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News » Closer hot seat: Jenks returns for Sox


Closer hot seat: Jenks returns for Sox


Closer hot seat: Jenks returns for Sox
As July reaches its wane, and the trade deadline looms, major league teams scramble to tweak and tune their rosters in preparation for the season's stretch run.

The last week has brought a flurry of activity in bullpens across the league, and every day seems to bring a new twist to the age-old dilemma of who gets those last three outs. Don't fret, though, we have the latest for you right here in that compendium of ninth-inning knowledge known as the Closer Hot Seat.

KEY

Durability grade: 1 (very injury-prone) to 10 (extremely durable)
Job security grade: 1 (very shaky) to 10 (firm grasp)

Hot Seat: Injury Concerns

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Mike Gonzalez
Next in line: Rafael Soriano (elbow)
Other possibilities: Blaine Boyer, Will Ohman
Disabled list: Jeff Bennett (shoulder), Manny Acosta (hamstring)

Gonzalez recorded his fourth save of the season Friday, July 18, and those four actually lead the team. Yes, times are a bit tough in Atlanta these days, and save opportunities are few and far between. The good news is that Gonzalez looks to be healthy again, but the lefty's days as a full-time closer may soon be over now that Soriano is back with the team.

Soriano was activated from the disabled list Monday, July 21, and pitched a scoreless frame July 22 as he attempts to come back from elbow tendonitis and inflammation. He reportedly looked good during his rehab and figures to get the ball in the ninth inning at some point. Keep an eye on how this plays out. We don't envision Soriano supplanting Gonzalez immediately, but don't be surprised if manager Bobby Cox gives the right-hander a shot at reclaiming his role at some point down the road. A tag team is possible, too, since Gonzalez is a southpaw and both have injury concerns.

Durability grade: 6
Job security grade: 7 (last week: 8)

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Kerry Wood (finger)
Next in line: Carlos Marmol
Other possibilities: Bob Howry, Neal Cotts

Wood's been battling a blister problem on his right index finger recently, and he looked to be headed to the disabled list just a few days ago. However, that plan was put on hold July 22, and Wood was scheduled for a throwing session Wednesday, July 23. How the Cubs handle the situation will probably be based in large part on the results of that session. The big right-hander has not pitched in a game since July 11 and missed the All-Star Game.

If Wood does indeed land on the DL, Marmol would likely get the bulk of the closing opportunities. After a scorching start, Marmol pulled the chute in June, slumping to a 7.36 ERA. He has followed that up with a woeful 11.37 ERA through his first eight appearances in July, but Marmol has the best pure stuff of any of the Cubs relievers.

Durability grade: 6
Job security grade: 9

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Bobby Jenks
Next in line: Octavio Dotel, Matt Thornton
Other possibilities: Scott Linebrink

Jenks was activated from the disabled list July 18 and pitched a scoreless inning Sunday, July 20. Jenks has been nails in the ninth this season and appears to have put his shoulder and back problems behind him. With Jenks back in the saddle, the closer seat in south Chicago is no longer "hot," so get Jenks back in your lineups.

Durability grade: 8
Job security grade: 10

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Jonathan Broxton
Next in line: Hong-Chih Kuo, Chan Ho Park
Other possibilities: Joe Beimel
Disabled list: Takashi Saito (elbow)

Broxton racked up saves July 18 and 20, and the big right-hander looks to be settling into his new role as the Dodgers closer. The 24-year-old Broxton had two brutal outings back in May, but has pitched well otherwise. Consider Broxton the best option for saves as long as Saito is out, which may be for the season, and grab him if he's available in your league.

Saito is nursing a sprained ligament in his right elbow, and surgery remains a possibility for the 38-year-old reliever. He doesn't figure to be back until September - if he returns at all this season.

Park and Kuo have both performed well in relief this season, but with only one career save between them they don't figure to factor into the ninth-inning role as long as Broxton is available and reasonably effective.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 8

New York Mets

Closer: Billy Wagner (shoulder)
Next in line: Duaner Sanchez
Other possibilities: Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano

Wagner felt tightness in his left shoulder while warming up July 20, but he still struck out the side to record his 24th save. The tightness re-appeared the next day, and Wagner visited the doctor as a result. An MRI revealed no structural damage, and Wagner was diagnosed with a spasm around his shoulder.

Mets fans were undoubtedly suffering spasms of their own Tuesday, July 22, when, with Wagner unavailable, Sanchez, Smith and Feliciano allowed six earned runs in the ninth inning of an 8-6 loss to the Phillies. The blowup underscores how important Wagner is to this team, and how closely Mets fans will be watching for updates as to the lefty's health status.

If Wagner's shoulder problems linger, Sanchez would likely get the first call to close, but his performance in the aforementioned game casts some doubt as to his long-term viability as a closer. The prevailing thought is Wagner should be fine, but stay abreast of this situation, as it was still developing as this article is published.

Durability grade: 7
Job security grade: 9

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Damaso Marte
Next in line: Tyler Yates
Other possibilities: John Grabow
Disabled list: Matt Capps (shoulder)

Marte hasn't had a save opportunity since July 10, but he surrendered two runs in a non-save situation July 20. The wiry lefty has converted three straight save opportunities since taking over the closer's job, and he figures to remain in that role for at least the near future. However, Marte's name has been bandied about in trade talks, which could shake things up in the Steel City were he to be moved.

Capps has begun his rehab for bursitis in his right shoulder, but he is not expected back until September at the very earliest.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 8

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Brandon Morrow
Next in line: J.J. Putz (elbow)
Other possibilities: Sean Green, Mark Lowe

Putz was activated from the DL Sunday, July 20, and tossed a perfect seventh inning that very night. The Mariners will almost certainly try to get Putz back into the closer's chair, but an abundance of caution combined with Morrow's strong performance during his time in the role might delay that promotion a bit. Morrow has converted nine of his 11 chances, and his ERA stands at 1.71 with 42 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings.

Despite Morrow's effectiveness, we'd expect to see Putz get a crack at closing before long. That being said, Putz had a 5.21 ERA when he landed on the DL, so he has not been the dominant closer he was a season ago. Downgrade Morrow, but hang on to him at least until Putz reclaims the closer's role. Even then, Morrow's high strikeout rate and solid ratios should help your team's fantasy cause.

Durability grade: 7
Job security grade: 4 (last week: 8)

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Troy Percival
Next in line: Grant Balfour
Other possibilities: Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell

Percival returned from the DL July 20 and turned in a scoreless frame in a blowout loss to the Blue Jays that same day, which was his first game action since June 30. Rays manager Joe Maddon has made it very clear that Percival is his closer.

If Percival's absence taught us nothing else, it's that Balfour can flat out deal. The Aussie racked up three saves in Percival's stead, and he allowed only two runs while striking out 14 batters in nine innings of work. If you own Balfour in fantasy play, we'd recommend holding on to him until it's certain that Percival is back to full health. Even as a setup man, Balfour has value due to his high strikeout rate and solid ratios.

Wheeler did nothing to distinguish himself during Percival's absence. Howell has been arguably the team's most valuable reliever, but Percival's return and Balfour's emergence relegates the lefty to setup duty.

Durability grade: 6
Job security grade: 9

Hot Seat: Lackluster Performance

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Brandon Lyon
Next in line: Jon Rauch
Other possibilities: Tony Pena, Chad Qualls

Lyon had been doing a serviceable job as Arizona's closer, but he has fallen on tough times of late. The 28-year-old right-hander has blown two of his last three save opportunities, including an ugly five-run meltdown against the Dodgers on July 20. In fact, he even surrendered two earned runs during the one save he converted during that stretch.

Lyon's struggles, along with the struggles of Qualls and Pena plus some injuries, prompted the D-Backs to trade for Rauch, who was working as the Nationals' closer. Rauch worked the ninth inning of a 9-2 win against the Cubs on Tuesday, July 22, so the D-backs may well be sending a message to the floundering Lyon.

Officially, the 6-foot-11 Rauch is the D-Backs setup man. Should Lyon continue to struggle, it's possible Rauch gets a chance to close. And why shouldn't he? Rauch saved 17 games for the Nats and has forged a 2.92 ERA while fanning 46 batters in 49 1/3 innings this season. Rauch is probably not available in most fantasy leagues, but if you own Lyon you should be very concerned about his job security. You might want to consider shopping him around to see what kind of return you could get, perhaps from Rauch owners. The reverse is true, too, because Rauch has lost some value.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 6

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Masahide Kobayashi
Next in line: Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez
Other possibilities: Jensen Lewis

The Indians have had only two save opportunities since designating former closer Joe Borowski for assignment, and Kobayashi has successfully converted them both. The 34-year-old Kobayashi looks to be the man for now in Cleveland, though the Indians' underachieving ways figure to limit his save opportunities. He has also been rather so-so in non-save situations, carrying a 3.95 ERA in June and 4.26 ERA thus far in July. If you're hungry for saves, Kobayashi is the best option in Cleveland, just don't set the bar too high.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 7 (last week: 6)

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Brian Fuentes
Next in line: Manny Corpas
Other possibilities: Taylor Buchholz, Luis Vizcaino, Matt Herges

Fuentes' performance has been outstanding of late, but he's here in our Hot Seat due to the continuing trade rumors surrounding the Rockies lefty. Keep a close eye on the situation, and if you own Fuentes be prepared to grab Corpas if a trade happens.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 9

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Ryan Franklin
Next in line: Jason Isringhausen
Other possibilities: Russ Springer, Kyle McClellan, Randy Flores

What an ugly mess this situation has become. Franklin's July ERA stands at 7.88 through his first eight appearances, and the right-hander coughed up four hits and three runs (two earned) in suffering the loss Monday, July 21, against the Brewers. As we've noted before, Franklin does not have dominant stuff, and if he's not hitting his spots he's very hittable.

Speaking of hittable, Isringhausen has crafted a tidy little 9.64 ERA of his own through six July appearances, and he doesn't appear to be a threat to reclaim his old job. Izzy was tattooed for two runs and three hits in just one-third of an inning Sunday, July 20, marking the second time in his past three appearances that he has allowed at least two earned runs in less than an inning of work. It was also a save chance, although the blown save went to reliever Brad Thompson, who relieved Izzy after the vet encountered so much trouble.

Springer, meanwhile, has allowed only two earned runs since May 3, and one wonders if the 39-year-old will get a chance in the ninth inning as a reward for his fine setup work. A change does not appear imminent, but with the Cards in contention, they definitely need to shore up what has become a very leaky back end of the bullpen.

Durability grade: 8
Job security grade: 5 (last week: 4)

Texas Rangers

Closer: C.J. Wilson
Next in line: Eddie Guardado
Other possibilities: Frank Francisco
Disabled list: Joaquin Benoit (shoulder)

Wilson tallied his 23rd save of the season July 20, allowing only a walk and a wild pitch in nailing down a 1-0 Rangers win. It was a reasonably quiet outing for the oft-shaky Wilson, who had allowed at least two runs in two of his four previous outings.

Guardado continues to sail along doing solid work in his setup role, allowing only one earned run and six hits in his last 14 innings. While we're not hearing any rumblings of a closer change in Texas, Guardado would likely be the man who got the call if the Rangers ever tired of Wilson's penchant for ninth-inning drama. He's also garnering trade interest, so he may not be an option for the Rangers much longer.

Durability grade: 8
Job security grade: 7

Washington Nationals

Closer: Joel Hanrahan
Next in line: Saul Rivera
Other possibilities: Luis Ayala, Jesus Colome

The trade of closer Jon Rauch leaves a gaping hole at the back of the Washington bullpen, with Hanrahan the likely successor. Manager Manny Acta has indicated Hanrahan will be given the first crack at securing the job. Hanrahan has 65 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings this season, though wildness has been a problem for the burly 26-year-old right-hander. However, if he can find his command he just might keep the closer's job for the duration of the 2008 campaign. Add him in all formats.

Rivera has pitched effectively this season in a setup role, and he'll likely continue in that role for the time being. Were Hanrahan to struggle, Rivera would likely be given the next shot at holding the fort.

Ayala's nine career saves is tops on the team, but his inflated 5.32 ERA this season may bump him down the pecking order. Colome has a tremendous fastball that doesn't find the strike zone quite often enough, and he's a long shot to be a factor in the ninth inning.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 6


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: July 23, 2008

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