.

While Hurdle has said that he has considered Juan Nicasio as a potential replacement, it seems apparent that it’s going to be Felipe Rivero’s job sooner than later. The former Nationals reliever leads the Pirates’ staff with a 15.1 percent swinging strike rate, 63.5 percent ground ball rate and 30.7 percent soft contact rate. He is not only the Pirates’ best choice to close, but he has the look of a must-own fantasy reliever if he starts adding saves to his stat line. Rivero not only avoids hard contact — and any kind of contact in general — but he has excellent control. If there is one thing that could prevent him from being an elite closer, it’s that opponents swing frequently (prior to Wednesday’s outing, Rivero had a 51.7 swing percentage). The lack of called strikes could prevent him from reaching the 35 percent K-rate threshold where you find the best sources of strikeouts.

While Watson may have a little bit of leash left, Hector Neris may already be on the way out as the Phillies’ closer. Manager Pete Mackanin told MLB.com that “we’ve got to go to work on Neris,” noting specifically that he needs to work on his splitter. Neither Neris nor Neshek pitched in the Phillies’ 14-1 loss to the Braves on Wednesday, but as noted in Tuesday’s Bullpen Report, Neshek got the save Tuesday night, bailing out Neris after he gave up back-to-back one-out singles. Based on Mackanin’s comments, it sounds like there is a good chance that Neshek will pick up the next few save chances for the Phillies.

However, until there is either an announcement of a change or we see Neshek get another save chance, I’m leaving Neris in the closer’s spot in the grid.

With a third straight rough outing, Matt Bush has earned a downgrade to a yellow light. Bush allowed a Lucas Duda double and a walk to Curtis Granderson ahead of a Rougned Odor throwing error that allowed the go-ahead run to score. Even with that unearned run, Bush has allowed four earned runs over his last three innings with a blown save and a loss. As I argued in this space a week ago, Keone Kela may have more success in the closer’s role if he is given a chance to occupy it. Given Bush’s recent struggles, he is inching closer to that possibility.

Aside from Watson, Brandon Kintzler was the only other closer to blow a save on Wednesday. Entering the bottom of the ninth with a 5-4 lead, Kintzler set down the first two batters, but a Ben Gamel single, followed by a Mike Zunino walk-off homer, saddled him with his third blown save and first loss. While it was Kintzler’s second blown save in his last four appearances, he had been solid for the preceding month, posting a 2.38 ERA with 10 strikeouts, eight saves and a 20.0 percent hard contact rate over 11 1/3 innings.

Kelvin Herrera bounced back from Monday’s three-run, non-save performance by blanking the Astros on Wednesday with three strikeouts for his 13th save. USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Nationals are considering Herrera as a trade target, so it’s not too soon to start speculating on the Royals’ potential closer, should Herrera be sent packing. A .385 batting average on ground balls has blemished Joakim Soria’s ERA (3.70) and WHIP (1.48), but an 11.1 K/9 ratio and 59.1 percent ground ball rate suggest that he could be an effective closer, just as he was during his early-career heyday.

Then again, Soria could be traded off before the deadline as well. There is no obvious candidate beyond Soria, though sinkerballer Scott Alexander is one reliever to monitor. The lefty’s first appearance off the DL on Wednesday did not go especially well, as he allowed three runs (one earned) in two-thirds of an inning, but in 39 1/3 career innings prior to this appearance, Alexander compiled a 2.75 ERA.

Closer Grid:

Closer First Second DL/Minors
ARI Fernando Rodney Archie Bradley JJ Hoover
ATL Jim Johnson Arodys Vizcaino Jose Ramirez
BAL Brad Brach Darren O’Day Mychal Givens Zach Britton
BOS Craig Kimbrel Matt Barnes Heath Hembree Carson Smith
CHC Wade Davis Koji Uehara Carl Edwards Jr.
CWS David Robertson Tommy Kahnle Anthony Swarzak Nate Jones
CIN Raisel Iglesias Michael Lorenzen Drew Storen
CLE Cody Allen Andrew Miller Bryan Shaw
COL Greg Holland Jake McGee Mike Dunn Adam Ottavino
DET Justin Wilson Alex Wilson Shane Greene
HOU Ken Giles Will Harris Michael Feliz
KC Kelvin Herrera Joakim Soria Mike Minor
LAA Bud Norris David Hernandez Blake Parker Cam Bedrosian
LAD Kenley Jansen Pedro Baez Josh Fields
MIA A.J. Ramos David Phelps Kyle Barraclough
MIL Corey Knebel Jacob Barnes Neftali Feliz
MIN Brandon Kintzler Matt Belisle Taylor Rogers Glen Perkins
NYM Addison Reed Jerry Blevins Paul Sewald Jeurys Familia
NYY Dellin Betances Tyler Clippard Adam Warren Aroldis Chapman
OAK Santiago Casilla Ryan Madson Liam Hendriks Sean Doolittle
PHI Hector Neris Pat Neshek Edubray Ramos Joaquin Benoit
PIT Tony Watson Felipe Rivero Juan Nicasio
STL Seung Hwan Oh Trevor Rosenthal Matt Bowman
SD Brandon Maurer Brad Hand Ryan Buchter Carter Capps
SF Mark Melancon Derek Law Hunter Strickland
SEA Edwin Diaz James Pazos Nick Vincent
TB Alex Colome Danny Farquhar Tommy Hunter Brad Boxberger
TEX Matt Bush Keone Kela Jose Leclerc
TOR Roberto Osuna Joe Smith Jason Grilli
WSH Koda Glover Matt Albers Shawn Kelley

[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]

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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Pete Mackanin said last night that he would have gone with Neshek as his closer v the Braves. Looks like a change (however temporary it may be) has happened.

Turd Furgeson
Turd Furgeson

the phi pen situation is the most frustrating to be involved in. mackanins about as believable as kelly anne conway.