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Things were busy around major league bullpens last week, as a couple of ninth-inning men asserted themselves to the head of their respective committees, while a couple more will be away from their teams for an unknown period of time. While they’re gone, their understudies will have an opportunity to prove their mettle in the pressure cooker that is the ninth inning.

The carousel seems to be slowing down a bit in Tampa Bay, as one reliever has hopped on the lead horse and led the charge over the past couple of weeks. Chances are good that he’s already rostered in your league, but what should you do with the also-rans in this bullpen derby?

We’re also seeing a bit of clarity on the north side of Chicago, where one reliever seems to be edging in front in what has been a too-close-to-call race for saves in the Windy City. Hold on to your cup of Old Style, though, because with manager Joe Maddon at the helm, just about anything can happen – and probably will.

A familiar face returned to the closer’s chair out in mountain country, but how long will the venerable reliever hold on to his gig this time around? Meanwhile, the defending world champions are without their closer for the time being, but fortunately, there is a steady hand ready to grab the wheel.

Following bullpens around the league is truly a daily pursuit, so be sure to check out – and bookmark — our Bullpen Depth Charts, which are updated as news breaks … pretty much daily.

Bullpen Briefs

Who’s Out?

John Axford was placed on Family Emergency leave June 30, and it is unknown how long he will be away from the team. Axford has enjoyed a major bounceback season thus far in 2015, logging a 2.42 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, while converting 13 of his 14 save opportunities. Update: Axford returned to the Rockies on July 4, and he should step right back into the closer’s role.

The closer situation in Chicago has been rather confusing lately, but it appears as though Pedro Strop is no longer part of the ninth-inning mix. Strop has not logged a save since June 6, and he was pitching in the eighth inning when he suffered a blown save on June 26. He has posted three holds since his last save, so it would appear that he has settled into a set-up role. Though we have learned to expect the unexpected from Joe Maddon, Strop can probably be dropped in most mixed Fantasy leagues.

The Texas Rangers activated former closer Neftali Feliz from the disabled list July 2, but promptly designated him for assignment the following day. Feliz has had a rough go of it in 2015, but he is still only 27 years old and owns a 2.71 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 93 saves during his career. No matter where he pitches next, Feliz is not likely to be in the mix for saves until he shows signs of regaining his old form.

Who’s In?

LaTroy Hawkins was the Colorado closer to start the season, but he subsequently lost that gig and landed on the disabled list. The veteran reliever is back in his old digs, though, as he received the call to pitch the ninth inning in John Axford’s stead June 30. Hawkins still allows plenty of base runners, but he figures to be the first option for saves while Axford is away from the team. Rafael Betancourt could also be in the mix for ninth-inning duty. Update: with Axford returning to the team, neither Hawkins nor Betancourt should be owned in most mixed leagues.

The closer roulette wheel continues to turn on the north side of Chicago, but the ball seems to be landing on Jason Motte’s number rather frequently of late. Motte logged saves on June 22 and June 30, with Hector Rondon pitching in a set-up role on both occasions. Rondon, meanwhile, has not received a save opportunity since June 20, so his role in this “committee” seems to be diminishing. Manager Joe Maddon has declined to name Motte – or anyone else – his closer, but he has said that he likes the former Cardinals’ ninth-inning man in that role.

We have written extensively about the Tampa Bay Rays’ closer carousel, but Brad Boxberger has recorded the Rays’ last five saves, and he seems to have solidified his place as the ninth-inning man in St. Petersburg. While he seems to be the man for now, Boxberger’s hold on the closer’s job could be tenuous if he suffers a few bad outings…and Jake McGee and Kevin Jepsen are waiting in the wings if that should happen.


Relievers on the Rocks

Have you ever seen a story where a pitcher was reported to have “thrown a live batting practice session?” That more or less describes what Joba Chamberlain has been doing during some of his recent appearances. The Tigers’ set-up man has allowed eight earned runs over his last six appearances, and he has surrendered at least one earned run in six of those outings. Chamberlain scuffled to a 7.50 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in June, and he was lit up for three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning in his first appearance in July. Opponents are batting .344 against Chamberlain this season, and he has lost his high-leverage bullpen role as a result. Chamberlain was designated for assignment by the Tigers on July 3.

Giants’ closer Santiago Casilla will be sidelined for a few days after he reported a tired arm following his rocky outing against Miami July 1. Casilla was shelled for three earned runs without recording an out that game, and he was saddled with his second loss and fourth blown save. Sergio Romo figures to see most, if not all, of the save opportunities while Casilla is on the shelf, and he should be added in all Fantasy leagues. Keep an eye on Casilla’s status, as it’s yet unknown whether his ailment will result in an extended absence.

Relievers on the Rise

Not that long ago, conventional wisdom told us that submariner Brad Ziegler was simply keeping the closer’s chair warm for the imminent return of demoted set-up man Addison Reed. Fast-forward a few weeks, and Ziegler has reeled off 10 consecutive converted saves – and Reed is pitching in Triple-A. Ziegler posted a 0.82 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 11 appearances in June, while holding opponents to a .184 batting average, and he has solidified his hold on the ninth inning in the process.

Let’s set the Wayback Machine to May 3, 2015: something happened that day that wouldn’t happen again until July 3 – namely Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal surrendering an earned run. Rosenthal was not one of the top closers drafted this season, as concerns about his lack of command suppressed his Fantasy value. He has delivered a resounding rebuff to his critics thus far in 2015, though, surrendering just three earned runs in his first 38.1 innings of work, while converting 24 of his 25 save opportunities.

Keep an eye on…

Former Mets’ closer Jenrry Mejia is slated to return from his PED suspension July 7, and odds are very good that he will move quickly into a high-leverage role for the Metropolitans. He’s not likely to be in the mix for saves, but Mejia could aid your Fantasy cause insofar as strikeouts per inning pitched.

Following bullpens around the league is truly a daily pursuit, so be sure to check out – and bookmark — our Bullpen Depth Charts, which are updated as news breaks… which means pretty much daily.

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