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Bullpen Report: September 22, 2012

Kenley Jansen may have returned from the disabled list, but it’s clear the Dodgers are easing him back into the closer role rather than just throwing him to the National League. He pitched one-third of an inning Thursday to get his feet wet and, while fans thought Friday might be the day he sees the ninth inning again, he pitched the seventh in a tie game versus the Reds. Manager Don Mattingly saved Brandon League for the save opportunity which eventually cropped up in the tenth inning. Jansen is clearly the superior pitcher (and is one of the best relievers in baseball when healthy) but League has put up a solid 3.04 xFIP over the last month while going four-for-four in the save conversion department. There’s no telling when Jansen might get the ninth inning back but owners should be prepared to wait a bit longer than they first expected — meanwhile, League might be a guy to snag until that time comes (available in 50% of Yahoo! leagues). Maybe savvy owners can squeeze a few more saves out of him before he is moved back to a setup role.

• As Alan mentioned a couple nights ago, Jason Motte had pitched in five consecutive Cardinals games and was due for a night off Friday, even if St. Louis got a save chance. Up two runs at Wrigley, they called upon Fernando Salas to try and seal the deal — of course, Salas quickly gave up a two-run homer to perennial home run derby candidate Darwin Barney to let the game slip into extras. There the Cubs scored another run off Joe Kelly sending Chicago fans home happy to the strains “Go, Cubs, Go” on a Friday afternoon. Salas hasn’t pitched poorly this season, compiling a 3.89 xFIP with a decent (but not spectacular) 2.36 K/BB. His September xFIP (small sample size alert!) has been a bit higher at 4.78 (7 innings), so perhaps he just needs a day or two extra off. Motte should be back in there Saturday should the Redbirds need their closer.

John Axford nailed down save number 32 (and his 14th straight) and — while he’s still not all the way back (as evidenced by his 30-day 3.94 xFIP and way-too-ugly 7.07 K/9) — he almost certainly has the job locked down for the rest of the year. That good news (for his owners) aside, his fade down the stretch (5.4 BB/9 after the all-star break) should concern managers in keeper leagues. His velocity has looked good this season (although it might be tailing off a bit under his heavy workload in August/September) but the walks and apparent readiness for Ron Roenicke to shake up the bullpen when needed conspire to knock him down (at least on my spreadsheet) below a lot of other interesting guys with great rates but job security issues next year (see Greg Holland and Casey Janssen, for example) who might come much cheaper.

• In that game, Axford got the save because Tyler Clippard had an epic meltdown, giving up three runs (two earned) to turn a two-run Nationals lead into a one-run deficit. Clippard has now taken losses in his last two appeareances, and three of his last seven. Davey Johnson gave him the managerial vote of confidence, but former closer Drew Storen is breathing down his neck. They’re definitely trending opposite directions — Storen’s velocity is back to pre-injury levels and his 30-day 1.87 xFIP is one of the best in the National League (10.5 K/9 and the much-beloved INF K/BB) while Clippard has put up an unsightly 8.68 ERA (although a 0.406 BABIP isn’t helping matters, his xFIP is still at a palatable 3.69). With a division crown virtually assured, the Nationals don’t have to do anything right now; but the bullpen waters are getting muddy and it would be far from shocking to see them turn back to their former elite closer to get tuned up for what they hope is a deep playoff run. And if you are out of it for 2012 but see Storen somehow sitting on the wire in keeper leagues (like he shockingly was in a 16-teamer of mine), grab him ASAP. He’s almost certainly going to get the job back in 2013.

A Pitcher for Tomorrow Today: Junichi Tazawa (BOS) vs. BAL

The former long-man and Tommy John patient has reinvented himself as a power arm in the back of Boston’s bullpen. With a 12.2 K/9 and 1.77 xFIP over the last month, Tazawa has been one of the few bright spots late in the season for the Sox. With the team from Beantown trying to play the role of spoiler against division rival Baltimore, expect Tazawa to see some “high-leverage” (well, as high-leverage as innings get at Fenway these days) innings against the Birds from Baltimore.

Closer Grid:

Closer First Second Off 25-Man
Arizona J.J. Putz David Hernandez Takashi Saito
Atlanta Craig Kimbrel Eric O’Flaherty Jonny Venters
Baltimore Jim Johnson Pedro Strop Darren O’Day
Boston Andrew Bailey Vicente Padilla Junichi Tazawa
Chicago (NL) Carlos Marmol James Russell Shawn Camp
Chicago (AL) Addison Reed Brett Myers Matt Thornton
Cincy Aroldis Chapman Jonathan Broxton Sean Marshall
Cleveland Chris Perez Vinnie Pestano Tony Sipp
Colorado Rafael Betancourt Matt Belisle Rex Brothers
Detroit Jose Valverde Joaquin Benoit Octavio Dotel
Houston Wilton Lopez Wesley Wright Fernando Rodriguez
KC Greg Holland Kelvin Herrera Aaron Crow
LAA Ernesto Frieri Kevin Jepsen Scott Downs
LAD Kenley Jansen Brandon League Ronald Belisario
Miami Steve Cishek Heath Bell Mike Dunn
Milwaukee John Axford Kameron Loe Francisco Rodriguez
Minnesota Glen Perkins Jared Burton Alex Burnett Matt Capps
NY (NL) Frank Francisco Bobby Parnell Jon Rauch
NY (AL) Rafael Soriano David Robertson Boone Logan
Oakland Grant Balfour Ryan Cook Sean Doolittle
Philly Jonathan Papelbon Antonio Bastardo Josh Lindblom
Pittsburgh Joel Hanrahan Jason Grilli Chris Resop
St. Louis Jason Motte Mitchell Boggs Edward Mujica
SD Huston Street Luke Gregerson Dale Thayer
SF Sergio Romo Javier Lopez Santiago Casilla
Seattle Tom Wilhelmsen Stephen Pryor Charlie Furbush
Tampa Bay Fernando Rodney Joel Peralta Kyle Farnsworth
Texas Joe Nathan Mike Adams Alexei Ogando
Toronto Casey Janssen Brandon Lyon Darren Oliver
Wash. Tyler Clippard Drew Storen Sean Burnett

[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]