I got my first live look at the Marlins' $27 million closer on Monday. Clinging to a 4-1 lead against Boston, manager Ozzie Guillen summoned Heath Bell, whose first year in South Florida has been far from smooth sailing.
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It's quite a spectacle to see Bell enter a game at Marlins Park. On the high-definition Jumbotron in right center field, a montage to Bell plays that begins with a stirring clip from the movie "300". Then, like being shot out of a cannon, the hefty Bell comes sprinting from the left-field bullpen toward the mound -- a place that hasn't always been a safe haven for him in 2012.
Bell's night had an ominous start by walking Adrian Gonzalez. The crowd goes silent as the potential for Bell's fifth blown save this season comes into play.
Luckily, the script quickly changes for Bell. He strikes out Red Sox slugger David Ortiz looking on strikes then does the same for the next hitter, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. With Boston fan favorite Kevin Youkilis in the box as the team's last hope, Bell recovers from a leadoff walk to strike out the side. It was the first time this year Bell had more than two strikeouts in an outing.
Bell's 6.08 ERA through Monday certainly stands out, but his fortunes finally seem to be changing and the dominant closer we saw in San Diego is re-emerging.
After posting an 8.47 ERA and four blown saves in his first 21 appearances, Bell hasn't allowed a run in his last six outings, going 5 for 5 in save chances. The difference -- Bell is back to throwing strikes.
Through May 26, Bell threw strikes just 60 percent of the time, getting 16 percent on strikes looking and 4 percent of strikes on swings and misses. Since May 28, when Bell's scoreless streak began, he's recorded 69 percent of strikes, with 27 percent on strikes looking and 9 percent on swings and misses.
Bell has found success recently because his four-seam fastball is showing life, while he is throwing fewer curveballs and more changeups. In his last six appearances, 72.9 percent of Bell's pitches have been four-seamers, while 16.8 percent have been curveballs and 7.5 percent have been changeups. In his first 21 outings, Bell threw his four-seamer 68.5 percent of the time, while throwing his curveball 26.8 percent and his changeup just 2.8 percent of the time.
Relying on his changeup is something new for Bell. According to PitchFX data compiled by TexasLeaguers.com, Bell threw only 25 changeups during his three-year tenure as the Padres' closer from 2009-11. He has an 87.5 percent strike rate on his changeup during his current hot streak, which seems to be giving life to his fastball. Bell's whiff rate on his fastball has gone from 4.4 percent in his first 21 appearances to 9 percent in his last six outings.
Bell needed a change of pace to get the critics off his back. He seems to have found it thanks to a changeup in his routine.
Each week we'll break down closer situations worthy of further examination ...
Oakland: The A's closer situation is a mess after manager Bob Melvin relieved Brian Fuentes of the duties over the weekend. Remember, Fuentes replaced Grant Balfour earlier this season and Balfour wasn't happy about it. Melvin said he's going to a committee approach, with Balfour, Fuentes and Ryan Cook being in the mix based on availability and matchups. Let the nightmare begin for Fantasy owners. The call for Cook to the closer's role was bound to happen given his success this season, but that's a reason Melvin doesn't want to limit him to save situations. Melvin said Cook is so valuable in a setup role that he needs him to be available in other high-leverage situations. I think Balfour has the best chance to re-emerge as Oakland's closer. He's posted a 1.88 ERA and .188 opponents' batting average in his last 14 outings, and he seems focused since losing the job. In order of Fantasy relevance, I'd rank the A's relievers Balfour, Cook and Fuentes.
|1.||Lucas Harrell, RP, Astros||37|
|2.||Chris Sale, RP, White Sox||32.5|
|3.||Tom Wilhelmsen, RP, Mariners||31.5|
|4.||Garrett Richards, RP, Angels||28|
|5.||Robbie Ross, RP, Rangers||26|
|6.||Brayan Villarreal, RP, Tigers||24|
|7.||Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals||23.5|
|8.||Jared Hughes, RP, Pirates||20|
|9.||Tom Gorzelanny, RP, Nationals||19.5|
|10.||Jeremy Affeldt, RP, Giants||19|
Seattle: Brandon League is close to regaining his closer's role as manager Eric Wedge hinted over the weekend. This comes after Tom Wilhelmsen had a three-save scoring period during Fantasy Week 10 (June 4-10). You are probably scratching your head as to why now Wedge wants to make the move since the Mariners have survived without League in the closer's role. However, the plan was always to elevate League back into the ninth-inning role, and lately he has displayed the efficiency the Mariners' coaching staff has sought from the 29-year-old reliever. Let's face it too -- the M's front office isn't against this move either. League is set to become a free agent after the season. If League is thriving in the closer's role, then he becomes an intriguing trade chip in July. I don't think this is the last time we will see Wilhelmsen in the closer's role for Seattle, so if you have ample roster spots in deep Fantasy formats, then it might be worth holding onto him.
Tampa Bay: Kyle Farnsworth, who has been sidelined all season because of a lingering elbow injury, began a rehab assignment on Monday. The Rays have no timetable for Farnsworth's return, but he is expected back before the All-Star break, barring any setbacks. Farnsworth was the Rays' unofficial closer last season and was slated for that role again in 2012 before having a setback with his elbow. While he has been out, however, Fernando Rodney has emerged as one of the league's top closers, which is going to make it tough on manager Joe Maddon to remove him from his current role once Farnsworth is back. Both Rodney and Farnsworth are set to become free agents in the offseason, but with the Rays contending it's unlikely either player will be moved in a trade this summer. While I don't expect Maddon to remove Rodney from his closer's role once Farnsworth is off the disabled list, Rodney still screams Fantasy trade candidate given the ever-changing closer situations around the majors this season.
Boston: Let's recap what has happened with Boston pitchers lately. Andrew Bailey has been cleared to throw in his recovery from thumb surgery. Former setup man Daniel Bard has been demoted to the minors after struggling in the rotation, and his first outing with Triple-A Pawtucket came in relief to get an "adrenaline rush," according to manager Bobby Valentine. And former one-time Boston closer candidate Mark Melancon returned from his minor-league banishment over the weekend. Can you feel the pressure Alfredo Aceves? The Boston bullpen could have a very different look later this summer. If Daisuke Matsuzaka doesn't pan out in the rotation, don't put it past the Red Sox to convert Aceves to a starter, a role he has wanted ever since losing out on a rotation spot this spring. Boston did trade for Bailey to be its closer, so removing Aceves from that role down the road could be an option, especially if Melancon and Bard emerge as fallback closers.
|1.||Robbie Ross, RP, Rangers||22|
|2.||Brayan Villarreal, RP, Tigers||31|
|3.||Tom Wilhelmsen, RP, Mariners||34|
|4.||Jared Hughes, RP, Pirates||36|
|5.||Tom Gorzelanny, RP, Nationals||40|
|6.||Antonio Bastardo, RP, Phillies||50|
|7.||Sam LeCure, RP, Reds||53|
|8.||Ronald Belisario, RP, Dodgers||55|
|9.||Vinnie Pestano, RP, Indians||56|
|10.||Luis Ayala, RP, Orioles||58|
Toronto: Closer Sergio Santos felt discomfort in his injured shoulder after throwing a bullpen session last Wednesday, which has forced the team to dial back his rehab schedule. This setback now puts his return to the majors on an even longer delay. Therefore, it will remain the Casey Janssen show at closer for Toronto for the foreseeable future since the Blue Jays have no timetable for Santos' return.
Call to the 'pen
Each week we'll break down pertinent Fantasy news with setup men and other relievers ...
Injuries forced Alexi Ogando back into the Rangers' rotation. Alas, his return to starting lasted three innings Sunday against the Giants as he injured his groin running out a bunt single. Ogando will now miss 4-6 weeks and might be back in the bullpen once he is healthy. Only stash Ogando in Fantasy formats with ample DL spots … Padres hurler Andrew Cashner is the latest reliever to starter convert. Injuries have also depleted the Padres' rotation, forcing San Diego to turn to the former minor-league starter Cashner, who is now at Double-A getting stretched out. Cashner posted a 2.82 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, while striking out 8.0 batters per nine innings in 182 minor-league innings (42 starts). He's certainly worth stashing in deep Head-to-Head formats because of his relief-pitcher eligibility ... Former MLB starter Vicente Padilla has developed into a reliable setup man for the Red Sox. He is near the top of the MLB leader board with 13 holds, with 10 coming since May 11. Padilla has pretty much exclusively been working in the seventh or eighth inning since late April and has emerged as a viable Fantasy option for holds … Randy Choate has become a left-handed setup man for the Marlins. He has recorded 11 holds in his first 30 appearances (18 1/3 innings), and he has also made most of his appearances this year in either the seventh or eighth inning. Choate is still being used as a lefty specialist in most of his outings, but he's emerged as a viable source for holds in Fantasy as well … Freddy Garcia is probably pitching his way out of a chance to rejoin the Yankees' rotation. Garcia has done well since moving to the New York bullpen, posting a 1.64 ERA and .238 opponents' batting average in six relief outings (11 innings). Sure, Garcia could always been an option for a spot start, but the more he continues to thrive in his current role, then the harder it will be for the Yankees to reconsider him for the rotation … I've been telling you about Josh Lindblom since the preseason, and the 24-year-old reliever has become one of the Dodgers' prized bullpen arms. Lindblom has recorded nine holds in the last month. Only one of those hold chances have come outside of the eighth inning. Manager Don Mattingly said in late May that Lindblom had emerged as his preferred setup man to closer Kanley Jansen, and thus far he has done little to disappoint.
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