Daniel Bard has allowed at least one earned run in five of his past six appearances, raising his ERA from 0.00 to 9.00. He's blown two saves and suffered two losses during that stretch. His most recent undoing was the most disastrous of all, resulting in four earned runs in just one-third of an inning.
Yet he's still cranking his fastball up to 99 mph. He's still getting the movement on his slider. He thinks it's less a matter of ability than gamesmanship.
"It's one of two things," he recently told The Denver Post. "It's either that the sequencing is getting too predictable, or they know what's coming [i.e., tipping pitches]."
The question is whether he'll get a chance to figure it out.
Note: "Pecking order" refers to rosterability in Fantasy and not necessarily who's first in line for saves (though it's usually one and the same).
To this point, manager Bud Black has yet to indicate whether he's going in another direction with the ninth inning, but actions may speak louder than words Bard wasn't even working the ninth inning in his latest meltdown Sunday, being brought in to pitch the eighth with the score tied. Black said it was to get him some work after four days off, but does that mean he intended for Bard to pitch the ninth as well?
As for alternatives, there is no slam dunk. Mychal Givens has closing experience from his time with the Orioles and has been working the eighth inning, but Robert Stephenson has been solid as well. Recently promoted Justin Lawrence is the dark horse, armed with a 100 mph fastball and a nasty slider.
Edwin Diaz experienced some back tightness while warming up for his last appearance Sunday, which may explain why he nearly blew the game against the Phillies. The Mets have yet to put him on the IL, and Diaz is saying he already feels better and probably just slept on it wrong. Still, if he does end up missing time, eighth-inning man Trevor May would be the most likely choice to fill in for him even though Jeurys Familia was the one who bailed Diaz out Sunday, recording a one-out save.
What a mess this bullpen has become. Lucas Sims, the most obvious choice to replace a struggling Amir Garrett, has seemingly disqualified himself over the past week-plus, allowing six earned runs over his last four appearances. Sean Doolittle seemed to restore order with a conventional one-inning save exactly a week ago, but he's appeared twice in the sixth inning since then. Tejay Antone looked like he might be trending toward a multi-inning closer role, having recorded the team's last save Friday, but then he entered in the seventh inning Sunday and gave up four runs.
I'm listing Antone first here because you can at least count on him for good ratios (I think), but I suspect Doolittle has earned the next shot. Then again, Amir Garret is looking like he may have stabilized. Would it be so crazy for the Reds to turn back to him?
It looked like Rafael Montero's goose was finally cooked when he served up four runs, two earned, in blowing his fourth save Wednesday. Kendall Graveman got the save, his third, the very next day and has barely been touched this year. But nope, the Mariners turned back to Montero for the save Sunday, with Graveman working the eighth. It's worth noting, though, that Graveman was facing Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh in that eighth inning, so he may well be manager Scott Servais' most trusted reliever.
After going a week without a save chance, the Twins turned to Taylor Rogers to close out the Rangers Monday, and while he got the job done, he served up a two-run homer to Joey Gallo in the process. Still, his ERA stands at 1.74 while Alex Colome has worked only one scoreless inning since his ouster. Rogers has enough of a history in the role that I suspect his grip on it isn't loosening.
Just when it seemed like Lou Trivino was again settling into the closer role, having picked up each of the team's last three saves, in he came for the eighth inning Monday against the Blue Jays while left-hander Jake Diekman got the save in the ninth. It brings the saves count to five for Trivino and three for Diekman in what's looking like a true tandem.
My suspicion is that the choice Monday had everything to do with Vladimir Guerrero leading off the eighth inning. He's the Blue Jays' best hitter and of course bats right handed, so why not bring in the righty? We'll see how long it lasts, but both of these relievers are looking useful enough in the meantime.
I think we're done here. It took manager Mike Matheny forever and a day to decide, but I think Josh Staumont is now quite clearly the closer. He recorded three games in the span of five games last week and hadn't gotten any work since then until Monday, when he pitched the ninth inning in a narrow defeat against Cleveland. Probably, though, the Royals were just looking to get him some work given that he hadn't pitched in four days.
One small reason for pause is that the Royals recently shifted Jake Junis to the bullpen with the intention of using him in high-leverage situations, but I doubt the ninth inning is what they had in mind. I feel secure with Staumont.
"Anyone but Jordan Romano" seems to be manager Charlie Montoyo's approach to the ninth inning, and well, just like last September, Rafael Dolis has been getting the job done, securing each of the team's last three saves. He has made five appearances during that stretch and allowed one total baserunner. He may issue too many free passes in the long run, but he looks stable enough in the role for now. It doesn't sound like Julian Merryweather is any closer to returning from an oblique injury, but at this point, he'd also need Dolis to falter before reclaiming the role.
I'm hoping this is the last time I have to address the Tigers situation for a while. Part of the struggle is the scarcity of their save opportunities, which prevents any clear patterns from emerging. Geovany Soto, who is responsible for three of the team's saves so far, has been the last Tigers pitcher to take the hill in five of his past six appearances, securing two saves during that time. Meanwhile, Bryan Garcia, who's responsible for the team's other two saves, has only twice entered a game after the seventh inning. He may be the backup choice if Soto is needed earlier for matchup purposes, but Soto is clearly the top choice.