Hoping you all had a wonderful Opening Day. I’m not sure if we will see the closer type of carousel that we saw last year, but on the first day there was already some drama so here it goes:
• Stephen Strasburg only needed 83 pitches to get through his seven shutout innings today but instead of sending him out for the eighth, the Nationals went to their trusted pen. Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless eighth and offseason acquisition Rafael Soriano closed it out with a perfect ninth, striking out two batters. While it would be exciting to see Strasburg finish what he started this is basically the blueprint the Nationals planned on having this offseason: Strasburg -> Tyler Clippard/Drew Storen -> Rafael Soriano and something tells me we will be seeing this a lot this year.
• Jeff Samardzija pitched eight brilliant innings before confidently giving the ball to Carlos Marmol to finish the game. April Fools, of course Marmol provided us with the first drama of the season! Marmol struck out the first batter he saw before hitting Andrew McCutchen, giving up a run on a single by Pedro Alvarez and then walking Gaby Sanchez. James Russell then relieved Marmol to retire Neil Walker and Kyuji Fujikawa came in for the one-out save to close out the game. I’m not sold that Marmol lost his job on the role after facing just four batters but he’s on a very, very short leash and Dale Sveum seemd to confirm that. I expect Marmol to get the next save chance but I also expect another reliever to be warming up as soon as Marmol is in as Sveum is going to give him the quick hook if need be. When your manager takes you out for a reverse platoon split, as the Cubs did replacing Marmol with James Russell, you know your job is in jeopardy, and while it’s still Marmol’s job, any owner in need of saves who’s not adding or eyeing Kyuji Fujikawa just isn’t doing their job.
• Jon Axford was very Jon Axford-esque in his first appearance this year, striking out three batters but also blowing the save on a solo shot to Dexter Fowler in the ninth inning. Axford’s 19.2% HR/FB% last year really did him in so it’s obviously not a great sign to see him give up a home run on his first chance this year. Still, without anyone breathing down his neck and with Axford’s skill in getting strikeouts (30% K%; 12.07 K/9 in 2012) I wouldn’t necessarily be wasting a potentially precious waiver claim on Jim Henderson. The reason Axford even had a chance for the save today is that the Rockies blew the lead when Wilton Lopez gave up three runs in the eighth inning in his Rockies debut. In theory Lopez has the “closer experience” if anything were to happen to Betancourt or if he were to be traded but with performances like these one has to think that Matt Belisle might be next in line for saves. Lopez and Belisle aren’t particularly sexy ace relievers for your squad putting up high strikeout totals, but Betancourt’s name will likely be rumored in trades this year and whoever is setting him up could be his eventual replacement. This is certainly a situation we will monitor at the Bullpen Report.
• Joaquin Benoit, Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel and Bruce Rondon have all been linked to the Tigers closing job this year but it was Phil Coke who received the first opportunity in 2013. However, Coke entered the game with one out in the ninth to face lefty Justin Morneau only after Benoit pitched 1.1 scoreless innings. Coke has a clear platoon split (.298 wOBA against lefties; .441 wOBA against righties in his career) so although he will get his share of saves when the platoon split is in his favor, he’s not the Tigers new, full time closer. Judging by today’s outcome, after pitching a scoreless eighth and entering the ninth, Benoit is likely the right-handed closer in the Tigers pen but this is still a bullpen by committee until Leyland says otherwise.
• After 13 innings, Ernesto Frieri closed out the game for the Angels defeating the Reds. Frieri has the job at least until Ryan Madson returns from the DL. However, Madson’s return is by no means imminent and he likely won’t be thrown right into the ninth inning either, so if Frieri does a good job over the next month or so the ninth inning may just be his for a while or even the season.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]