Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Tom Wilhelmsen, Ernesto Frieri, more

by Tim Heaney on May 31, 2013 @ 12:33:28 PDT

 

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Mound meetings

Baltimore Orioles RP Jim Johnson
Straightening up, flying right

Looking more like his old self, Jim Johnson registered a closure for the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday and Thursday. In those two outings, he totaled 24 pitches, in contrast to the 37 from his Sunday disaster. Location had been the chief problem for him over his rough stretch, and he posted below-average first-pitch strike percentages in a few of his four recent blown saves.

Local observer Zach Wilt noted that Johnson worked efficiently on Wednesday with renewed horizontal movement and precision that had been absent in the recent past. The stopper looks like he's getting back on track, so mixed-league Darren O'Day speculators will either have to be patient or cut bait if they face a more pressing need.

***

Recording a save on back-to-back days buys more time for Fernando Rodney. He was brought in for the final out on Wednesday and tossed a perfect ninth the next night. Since he's been used by the Tampa Bay Rays on four straight days, Joel Peralta may be in line for a SVO if needed on Friday, but it looks like Rodney has built slightly more security.

He needs to show consistently streamlined performance to move closer to being completely out of the woods, though. The toe-tap he has developed of late was seemingly not so pronounced in that pair of appearances, but its existence means he'll have to make it a more beneficial part of his delivery or remove it. That, plus what looks like increased predictability in sequencing, has contributed to his shaky control, as well.

***

Vinnie Pestano and the Cleveland Indians haven't had a door-slamming chance since Chris Perez (shoulder) went down Monday. The fill-in was summoned to begin the ninth with the Tribe up four on Wednesday. He allowed a leadoff homer but recorded a whiff, ground-out and pop-out to preserve the victory.

While it wasn't a SVO, it showcased Pestano's recent changes to his mechanics. In contrast to his four-run Saturday stumble, when he sat within 87-88 mph on his fastball, he was between 88 and 91 on Wednesday. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway liked the dip Pestano was getting on his sinker. This should work in his favor if he can keep the role of filling in for Perez for at least the next week-plus.

***

Following a Saturday blown save and loss that restarted the Rex Brothers waivers push, Rafael Betancourt looked able on Tuesday, recording a scoreless frame with two punch-outs for his 11th save of the season. Betancourt was mentioned as potential trade bait this preseason because the Colorado Rockies weren't expected to contend, but since they're in the thick of the NL West race, that's looking like less of a possibility.

Things could change come July, of course, and, despite the diminished fantasy urgency, Brothers stands as the best option to take over should Betancourt switch teams or incur an injury.

***

More teams may invite Mariano Rivera to throw out the first pitch in their park during his farewell tour. The New York Yankees legend blew his first save of the year in grand fashion. After the New York Mets honored him in their pregame appreciation ceremony, Mo gave up three straight hits to allow two runs and take the loss by throwing the last one.

Rivera's K/9 has taken a big tumble off his 2012 pace, down to 7.45. His control has been pristine at 0.93 BB/9. He's being hit harder, but the cutter still works, even at a more tepid level. At least Rivera is notching 0-1 counts 75 percent of the time, which diminishes the dip in cutter bite and staves off critics and fantasy panic.

***

J.J. Putz (elbow) might throw off a mound Monday, June 3, after playing catch last week. The Arizona Diamondbacks aren't looking to rush the 36-year-old back into action, especially since Heath Bell has been 8-for-9 in save chances after taking over when Putz was sidelined in early May. If Bell sustains his revival, he could even split duties with Putz whenever he returns.

***

The Minnesota Twins' back end was busy since the last CHS. Glen Perkins blew his second save on the year with a Tuesday debacle, but he rebounded Wednesday, his third straight day of work, with a scoreless inning for his 11th successful conversion. On Thursday, understudy Jared Burton, with Perkins presumably rested, converted his second try of 2013 in perfect fashion.

Perkins holds some of the shiniest command peripherals (14.19 K/9, 2.75 BB/9) among closers outside the well-known names. The former starter boasts a ridiculous 39.2 K percentage and a crisp 7.6 walk percentage, complete with an elite 72.2 first-strike percentage. His lack of grounders allowed is made up for by a 23.5 percent infield-fly rate.

The scary 29.3 liner rate could wind up threatening him more as the season goes on but not enough to worry that he'll lose the job anytime soon.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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