On Friday night, Gabe Kapler told reporters he would continue to use Hector Neris as the Phillies’ closer if he presented them with “the best option.” The next day, Kapler clarified what that meant in a discussion with the righty, who has amassed 34 saves going back to last season. The Phillies’ manager told Neris he was no longer going to have a designated closer. Instead, he would employ Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia, Seranthony Dominguez and Edubray Ramos, along with Neris, in a variety of roles, with each getting chances at saves based on matchups.
On Sunday, the Phillies took a 3-1 lead against the Mets in the bottom of the sixth inning, and then Kapler went to work, sequencing his relievers in preparation for a ninth-inning save. He brought in Tommy Hunter to face pinch-hitter Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario to start off the seventh inning, and he retired them via strikeout and ground out, respectively. However, Hunter failed to get left-handed Brandon Nimmo to make the final out, as he singled, and Kapler kept him in for switch-hitting Asdrubal Cabrera. The Phillies do not currently have a lefty in their bullpen, though Hunter (.264 wOBA allowed), Garcia (.196 wOBA allowed) and Dominguez (no hits allowed in five plate appearances) have all had success against them this year. Upon Cabrera driving in Nimmo with a double, Kapler turned to Garcia to retire Yoenis Cespedes for the third out.
Dominguez protected the 3-2 lead in the eighth inning, and with Carlos Santana extending the lead with a solo home run in the bottom of the inning, it was up to Ramos to get the first save in Kapler’s new scheme. Only a four-pitch walk to Nimmo spoiled the inning, and Ramos got credit for his first career save.
Given that this is a committee situation, it’s likely that none of the five members will help fantasy owners much in the short term. There is also not a clear favorite to stand out among the crowd and run away with the job. Dominguez has been dominant, stringing together four scoreless, hitless innings since his callup, but clearly, it’s a small sample. Of the other four relievers, Hunter has the lowest xFIP and SIERA, and but Ramos and Garcia have both limited opponents to batting averages below .200. Neris has clearly been the least effective, but then again, that’s probably why he lost his status as the Phillies’ lone closer. It may take another save situation or two for the future pecking order to become a little clearer.
In just his third appearance since coming off the 10-day disabled list, Keynan Middleton had to make an early exit due to right elbow discomfort. He will go for an MRI later on Monday, so until then, we will not know whether he will have to go back on the DL. Middleton was used in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game against the Twins, though after appearing in the top of the ninth inning of a tie game on Saturday, it looked as if he was close to reclaiming the Angels’ closer role. Once again, that job is up for grabs. Jim Johnson finished out the eighth inning for Middleton and came back out for the ninth, but after loading the bases with two outs, he had to be rescued by Blake Parker. In popping up Brian Dozier, Parker kept the game tied, and then Zack Cozart walked it off with an RBI single in the bottom of the inning.
Johnson has been entrusted with some higher-leverage situations over the last couple of weeks, but he has not been especially effective. Justin Anderson and Cam Bedrosian loom as potential ninth-inning options, and Parker may have pitched himself back into the closer discussion. Over his last six appearances, Parker has held the opposition scoreless over 6.1 innings, striking out nine batters and walking two.
The White Sox entered Sunday tied with the Marlins with the fewest saves in the majors with six. It’s been a situation for fantasy owners to avoid, as Rick Renteria had been using Joakim Soria and Nate Jones as co-closers, and neither has been consistent. Renteria further complicated the situation by giving Sunday’s save opportunity against the Cubs to Bruce Rondon. A rested Soria did not appear in the game, and Jones set Rondon up with a perfect eighth inning.
Renteria sounded very much like Kapler after Sunday’s win, telling the Chicago Tribune, “I don’t talk to our relievers about innings; I talk to them more about getting outs.” With Soria and Jones failing to distinguish themselves, could Rondon earn an increasing load of the closer work? During his Tigers career, Rondon had a tendency to walk too many batters (10.7 percent rate) and strand too few (66.6 percent). Those issues have not gone away in his first year with the White Sox (13.2 percent walk rate, 42.5 percent LOB%), so it hardly seems worth dedicating much FAAB, if any, to adding Rondon in your pursuit of saves.
It appears that Corey Knebel is on the doorstep of being the Brewers’ closer once again. The Brewers held a 7-3 lead over the Rockies heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, and Craig Counsell called on Knebel to preserve the win in this non-save situation. Though he did not record a strikeout, Knebel retired the Rockies in order on nine pitches.
Quick hits: Jared Hughes got the save in Saturday’s game against the Dodgers, with Raisel Iglesias getting rested after pitching on three consecutive days, but Amir Garrett gets the first spot in the closer grid behind Iglesias. Garrett was likely unavailable on Saturday after pitching on three of the four previous days and having thrown 27 pitches on Friday. However, the lefty was back to setting up Iglesias on Sunday, racking up a perfect five-out hold with four strikeouts…Hector Velazquez recorded his fifth win of the season, pitching two scoreless innings against the Blue Jays in relief of Drew Pomeranz on Sunday. Two of those wins came as a starter, but Velasquez is not a bad bet for vulturing wins as a reliever going forward. He often pitches multiple innings and has been highly efficient (3.59 pitches per plate appearance). He has also allowed only two of 28 flyballs to be pulled…Brandon Mann was a 27th-round pick of the Devil Rays (yes, the Devil Rays) in 2002, and he made his professional debut that season in the Appalachian League. On Sunday, just shy of his 34th birthday, Mann made his major league debut with the Rangers, pitching 1.2 scoreless innings against the Astros.
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.