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Cheap saves alert: Rangers tab Akinori Otsuka the new closer

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After converting just three of eight saves, Francisco Cordero has been pulled from the closer role in Texas. Instead, he will pitch middle relief until he re-discovers his form. Akinori Otsuka, who closed for years in Japan before arriving to the majors and most recently during the WBC, will step into the ninth-inning role. With 11 strikeouts and no walks over 10 innings, Otsuka has the "stuff" and control to succeed in the closer role.

You have to expect that Cordero will be given the chance to win back his job, but on the same token, Otsuka's career numbers (2.59 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9.52 K/9) suggest he could really thrive in the role. (Whatever degree his ERA/WHIP was helped by PETCO Park is irrelevant, especially with that strikeout rate.) Antonio Alfonseca will now pitch the eighth inning instead of the seventh, and Joaquin Benoit (who's had remarkable success ever since the Rangers realized he's not a starter) will pitch the seventh.

What caused Cordero's downfall? From the Dallas Morning News:

The adjustment clubs have made hinges around Cordero's slider. His ability to harness it and sell it as a fastball turned him from another reliever with a great arm and marginal command to a dominant closer. But, through scouting and video work, hitters have been better able to identify the slider and lay off it. The result is a pitch that regularly ends up out of the strike zone.

In addition, Cordero's velocity has dropped ever so slightly, but a slight drop for a closer can make a big difference. Hitters feel more confident about facing it; the pitcher feels less confident about throwing it. Cordero's fastball has been in the 93- to 95-mph range this season with occasional 96 and 97 mph flourishes. In 2004, the pitch was regularly at 96 or higher.

"I feel fine, physically," Cordero said after Wednesday's loss. "I just don't really know what to say right now. It seems like it's one pitch every time."

The Rangers will allow him to work on fixing that one pitch by no longer allowing him to make it in the ninth inning.

Saves come at a premium in just about every fantasy format, so Otsuka is an automatic pickup in just about every league. I'd still hang onto Cordero, though I'd definitely remove him from the starting lineup and give him a spot on the bench until he resumes ninth-inning work.

Otsuka in, Coco out as Rangers' closer [Dallas Morning News]
Otsuka replaces Cordero as closer [MLB.com]