“On Bzdek” Bullpen Briefing: Week 14

Another week in the books, and some different bullpens are under the microscope this week. We’ll start with Tampa Bay, as this bullpen may be closest to turning over their closer role, followed by Arizona and Atlanta. We’ll also get some updates from other bullpens in flux, including Texas, St. Louis, and Los Angeles, plus we’ll touch on the Queens borough of New York. Alright, let’s begin.

Tampa Bay Rays

Rays’ closer Alex Colomé is in the midst of a rough patch. In 5 appearances from June 20 to July 4, Colomé allowed 10 earned runs over 5.0 innings, including two home runs and six walks. Colomé bounced recently, posting three straight appearances without allowing a run and recording saves in all three, though he did walk two and allow a hit in his save against Boston on Saturday. Still, the concern level is rising and there are some quality arms that the Rays can turn to if Colomé throws a few more duds. 

One option is Rays’ former closer Brad Boxberger, who returned from injury last week and is off to a good start. He’s only pitched four innings so far, but has struck out seven batters and is yet to allow a hit, though he has allowed three walks.  Boxberger has always been able to strike guys out – in 2014 he K’d 104 in just 64.2 innings and followed it up with 74 Ks in 63 innings in 2015. He was limited to 24.1 innings last year due to injury. 

Another option for the Rays is Tommy Hunter. The 31-year-old journeyman is having himself a career season thus far, posting a 2.16 ERA and 1.08 WHIP to go along with 28 strikeouts in 25.0 innings pitched. The velocity and strikeouts are a couple ticks up from Hunter’s historic levels, both good signs and a likely cause for Hunter’s career-high LOB% which sits at 82.6%.

At this point, it looks like Colomé has righted the ship, however another couple of bad outings and his closer status will be in question again. Hunter has been the 8th inning guy for most of the season and in Boxberger’s three appearances, two have been in the 7th inning preceding Hunter in the 8th. However, given Boxberger’s experience in the closer role and Hunter’s lack of closing experience, it makes sense to leave Hunter in a set-up man role where he has been successful and give Boxberger closing duties. If I’m looking for saves I’d take a chance on Boxberger. 

Arizona Diamondbacks

Diamondbacks’ closer Fernando Rodney is quite the enigma. After allowing 14 earned runs in March/April, Rodney did not allow an earned run in May or June. Now just ten days into July, Rodney has already allowed five earned runs. He’s been prone to such streaks throughout his career. If you drafted him you knew what you were getting into, so you might as well sit tight. The Diamondbacks seem to know what they’ve got on their hands as well. Even after Rodney’s horrendous April, the Dbacks stuck with him, so odds are they will give Rodney every chance to get back on track again. In the event he does not Archie Bradley is waiting in the wings. Bradley converted from a starter to a reliever this year and has excelled. He boasts an ERA of 1.15 and WHIP of 0.90 to go along with 47 strikeouts in 39.0 innings this year. He’s been head and shoulders above any other reliever in the Diamondbacks pen so the only question is whether or not Rodney struggles enough for the Diamondbacks to consider making the change.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves placed Arodys Vizcaino on the disabled list last Wednesday with a right finger strain. The injury comes at a bad time for Vizcaino and the Braves, but a good time for Jim Johnson. Vizcaino was having an excellent season, posting a 2.38 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. Meanwhile, Jim Johnson has blown 2 of his last three save opportunities, and has a 4.23 ERA and 1.23 WHIP this year. I would be recommending Vizcaino to save speculators right now if he were not on the DL. The other potential option in the Braves’ pen right now is Jose Ramirez who is pitching well in middle relief. Ramirez doesn’t quite have elite closer stuff, with only 31 strikeouts in 35.2 innings, and he also has zero saves to his name throughout his career. He could get a save chance over the next week, but I think the Braves will give Jim Johnson a little longer leash until Arodys Vizcaino returns from injury.

Texas Rangers

Keone Kela was battling shoulder soreness last week. Reports were that he would not require a DL stint, however, that’s exactly where he landed. It probably helped that the Rangers could use the upcoming All-Star Break to give Kela a few extra days of rest. In Kela’s absence, Jose Leclerc got the Rangers’ lone save opportunity and blew it. Kela should take the closing duties when he comes back, but until then the Rangers will experiment with a committee consisting of Jason Grilli, Jose Leclerc, and Matt Bush. Grilli pitched his way out of Toronto not long ago but has 4 strikeouts in his first two innings with the Rangers. He is a sneaky short-term add for saves, and changing scenery seems to give struggling players a boost.

St. Louis Cardinals

For the second time this season, Seung Hwan Oh righted the ship after a few bad outings and retained the closer role in St. Louis. He allowed just one earned run in his last five appearances and is  2/2 in his last two save chances. It helps that Oh’s struggles coincided with his potential closer replacement Trevor Rosenthal.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Only one save opportunity for the Angels in the last week and it went to Bud Norris. The question marks around this closing situation have been answered and Norris is the team’s closer. Cam Bedrosian is settling in nicely since his return from the DL, allowing no runs and just two base runners in his last three innings.

New York Metropolitans

As we reach the half-way mark of the season and the trade deadline approaches, rumors begin to flourish. One such rumor is the Mets’ willingness to trade the current closer, Addison Reed. Reed spent most of his career as a middle reliever before taking over for injured Jeurys Familia this season. Should Reed get traded, there is a chance he won’t be closing for his new team. Reed owners should consider shopping him if the return is reasonable. Speaking of Jeurys Familia, he is set to begin his throwing program during the All-Star Break. Assuming no setbacks in his rehabilitation, he could return toward the end of August and may very well be an option for saves for the last month of the season.

Three Stars of the Week

Juan Nicasio, PIT – Nicasio pitched 4.1 innings, recording three holds and striking out four batters. He allowed just one hit over this time frame and no runs.

Brandon Maurer, SD – Four shutout innings, four saves, and four strikeouts for Maurer this week. He walked none and allowed just two hits.

Danny Barnes, Tor – In 4.0 innings Barnes struckout six, walked one, and allowed neither a hit nor a run.

That wraps up this week. Enjoy the Home Run Derby tonight and I’ll be back next week with another Bullpen Briefing.

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