• Well, OK. Baltimore’s closer situation officially might be becoming interesting. After bringing on Jim Johnson in a non-save situation last night, Buck Showalter screamed “matchups, ho!” from the dugout while nursing a two-run lead in the ninth today. Darren O’Day started the inning against the right-handed Wil Myers who promptly singled. Next up was Brian Matusz, tasked with facing the left-handed James Loney. Walk! Likely exasperated, Showalter finally turned to Tommy Hunter who retired the next three hitters to preserve the win (technically only two, as Kelly Johnson was gunned down with two outs trying to get himself into scoring position as the tying run).
So it appears the job may not be Johnson’s — at least at the moment. Hunter has been an interesting reliever since his unceremonious move to the bullpen last year. His fastball velocity jumped an impressive 3-4 mph to the mid-upper 90′s. Interestingly, his K% has trended up, but at 18.5%, isn’t terribly impressive. In fact, even with a cool 4.2% BB%, Hunter’s SIERA is a solid (but non-elite) 3.45 thanks to the lack of whiffs. The good news? His 9% SwStr% projects more of a low 20′s K%, so there is still room for a few more punchouts. Of course, it may just be he pounds the zone so much (career 50% Zone% with a league average of 45%) he’s trading them for balls in play.
Either way, Hunter needs to be owned in all leagues, at least for the moment. His usage tonight didn’t scream “new closer” (if he was Buck’s new closer(TM) he almost surely would have gotten a clean set of bathpaths to start the inning) but he may have bought himself another couple outings with today’s performance. Johnson has slumped recently but his SIERA is actually slightly lower than Hunter’s at 3.41. Francisco Rodriguez is also conceivably another option in the pen (and his 2.79 SIERA is lowest of the bunch), although his usage hasn’t been quite as high-leverage as some others. Regardless, keep Johnson, roster Hunter, roster K-Rod if you’re in a deep league, and wait for the O’s to shake this out.
• Rafael Betancourt blew his first save since returning from the DL, giving up three hits and a walk while only retiring a single batter. He wasn’t getting beat up all over the field (giving up a couple doubles to “shallow left”) but any blown save for who barely avoided getting Wally Pipp‘d is cause for concern. It’s also worth noting he had retired all six guys in his previous two outings this week. However, his fastball velocity remains down after his latest return from injury (although it’s been down most of the season, so it’s not a recent thing). If he were to keep his 9.8 SwStr%, it would be the first time in his career it was not in the double-digits. Yikes. It’s too early to give up on him in fantasy leagues, especially since Colorado has a vested interest in having him rack up a few high-profile saves (to inflate his trade value) but don’t kick Rex Brothers to the curb just yet.
• Do you own Edward Mujica? If the answer is yes, stop reading right now and go see if Trevor Rosenthal is available on the wire. I’ll wait. OK, ready? Alright, well Mujica’s fairy tale season could have a speed bump in his future. Clearly showing some discomfort in his pitching arm, Mujica needed to be examined by trainers during tonight’s outing. He was able to stay in and rack up the save (albeit after allowing a long homer) but word came out after the game that he is dealing with some shoulder soreness. Mujica claims the injury is not something to be concerned about and he vows to pitch through it. It is worth noting he was unavailable due to “general fatigue” a few days ago after working multiple innings in multiple outings of a week-long stretch. Players are generally not the most reliable sources on whether or not injury affects them, and Rosenthal immediately becomes a top-6 closer if he gets the job, so scoop him up and keep an eye on St. Louis over the next week or two.
[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]
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