Each week, I will take a look at the closing situations for each of the 30 MLB teams, and will profile specific players whose arrow is pointing up or down as far as the ninth inning is concerned.
In the first week of the season, a couple of ninth inning roles (such as the Padres’ and the Orioles’) are starting to become clear, while others are getting extremely messy.
Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres have several candidates for saves, most notably Emilio Pagan, Drew Pomeranz, and Mark Melancon. The Padres held a lead in the seventh inning on Friday, and that’s precisely the order in which manager Jayce Tingler used them: Pagan in the seventh, Pomeranz in the eighth, and Melancon for the save situation, which he converted.
Melancon already has two saves on the young season as of Sunday morning, and with previous experience in the role and Pomeranz and Pagan better equipped to put out fires whenever they present themselves, I think Melancon can keep the role the whole season if he is successful.
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles
Another surprising appearance among early saves leaders, Valdez has closed the door in the Red Sox’s face twice already. When Hunter Harvey went down, everybody thought Tanner Scott would get the ninth inning for Baltimore, but Brandon Hyde had other plans.
Valdez is a truly rare pitcher that thrives on the effectiveness of his changeup, but so far, so good. He was excellent last year in a small sample (1.26 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 12/3 K/BB ratio over 14 1⁄3 frames) but if he keeps the role in the long-term, don’t expect him to be an asset on the ratios. And while he should be added in all leagues, keep in mind that Baltimore could go to Scott at any minute, and the two could also share the role.
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Neris has manager Joe Girardi’s confidence, as he named him Philadelphia’s closer over guys like Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado. And Girardi is not your modern manager when it comes to bullpen management: he likes designated roles.
At the very least, Neris should have a long leash, and it helps that he already pitched a couple of clean innings and looked good in the process. He also had a nice spring, with 14 strikeouts and one walk over 9 2⁄3 innings in the Grapefruit League.
Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
Ever since the Rays lost Nick Anderson to a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, we were left guessing about Kevin Cash’s preferences in the ninth inning. However, it’s clear, at least by seeing the first two games, that Diego Castillo has a leg up in the competition.
Castillo has fired two scoreless innings and has a couple of saves in the early going. Peter Fairbanks, his main competition for closing duties, was used in the sixth inning on Friday as Tampa needed a fireman.
It’s not out of the equation that Fairbanks gets a save here or there, but it looks like Castillo will get the lion’s share of the opportunities in the ninth inning.
Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins
Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays was an ugly collapse for Anthony Bass. He blew a save chance and allowed four hits and four runs in an inning of work, conceding a three-run homer and taking the loss.
Miami gave Bass $5 million before the season to be the closer, and he should have a long leash. He pitched a clean frame in a non-save situation on Saturday, but we need to see how he looks the next time he sees a save chance.
Jake Diekman, Oakland Athletics
Diekman didn’t have a good Friday, as he allowed a couple of runs in a non-save situation against the Astros. He was appointed as the fill-in closer as Trevor Rosenthal nurses an injury, but unlike Bass, his leash may not be that long.
Oakland has other capable relievers (most notably Sergio Romo) to take over if Diekman struggles. However, the latter is likely the best pitcher of the bunch and should rebound as the season goes on.
- New York Yankees: Aroldis Chapman (secure)
- Baltimore Orioles: Cesar Valdez (first option), Tanner Scott
- Tampa Bay Rays: Diego Castillo (first option), Peter Fairbanks
- Toronto Blue Jays: Jordan Romano (first option), Julian Merryweather
- Boston Red Sox: Potential committee between Adam Ottavino and Matt Barnes
- Chicago White Sox: Liam Hendriks (secure)
- Minnesota Twins: Alex Colome (first option), Taylor Rogers
- Cleveland Indians: Potential committee between James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase, and Nick Wittgren
- Detroit Tigers: Potential committee between Gregory Soto and Bryan Garcia
- Kansas City Royals: Greg Holland (first option), Wade Davis
- Houston Astros: Ryan Pressly (secure)
- Oakland Athletics: Jake Diekman (fill-in)
- Los Angeles Angels: Raisel Iglesias (secure)
- Seattle Mariners: Rafael Montero (secure)
- Texas Rangers: Ian Kennedy (first option), Matt Bush
- Atlanta Braves: Will Smith (first option), Chris Martin
- New York Mets: Edwin Diaz (secure)
- Philadelphia Phillies: Hector Neris (secure)
- Washington Nationals: Brad Hand (secure)
- Miami Marlins: Anthony Bass (secure)
- Cincinnati Reds: Potential committee between Amir Garrett, Lucas Sims, and Sean Doolittle
- St. Louis Cardinals: Alex Reyes (first option), Jordan Hicks
- Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hader (secure)
- Chicago Cubs: Craig Kimbrel (secure)
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Richard Rodriguez (first option), Kyle Crick, David Bednar
- Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenley Jansen (secure)
- San Diego Padres: Mark Melancon (first option), Emilio Pagan, Drew Pomeranz
- Colorado Rockies: Daniel Bard (secure)
- San Francisco Giants: Jake McGee (first option), Matt Wisler, Reyes Moronta, Tyler Rogers
- Arizona Diamondbacks: Joakim Soria (first option), Stefan Crichton