Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Don't Tinker With Bell

Monday, May 13, 2013

Injuries in Arizona and Boston wreaked havoc with the closer rankings last week just a couple of days after they were published.


After J.J. Putz walked off the mound in the ninth with an elbow injury last Tuesday, Heath Bell replaced him and picked up his first of three saves in three days. That left him unavailable Friday, at which point David Hernandez stepped in and notched a save of his own. On Sunday, the Diamondbacks went back to Bell and watched him give up two runs to blow a save against the Phillies.


Obviously, Hernandez projects as the better of the two pitchers going forward. Kirk Gibson, though, made up his mind and will go with his proven closer, at least until Bell gives him reason not to. Sunday's bad day probably won't result in a change just yet. Since giving up two homers in a horrible season debut April 2, Bell has allowed six runs in 15 2/3 innings and posted a 19/2 K/BB ratio.


Bell isn't really doing anything differently this year except spotting his fastball better. So far, that's been good enough. He is going to give up some homers, though. For what it's worth, lefties have torched him to the tune of a .417 average, five doubles and one homer in 24 at-bats so far.


There's serious doubt over whether Putz will return this season. Even if he does, it will probably happen too late for him to earn the closer's role back. My expectation is that Hernandez will eventually get the job. After all, this is a guy who posted a 98/22 K/BB ratio in 68 1/3 innings last year, and while he's given up some early homers this year, his stuff has been fine. He's also not going to have platoon splits like Bell does now.


While Putz's fate is still up in the air, the Red Sox have already announced that Joel Hanrahan will undergo season-ending surgery after hurting his elbow last Monday. They caught me by surprise by naming Junichi Tazawa as the temporary closer over Koji Uehara. It's a choice that's proven irrelevant so far, as the Red Sox haven't had a save chance since. Tazawa entered a tie game in the ninth on Saturday and gave up a homer to Adam Lind to take his second loss, but he probably would have been the choice there regardless.


Boston's hope is that Tazawa is just keeping the seat warm for Andrew Bailey, who is in line to return from the DL this week after missing time with biceps soreness. Still, Bailey's long-term outlook is always iffy. Ideally, Daniel Bard would reemerge as a fallback closer option, but given that he's walked 12 in 11 2/3 innings in Double-A, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. So, it'll probably be worth holding on to Tazawa in fantasy leagues after Bailey returns. I suspect the Red Sox will be in the mix for Brian Wilson (elbow) once he's ready to sign, but it sounds like that day is still a couple of months away.


AL Notes


- While blowing a save against the Indians on Sunday, Tigers closer Jose Valverde threw 29 pitches, every last one a fastball. His splitter is still a complete non-factor, leaving him without any sort or wrinkle to go along with his heater. Now, that didn't stop him from pitching five consecutive hitless innings prior to Sunday. But it's hard to see him lasting as an effective closer without any tricks up his sleeve.


- Discouraged by the state of their pen, the Angels appear poised to rush Ryan Madson (elbow) back to the majors after one or two rehab appearances this week. It's unlikely that they'll be so quick to turn him into a closer, what with Ernesto Frieri doing a fine job there. Still, I think they will eventually make the switch, provided Madson stays healthy. Frieri's ability to maintain a bigger workload and get four or five outs at a time would make him a great bridge to Madson in the ninth. The Angels are going to use both to protect leads anyway, so they might as well give Madson the lesser workload that comes with closing games. Of course, this all hinges on Madson staying healthy for a few weeks first.


- It's not certain yet that the White Sox will agree, but Hector Santiago seems to have done enough since joining the rotation to unseat Dylan Axelrod when John Danks (shoulder) returns, something that could happen this weekend. Santiago hasn't been going to the screwball much, but since he's throwing 91-94 mph and getting very good results with his changeup, he hasn't needed to. If he sticks in the rotation, his next four starts will come against the Twins, Angels, Marlins and Cubs, making him a nice play in mixed leagues. Axelrod has been just fine, too, but he lacks Santiago's upside.


As for Danks, the reports indicate that his velocity is still down following shoulder surgery. I'd say he's more likely to be a liability than an asset, at least in the short term.


- When Curtis Granderson (arm) comes off the DL on Tuesday, it doesn't look like he'll be a strict center fielder after all. He's played some left and right on his rehab assignment, suggesting that Brett Gardner is going to remain the Yankees' primary option in center. Granderson's return seems like worse news for Ichiro Suzuki than Vernon Wells. Ichiro has warmed up at the plate -- he's batting .281/.324/.500 through nine games this month -- but Wells has been the Yankees' second biggest power threat so far and isn't likely to take a seat. My guess is that the hit to Ichiro's value will be a short-term thing. Wells has already faded some after a big first three weeks, and Travis Hafner is likely to find himself on the DL at some point.


- There hasn't been much in the way of Kevin Youkilis (back) news lately, even though he's eligible to come off the DL on Monday. He was hoping to return then, but it's a safe guess that he won't. With Eduardo Nunez (ribs) joining Youkilis on the DL, the Yanks will go with Jayson Nix at shortstop and Chris Nelson at third for at least a few more days.


- Just as the Royals moved Johnny Giavotella to third base at Triple-A Omaha, Mike Moustakas went on a little binge, homering in three straight games last week. Had Moustakas continued to struggle, the Royals might have had those two switch places. As is, it seems like bad news for Giavotella that he's now behind Moustakas on the depth chart, rather than the awful second-base duo of Chris Getz and Elliot Johnson. The Royals have decided to give Johnson a chance to win that job, but they may need to look for some outside help soon.


- In happier Royals news, Jarrod Dyson is getting a chance to start over Jeff Francoeur against right-handers. It's not a lock to help the offense, but the switch gives the team an outstanding outfield defense with Dyson in center and Lorenzo Cain in right. It'll also give Dyson quite a bit of fantasy value for however long it lasts. Dyson won't hit for any power at all, but he's one of the league's best basestealers, going 55-for-63 in 161 games as a major leaguer.  


- With Wei-Yin Chen suffering a strained oblique Sunday, the Orioles might recall Steve Johnson to join the rotation after sending him down Saturday. Jake Arrieta would have been a possibility, but he's out with a shoulder strain. I don't think it's Kevin Gausman time just yet, though I would be very interested in seeing what he could do in the majors. The top prospect is 1-4 with a 3.35 ERA and a 39/4 K/BB ratio in 40 1/3 innings for Double-A Bowie.


-Oakland's Jarrod Parker probably saved his rotation spot by beating the Mariners on Saturday. Brett Anderson (ankle) is returning on Friday, and someone is going to have to be sent down. It figured to be the struggling Parker, but he had a better outing than the one Dan Straily turned in against the same offense a day earlier.


- The A's will get Chris Young (quad) back on Wednesday. Coco Crisp (hamstring) is also eligible to return then, but he seems less likely to be activated. Mixed leaguers should keep him reserved. AL-only leaguers with weak outfield alternatives can gamble that he'll play a few games this week.


- The Astros keep trying to shake things up, as if they didn't know they were going to be this bad. Not that any of the players were great bets, but what was the point of giving opportunities to Brett Wallace, Fernando Martinez and Brandon Laird only to cut them after 24, 33 and 35 at-bats, respectively? Even Rick Ankiel got a mere 62 at-bats. Of the recent callups, Jimmy Paredes is the best bet to have a little value in AL-only leagues. I'm not a big fan, but he can do a little bit of everything offensively, including steal bases. Robbie Grossman could be the next player to go, though in his case, it would be an option and not a DFA. All things considered, it's kind of surprising he's lasted this long.


- As ridiculous as Colby Rasmus's strikeout rate is (53 in 114 at-bats), it's not like he's been that bad of a hitter, what with his .237/.310/.439 line and six homers for the Blue Jays. Some have called for Anthony Gose to be brought up to replace Rasmus, but Gose is hitting .228/.338/.339 with strikeout problems of his own (32 in 127 at-bats) in Triple-A. He's also just 5-for-9 stealing bases, which is quite a disappointing total for a guy who went 70-for-85 in Double-A two years ago. Now that the Blue Jays are getting more comfortable with Emilio Bonifacio at second base, Rasmus figures to be a lineup fixture, for better or worse. Also, Rajai Davis (oblique) is on the DL for at least a couple of weeks, but he wasn't playing center anyway.


- With Desmond Jennings hurting, the Rays had Sam Fuld and a pair of infielders in Kelly Johnson and Sean Rodriguez starting in their outfield on Sunday. If only Wil Myers were tearing up the International League, one would think it'd be about time for his callup. However, he's batting just .200 during May and is now sitting at a modest .264/.358/.416 in 125 at-bats for the season. He has four homers and 44 strikeouts. Against righties, he's been particularly poor, hitting .204/.315/.290 with one homer in 93 at-bats.


- Of course, I've long supported Brandon Guyer for a spot in the Rays' outfield, but he's doing no better. He's at .257/.342/.410 in 105 at-bats for Durham.


- A.J. Pierzynski (oblique) will have to remain on the DL through at least May 21, leaving Geovany Soto as the Rangers' primary catcher. He's been a bust so far, hitting .179 with one RBI in 39 at-bats.

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Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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