With Keynan Middleton and Corey Knebel being activated within the last two days, we fantasy owners needed some clarity as to whether they would be eased back into closing or be given save opportunities right away. Fortunately, both the Angels and Brewers obliged by getting themselves into save situations on Thursday night.
Things started to get real for the Angels when they jumped ahead of the Twins, 6-4, in the bottom of the sixth inning. After Jose Alvarez struck out Logan Morrison to start off the seventh inning, Mike Scioscia played the matchups, bringing in Cam Bedrosian to face Mitch Garver, and then kept him in for switch-hitter Ehire Adrianza. Shohei Ohtani homered in the bottom of the inning, but with the lead at three runs, Scioscia had to plan for a potential save in the ninth inning. He opted to bring Middleton in for the eighth inning, and he worked around two walks and a double to keep the lead at 7-4. Jim Johnson pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his first save of the season.
It’s entirely possible that Middleton could get the next save chance, yet it seems just as plausible that Scioscia will go with a committee going forward or just keep Johnson in the closer’s role. All we can do for now is to stay tuned.
Craig Counsell offered a bit more insight as to his current and future closer plans. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his intention is to get Knebel “to the back of the game,” but for now, he plans to keep his opening day closer out of the ninth-inning role. In Knebel’s return on Wednesday against the Indians, he pitched the seventh inning with a four-run deficit. In Thursday’s series opener in Colorado, Knebel got closer to closing, pitching a scoreless eighth inning with a three-run lead for his first hold of the season. With Josh Hader having thrown 26 pitches in a two-inning save on Tuesday, Counsell turned to Jeremy Jeffress to close out the Rockies, which he did by striking out the side.
Owners who have been holding on to Hader and Jeffress for saves know that the ride will probably end soon. Hader has been so dominant that he figures to have fantasy value in just about any role, but owners should also think twice before tossing Jeffress back onto waivers. He has allowed one run in 21 innings and is posting a 26.0 percent strikeout rate that would be the second-highest of his career. His 59.2 percent ground ball rate is right around his career norm, and better yet, Jeffress has allowed the fourth-lowest average exit velocity on flyballs and line drives (88.1 mph) for any pitcher with at least 40 batted balls allowed (per Baseball Savant).
Tyler Clippard got the save for the Blue Jays against the Mariners on Wednesday, but the team played from behind until they batted in the bottom of the eighth inning, so it’s hard to know how John Gibbons might have managed the bullpen with the absence of Roberto Osuna if he had been given an earlier lead. On Thursday night, the Mariners jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning, and they never relinquished it, so that’s a question that will have to be answered on another day. However, Gibbons did state that Ryan Tepera, Seung Hwan Oh and John Axford, along with Clippard, could all be used in save situations.
Heading into the Cardinals’ series opener in San Diego on Thursday, Bud Norris had not pitched in five days, as he had been sidelined with triceps tightness, but he was available if the team needed him. It turns out they did, as the Cardinals held a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Jordan Hicks got the final out in the seventh inning, Greg Holland tossed a scoreless eighth, and then Norris was summoned to secure the win. He did just that, setting Jose Pirela, Franchy Cordero and Chase Headley down in order for his eighth save of the season.
We here at the Bullpen Report hope you have been enjoying the new closer grid, and today, we’re unveiling another new wrinkle. Committee situations are denoted with a black outline around the relievers who are a part of the committee. As mentioned above, the Blue Jays are currently employing a committee, and at least until Knebel is ready to return to the closer’s role, so, presumably, are the Brewers.
The Astros and White Sox were a tougher call, as the former club has been turning to Ken Giles with some regularity in recent weeks. However, a rested Giles was passed over in a save situation as recently as May 3, and A.J. Hinch has previously stated he will not rely solely on Giles in save situations. As for the White Sox, it had appeared that Joakim Soria had claimed the closer’s job for himself, but on Wednesday, Nate Jones was brought in for the save against the Pirates. In allowing four runs, Jones blew the save and took the loss, so this situation looks to be very much unsettled.
Quick hits: Craig Kimbrel bounced back from his second blown save in nine days by pitching a perfect ninth inning against the Yankees for his 10th save…After having allowed runs in only one of his first 17 appearances of the season, Drew Steckenrider gave up six runs to the Braves on Thursday night. He coughed up an Ozzie Albies grand slam and a Freddie Freeman two-run homer, and he retired only one of the seven batters he faced. Despite a pedestrian 40.6 percent ground ball rate entering Thursday’s game, Steckenrider had not allowed a home run previously this season…For the Braves, Luiz Gohara made his major league debut, and it was a memorable one. He notched a three-inning save, keeping the Marlins off the board until Lewis Brinson’s one-out solo homer in the ninth inning.
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.