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News » Closer hot seat: Marte perfect as stopper


Closer hot seat: Marte perfect as stopper


Closer hot seat: Marte perfect as stopper
The 2008 season reached its symbolic halfway point early this week, as the baseball world paused for the three-day hiatus that is the All-Star break.

However, even with the thrill of the Midsummer Classic now behind us, there's some fine theater to be found in bullpens throughout the league. Whether it's drama in Detroit and Arlington or just the excitement of a talented understudy taking over for a star, we have it all here at 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: Blaine Boyer
Other possibilities: Will Ohman
Disabled list: Rafael Soriano (elbow), Jeff Bennett (shoulder), Manny Acosta (hamstring)

Gonzalez continues to do fine work for the Braves, racking up his third save Saturday, July 12. The southpaw has allowed runs in only two of his 10 outings since returning from Tommy John surgery, and every successful appearance lessens the concern of a recurrent injury. He also made his first back-to-back appearances since returning, which is another good sign.

Soriano, meanwhile, is cautiously testing his troublesome elbow, and he is expected to return to the Braves shortly after the All-Star break. How long his elbow will hold up, though, is the question, as he has been bothered by soreness and tendonitis virtually all season long.

Durability grade: 6
Job security grade: 8

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Octavio Dotel, Matt Thornton
Next in line: Scott Linebrink
Other possibilities: None
Disabled list: Bobby Jenks (back)

Jenks is currently on a minor league rehab assignment, and he will be eligible to return to the ChiSox Friday, July 18. The 27-year-old closer is battling bursitis in his left shoulder, but we expect him to step right back into the ninth-inning role as soon as he returns.

Linebrink has surrendered at least one run in each of his last four appearances - blowing two saves in the process - while Dotel picked up a save Wednesday, July 9. If Jenks makes it back on schedule and is healthy, neither Dotel nor Linebrink figures to get much in the way of save opportunities.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 3

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Jonathan Broxton
Next in line: Hong-Chih Kuo, Joe Beimel
Other possibilities: None
Disabled list: Takashi Saito (elbow)

Saito left the game July 12 with pain in his right elbow, and an MRI Monday, July 14 revealed a sprained ligament. Saito is expected to miss at least six weeks, and Dodgers manager Joe Torre has already tabbed Broxton to close in Saito's absence.

The 24-year-old Broxton is a big, hard-throwing right-hander who is widely viewed as the Dodgers' closer of the future. Broxton's numbers have been off a bit this year, but his 3.40 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 46 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings pitched are still respectable. His newfound status as the Dodgers closer makes Broxton a must-grab in all formats, while Saito should be stashed on your DL for now.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 9

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Salomon Torres
Next in line: Eric Gagne
Other possibilities: David Riske, Brian Shouse

Torres has not had a save opportunity since his ugly loss July 3, but he has pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in the interim. Gagne suffered a meltdown of his own July 12, surrendering four earned runs on four hits in an inning of work. Outings like this are what keep Gagne from regaining the closer's role, and we do not foresee him forcing a change in Milwaukee anytime soon. Fantasy owners should continue to ride Torres as long as he is healthy and effective.

Durability grade: 8
Job security grade: 8

Pittsburgh Pirates

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

For all their early talk about a closer-by-committee, the Pirates have been decidedly one-dimensional in their ninth inning plans. Marte has been their man, and the lefty has converted all three of his save opportunities since ascending to the closer's role. If your fantasy team is in need of saves, run to your league waiver wire and see if Marte is somehow still available.

Capps isn't slated to return until early September, so Marte could have relatively long-term value in all leagues. Yates is a fallback option, but he has surrendered runs in four of his last five outings. Grabow is battling a tired arm and hasn't pitched since Tuesday, July 8, so he's unlikely to be a factor in the ninth inning in the immediate future.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 8 (last week: 7)

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Ryan Franklin
Next in line: Jason Isringhausen
Other possibilities: Kyle McClellan, Russ Springer, Chris Perez
Disabled list: Randy Flores (ankle)

Franklin and Isringhausen tried to "out-ugly" one another against the Pirates on Saturday, July 12. Franklin opened the festivities by allowed two runs and three hits in two-thirds of an inning before handing the baton to Izzy, who yielded three runs, two hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning.

What may be most telling here is that Franklin was pitching in the eighth inning, which perhaps signals manager Tony La Russa's intention to work Isringhausen back into the closer's role. Call us crazy, but outings like the one Izzy turned in against Pittsburgh probably won't stir La Russa to rush him back out there with the game on the line.

Neither Franklin nor Isringhausen inspires much confidence at this point, but Franklin still appears to be the Cards' top option for saves.

Durability grade: 8
Job security grade: 4 (last week: 6)

Seattle Mariners

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

Morrow hit his first bumpy patch of road last week, blowing back-to-back saves Thursday, July 10, and Saturday. He recovered to pick up his ninth save of the season Sunday, July 13, and entered the All-Star break with an ERA of 1.76 and 0.88 WHIP in 35 appearances.

Putz, meanwhile, tossed a 30-pitch simulated game July 13, and is set to pitch for Triple-A Tacoma on Thursday, July 17. The M's are far out of playoff contention, so they don't figure to rush Putz back, and they'll likely ease him into the closer's role once he rejoins the team. Morrow's job appears safe for at least another week, but his long-term value hinges on the speed of Putz's rehab.

Durability grade: 7
Job security grade: 8 (last week: 9)

Tampa Bay Rays

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

This situation is tough to read, primarily because the struggling Rays have not had a save opportunity since July 5. Balfour received the call - and the save - that day, but his appearance in the sixth inning of a game just three days later raises questions as to his place in the Rays' bullpen hierarchy.

Wheeler has struggled a bit of late, suffering a loss July 7 after allowing four runs (three earned) in the 10th inning. Howell has been the team's most effective reliever, but he has been most often utilized in a setup role.

Percival threw 26 pitches off a mound July 12 as he continues to rehab from a strained left hamstring. The veteran closer is expected back shortly after the All-Star break, but concerns about his health will linger even after he returns.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 5

Hot Seat: Lackluster Performance

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Brian Fuentes
Next in line: Manny Corpas
Other possibilities: Taylor Buchholz, Casey Weathers

Fuentes has been the subject of much trade speculation, with at least five teams reported to be possible destinations for the Rockies closer. For now, though, Fuentes is closing games for Colorado and doing a darn tidy job of it. Since surrendering seven runs in back-to-back appearances in late June, Fuentes has strung together five consecutive hitless outings, which has likely increased both his job security and potential trade value.

If Fuentes is indeed moved, Corpas should get the first chance at closing games, although his 5.24 ERA is definitely cause for concern. Legacy league owners should put the name of Weathers on their radar screens. The 23-year-old fireballer showed some wicked stuff at the 2008 MLB All-Star Futures Game, and he could be a factor in the Colorado 'pen as early as 2009.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 9 (last week: 8)

Cleveland Indians

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

Kobayashi gobbled up his fifth save July 13, and the 34-year-old is expected to get most of the save chances going forward. Kobayashi doesn't possess dominant stuff (only 28 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings), but he knows how to pitch. Plus, his 227 career saves in Japan shows that he knows his way around the ninth inning.

Perez has pitched well lately, logging a 1.42 ERA in his first six July appearances, while Betancourt's season ERA stood at a woeful 6.00 at the break. Perez and Betancourt should be considered nothing more than fallback options as Kobayashi appears to be the man in Cleveland for now.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 6

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Todd Jones
Next in line: Joel Zumaya
Other possibilities: Fernando Rodney, Ryan Perry

Jones blew another save Thursday, July 10, which was his second such misstep in his past four opportunities. The veteran rebounded to chalk up his 17th save July 13, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland has said that he would lighten Jones' workload in the second half. That may not sound like good news, but it's not bad news, since Jones' peripheral numbers - a 4.95 ERA and 1.54 WHIP - aren't helping anyone's fantasy cause. Perhaps it will keep him fresh.

Despite his recent struggles, Jones remains the main man for saves in Detroit, though it should be interesting to see how Leyland's plan to give his closer an occasional day off plays out. Zumaya would seem to be the top candidate to replace him, but he'd be a purely speculative addition at this point. The best move for Jones' fantasy owners is simply to sit back and watch. Leyland remains loyal to the vet.

Durability grade: 8
Job security grade: 8

Florida Marlins

Closer: Kevin Gregg
Next in line: Matt Lindstrom
Other possibilities: Joe Nelson

After blowing back-to-back save chances July 3 and 4, Gregg has responded by charting six consecutive scoreless appearances, allowing only one hit and garnering five saves in the process. Barring some rough outings coming out of the All-Star break, don't look for Gregg to appear in this space again for the foreseeable future.

Durability grade: 9
Job security grade: 9 (last week: 8)

Texas Rangers

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

Wilson has saved 22 games this season, but he has allowed at least two baserunners in each of his last four appearances. The lefty was shelled for three runs and five hits July 13 and nearly blew the Rangers' four-run lead in the process.

Guardado also gave up a run in that game, but that tally ended a string of 13 consecutive scoreless appearances for the veteran southpaw. Although there has been no word of an impending closer change in Texas, one wonders how long manager Ron Washington will stay with Wilson, especially given Guardado's effectiveness and experience as a closer.

Benoit threw a long-toss session July 13, but there is no current timetable for his return.

Durability grade: 8
Job security grade: 7


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: July 17, 2008

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