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News » Closer hot seat: Gonzalez is back

Closer hot seat: Gonzalez is back

Closer hot seat: Gonzalez is back
Well, the dog days of summer are upon us, and things are warming up all over - though we hear things are especially hot in St. Louis, Atlanta and Arlington these days.

The ninth inning has its own special brand of heat, and some teams are hard-pressed to find someone who can quell the flames. When outs number 25 through 27 are fueling the fires of fantasy fortune, there's only one place to turn for cool insight, breezy perspective and maybe just a shady spot to sit down. It's that oasis of fantasy baseball wisdom we call the Closer Hot Seat.


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: Jeff Bennett, Manny Acosta
Other Possibilities: Will Ohman, Blaine Boyer
Disabled List: Rafael Soriano (elbow), John Smoltz (shoulder)

Gonzalez made a triumphant return to the majors Wednesday, June 18, tossing a perfect ninth inning to record his first save since May 11, 2007. Braves fans rejoiced, as it appeared as though the team's bullpen woes were going to be solved at last. But alas: their new champion was hammered for three runs (two earned) and three hits in one inning during his next appearance, leaving the Atlanta faithful uncertain as to whether the ninth inning is indeed in good hands with Gonzo. We think so, as Gonzalez has a solid track record as both a setup man and closer, and he should garner the lion's share of save chances at least until Soriano returns from the disabled list. Soriano was eligible to return Saturday, June 21, but he hasn't thrown a bullpen session during his DL stint and reportedly still experiences soreness in his elbow when he throws. Gonzalez is the top ninth-inning option at this point - with a committee approach likely in place when Gonzo can't go. Remember that Gonzalez underwent Tommy John surgery 13 months ago, so it may take some time for him to be able to close on back-to-back days.

Durability grade: 6
Job security grade: 7 (last week: 3)

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Salomon Torres
Next in Line: Guillermo Mota
Other Possibilities: Brian Shouse, David Riske
Disabled List: Eric Gagne (shoulder)

Torres continues to do fine work for the Brewers, posting five saves between June 18 and 24, though he allowed two runs in a bumpy ninth inning June 24. His recent string of saves is emblematic of what has been a pretty good month of June for the Milwaukee closer: eight saves and a 2.38 ERA through his first 10 appearances. Torres has been a great waiver wire addition this season, and indications are that he may retain the closer's job even after Gagne (shoulder) returns from the DL.

When will that be? Well, the oft-injured Gagne threw a 31-pitch simulated game Saturday, June 21, and embarked on a minor league rehab assignment Tuesday, June 24. Gagne tossed a perfect inning for Triple-A Nashville that night, fanning one batter in a 14-pitch outing as he attempts to come back from right rotator cuff tendinitis. The 32-year-old could rejoin the Brewers as soon as Friday, July 27, but how effective he'll be remains to be seen. Don't forget, Gagne posted a miserable 6.98 ERA with five blown saves in 20 appearances before heading to the DL with shoulder tendinitis. Look for Torres to remain the closer as long as he's effective, while Gagne figures to work as a setup man for at least the near future. He'll be joined by Shouse, Riske and Mota, none of whom project to be in the closer equation in the immediate future.

Durability grade: 8
Job security grade: 8

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Ryan Franklin
Next in Line: Jason Isringhausen
Other Possibilities: Kyle McClellan, Chris Perez, Randy Flores

Franklin recorded a two-inning save Friday, June 20, against the Red Sox, but it was a bumpy ride. Franklin allowed an earned run, three hits and two walks before escaping with his 10th save of the season. Former closer Isringhausen has fared well since returning from the DL June 14 - allowing no runs and four hits in his first 5 1/3 innings of work. Franklin's hold on the closer's job seems to be loosening somewhat, and the 4.35 ERA and 1.94 WHIP he has put up in 11 June appearances won't help his cause. McClellan has cooled off a bit after a torrid start, but the 24-year-old's future appears bright indeed. Perez brings a wicked triple-digit fastball to the table, but his lack of command may buy the 22-year-old fireballer a ticket back to Triple-A Memphis if he can't find the plate more often. It wouldn't be surprising to see Isringhausen get another save opportunity sometime this week, but until he shows he has put his confidence problems behind him Izzy is a risky fantasy proposition.

Durability grade: 8
Job security grade: 5 (last week: 6)

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Brandon Morrow (back)
Next in Line: Miguel Batista, Mark Lowe
Other Possibilities: Sean Green, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Arthur Rhodes
Disabled List: J.J. Putz (elbow)

Morrow has been very effective in his limited opportunities as the Mariners closer, converting both of his save chances. The 23-year-old fireballer has not allowed an earned run in his last nine appearances, but back spasms have sidelined him since Tuesday, June 17. Batista was pressed back into service as a closer Saturday, June 21, but he blew the save and took the loss against Atlanta. Batista - who saved 31 games for the Blue Jays in 2005 - allowed two runs, two hits and two walks without recording an out against the Braves. Lefty specialist Rhodes bailed out Green and chalked up a save Monday, June 23, against the New York Mets, but the M's clearly are hoping that Morrow's back woes clear up sooner rather than later. Putz is officially eligible to return from the DL Friday, June 27, but he may not be available until after the All-Star break. Until then, Morrow is the man in Seattle - at least as long as his creaky back holds up.

Durability grade: 7
Job security grade: 8

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Troy Percival (hamstring)
Next in Line: Dan Wheeler
Other Possibilities: Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell, Trever Miller
Disabled List: Al Reyes (shoulder)

Percival's hit a rough patch recently, allowing a home run and a walk against the Cubs on Wednesday, June 18, then issuing an uncharacteristic four walks in the ninth inning June 24 against the Marlins. Percival recorded the save in both of those games, but his recent ineffectiveness has fueled speculation that he may still be bothered by the hamstring injury that sent him to the disabled list May 29. Percival admitted the hammy was sore after the June 24 game, and this situation certainly bears watching given the 38-year-old closer's extensive injury history. Percy is as tough as nails, though, and he figures to be the Rays closer as long as his health allows him to take the ball in the ninth inning. Wheeler is a solid backup option, while Balfour's 1.46 ERA and 19 strikeouts in just 12 1/3 innings of work have been a pleasant surprise for the Rays.

Durability grade: 6
Job security grade: 9

Hot Seat: Lackluster Performance

San Diego Padres

Closer: Trevor Hoffman
Next in Line: Heath Bell
Other Possibilities: Cla Meredith

While it's strange to see the all-time career saves leader on the Hot Seat, the boos cascading from the stands at Petco Park following Hoffman's latest implosion Tuesday, June 24, motivated us to give him a place in our Rogues' Gallery. The 40-year-old Hoffman surrendered back-to-back home runs that night, suffering his fifth loss of the season in the process. He has also blown three saves, and his ERA has not dropped below 4.32 since working a scoreless inning April 1. Bell, meanwhile, had an ERA of 2.27 and WHIP of 1.01 through his first 40 appearances, and one wonders whether he'll get a shot in the ninth inning one of these days. It's always tough to replace an icon, but Hoffman is clearly not the same pitcher he was even a year ago. Keep an eye on this situation, but we don't feel that Hoffman's job is in immediate peril.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 9

Texas Rangers

Closer: C.J. Wilson
Next in Line: Eddie Guardado (ankle)
Other Possibilities: Joaquin Benoit (shoulder)

Wilson's converted 15 of his 17 save opportunities this season, but his ERA has ballooned upward since he posted a 3.27 mark back in April. The lefty's May ERA burgeoned to 5.40, and his June standard stood at 6.23 (with a 1.96 WHIP) after nine appearances. Rangers manager Ron Washington gave Wilson a somewhat lackluster vote of confidence June 20, and Wilson responded with an uneventful save June 22. Guardado, meanwhile, surrendered two walks and a three-run homer against the Braves June 17, but those are the only tallies "Everyday Eddie" has given up in his last nine outings. Guardado injured his ankle during his appearance June 22, but he finished the inning and the injury doesn't appear to be serious. Benoit has been dealing with a sore shoulder for virtually the entire season, and his scoreless inning June 20 marked his first appearance since June 7. Wilson is still the Rangers' top option for saves, but it probably wouldn't take much for Guardado to get a save opportunity someday soon.

Durability grade: 8
Job security grade: 6

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: June 25, 2008

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