Josh Hader began this season with 19 straight scoreless appearances, allowing his first earned run on June 7.

His ERA is now 6.52.

The latest blow came Sunday at the Royals, of all teams, when the left-hander allowed six earned runs in one-third of an inning. Suffice it to say he did not look great.

Bouncing a ball two feet in front of home plate? Throwing one so high that the catcher has to make a leaping grab? Whatever's going on with Hader appears to be mental at this point. He's certainly still throwing hard enough.

The Padres had already committed to giving him a break from closing duties, which usually amounts to no more than a week or two for a pitcher as established in the role as he is. After all, we're talking about someone regarded as the best at what he does three years running. But at this point, it's difficult to dismiss his struggles -- which amount to 28 earned runs in his past 21 appearances -- as typical baseball variance.

It makes the Padres' closer scenario one of the 10 most difficult to size up as we enter the stretch run.

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).

Just because I think Hader remains the Padres' top reliever to roster doesn't mean you have to keep rostering him. I do believe that when (and if) he gets "it" back, it will return just suddenly as it left him, like flipping on a light switch, making it obvious to the Padres and everyone else that he needs to be closing again. But I'm no longer so confident it will happen in the next five weeks (if at all), and I realize that not all league sizes and scoring formats grant you the flexibility to plop a reliever on your bench and wait him out.

At least we have confirmation now who Hader's replacement is. After initially saying he would go the by-committee route, manager Bob Melvin confirmed Monday that converted starter Nick Martinez is the closer until Hader gets right. Martinez has recorded each of the team's past three saves, and since settling into short relief just before the All-Star break, he has a 0.45 ERA in 17 appearances.


All-Star Clay Holmes was floundering and actually taking his own little break from closing duties when he first landed on the IL with back spasms. At the time, it seemed pretty obvious the Yankees would transition back to seven-time All-Star Aroldis Chapman, who was surging. But Chapman fell apart soon afterward, never getting an honest chance to reclaim the role, and is now on the IL for a tattoo gone wrong. Scott Effross, another viable alternative, is also on the IL. It looks like Holmes or bust now that he's back from the IL, and there's reason to hope a two-week break was enough to get him right again. True, his first appearance came in the seventh inning Monday, but it makes sense that the Yankees would ease him in.

You knew when Tanner Houck hit the IL for a disc issue in his back that the Red Sox wouldn't treat any prospective replacement like a traditional closer, but they've come pretty close with Garrett Whitlock. The right-hander, who's bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen this year, has recorded three of the team's past five saves. He was unavailable for the latest one Saturday after throwing three innings the previous two days.

The main thing keeping him from being a reliable saves source is that he still tends to throw multiple innings, requiring someone like John Schreiber to fill in from time to time. Of course, with Houck scheduled to throw live batting practice this week, Whitlock may have a short shelf life as a semi-closer regardless, but it's possible Houck becomes just another part of the committee when he returns.


God bless Dusty Baker, who has not only provided us with a conventional closer from the start of the year (Ryan Pressly) but has also made his backup choice crystal clear. Between Pressly's couple of IL stints, Rafael Montero has now accumulated nine saves, including each of the Astros' past two. So yeah, use him just like you'd use Pressly until Pressly returns, which should be soon enough. He's only sidelined by neck spasms, after all, and GM James Click recently said he's "trending really well" and may not need a rehab assignment.


It's hardly an open-and-shut case considering two of his past three appearances have come in the eighth inning, but the left-handed Brandon Hughes appears to have overtaken Rowan Wick as the favorite for saves in Chicago. His numbers (a 3.05 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 12.0 K/9) are closer to closer-caliber than Wick's (4.64, 1.75, 9.1), and he's now responsible for three of the Cubs' past four saves (with the only other going to Manuel Rodriguez in a 10-inning game). Mark Leiter appears to have claimed a high-leverage role himself but doesn't look like a serious contender for saves.


Every time we begin to trust that Seranthony Dominguez is indeed the Phillies closer, something dramatic happens to upend that assumption. First, it was the Phillies dealing for Cubs closer David Robertson at the deadline. Then, it was the triceps injury that currently has Dominguez on the IL. It sounds like he'll be missing close to the minimum, though, given that he's already playing catch and verging on a rehab assignment. There's no reason why Robertson couldn't just take the job and run with it, but seeing as he's gotten only two of the Phillies' four saves in Dominguez's absence, with the others going to Andrew Bellatti and Brad Hand, my suspicion is that Dominguez will quickly settle back into the role.

Pecking order

So much for stashing Dany Jimenez. Before he had an honest chance to reclaim the closer role, he's down again, this time for good with a strained shoulder. It's clarifying in a way, though, because now there are only two viable choices for the Athletics, the left-handed A.J. Puk and the right-handed Zach Jackson. Puk handled the team's latest save chance Monday, working the ninth inning with a three-run lead, but it's actually Jackson who has more consistently filled a high-leverage role, accumulating 26 holds to Puk's 17. It may end up being a matchups thing, which would favor the right-hander regardless. But if the Athletics are splitting what few save chances they get, it makes you wonder how valuable either of these guys will be.


Interim manager Tony Beasley has done his best to obfuscate since taking the helm, but I see no reason to believe anyone other than Jonathan Hernandez is the Rangers' front-runner for saves. True, the team's latest save chance Friday went to Jose Leclerc, with Hernandez working the eighth, but Leclerc nearly blew it, allowing two runs. In another high-leverage spot (a one-run deficit) a couple days later, Hernandez worked the ninth with left-hander Matt Moore working the eighth and Leclerc the seventh. There may be some mixing and matching as circumstances warrant, but if you can only roster one Rangers reliever, Hernandez seems like the guy.


To whatever extent Ryan Tepera may have been the front-runner for saves after the Angels dealt Raisel Iglesias to the Braves, he doesn't appear to be anymore. His vaccination status made him unavailable for a series at Toronto over the weekend, which allowed Jimmy Herget to stake his claim to the role with a save Saturday. He came back with another save Monday and now leads the team with three since the Iglesias trade. He generally works more than an inning at a time, which perhaps makes him better suited for another role, but his 2.75 ERA and 0.92 WHIP are both better than Tepera's. The left-handed Jose Quijada could continue to factor as well.


Devin Williams worked a scoreless ninth inning for a save Sunday and a scoreless ninth inning in a tie game Monday, making him the pitcher of record for a walk-off win. Both appearances would suggest he's in fact the closer following the departure of Hader even though he doesn't have many saves to show for it (three compared to Matt Bush's two and Taylor Rogers' one). He hasn't always been available to pitch when save opportunities have come up, making him a victim of poor timing, but all 12 of his appearances since Hader was dealt have come in the ninth inning or later. Start Williams with confidence.