Along with death and taxes, the insecurity that comes with the closer role in baseball remains one of the few guarantees in life.
On Sunday, it was Sergio Romo -- a pitcher who, just a year and a half ago was freezing Miguel Cabrera with a fastball to close out Game 4 of the 2012 World Series for the Giants -- who bit the dust. After allowing two runs in the ninth inning of Saturday's game against the Reds for his fifth blown save of the season, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Sunday that it's "time to lighten his load."
“Sometimes you’ve got to change,” Bochy said. “If you keep doing the same thing over and over, sometimes it’s good for a player to back off a little bit, let him breathe and get back on track. He’s done such a great job. As group, we’ve hit a bump in the road. As individuals, a lot of us have and hiccups."
For Romo, blowing leads was something he'd kept doing over and over in recent weeks. After converting 20 of his first 22 save chances, the right-hander has blown three of his past five opportunities, including back-to-back meltdowns against the Rockies in mid-June. It all adds up to a 5.17 ERA, including a 9.72 ERA in 8 1/3 innings this month.
Bochy said Romo will continue to help get the "final six outs," meaning he'll likely still be used in higher-leverage situations, but the manager said the team will the dreaded closer-by-committee to finish games. With Romo staying relevant in meaningful games -- something not every down-and-out closer gets to do -- he could quickly regain his status as the go-to guy in the ninth inning with a string of impressive outings.
But for now, the most likely scenario for saves in San Francisco will be a duo of Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt. Casilla is a former closer and owns a 1.15 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 31 1/3 innings this season. Affeldt has a 2.30 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, with both numbers greatly inflated after allowing three runs in 1/3 of an inning on Sunday.
Owners should stash Romo if at all possible, as it's a good bet he'll regain his closer status eventually. In the meantime, Casilla is the player to own, with the understanding that he likely won't get every save chance that comes along by the bay.
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In what's shaping up as a closer-heavy edition of the Dose, the Giants weren't the only team making moves at stopper over the weekend.
After a series of disasters the White Sox finally pulled the plug on the Ronald Belisario experience, but the bigger news came out of Pittsburgh -- or Anaheim, depending on which side of the deal you prefer -- with the Pirates and Angels swapping former closers on Friday. In one of the more intriguing "change of scenery" deals in recent memory, the Angels sent Ernesto Frieri to the Bucs in exchange for Jason Grilli.
The implications, both immediate and for the rest of the season, are numerous. First, the deal cements the place of both Mark Melancon and Joe Smith as closers for their respective teams in the near term. Grilli has been used in a setup capacity in both of his appearances with the Angels, including taking the loss on Sunday, while Frieri pitched in the ninth inning of a loss on Saturday. Until Grilli and Frieri settle in and show some of their previous form, the jobs belong squarely to Melancon and Smith.
If one or both pitchers do regain the stuff and confidence that elevated them to the closer role, though, they could become fantasy relevant once again. Grilli won't have to show much to uproot Smith, whose groundball tendencies make him a less-than-ideal closer candidate (despite 39 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings this season).
Melancon could be tougher to unseat, but Frieri has a traditional closer's profile and is one of the better relievers going when he's on. Factor in that he's moving to one of the few parks that's actually more friendly to fly ball pitchers than Angel Stadium, and it's not hard to see Frieri enjoying a revitalization in Pittsburgh.
Of the four, Melancon remains the best to own, followed by Smith. Grilli has the best shot of taking over sooner than later, but Frieri is a better bet to win the job and keep the job down the line.
Harper Set For Monday Return
Bryce Harper is ready to return to the Nationals.
It's true in a medical sense, as the outfielder has been on a rehab assignment since June 23, but it's also true in a baseball sense after Harper blasted three home runs in his game with Double-A Harrisburg on Saturday. The homers gave Harper a .643/.737/1.571 line with four home runs and 22 total bases in five minor league rehab games.
A source familiar with the situation told the Washington Post that Harper will be back with the team on Monday, at which time some lineup shuffling will be in order. When Harper departed, Ryan Zimmerman was on the disabled list; since returning, Zimmerman has made a home in Harper's spot in left field.
Nationals manager Matt Williams has said he will use Harper in all three outfield spots upon his return, and he's also said he'll use Zimmerman at third base and first base to supplement his playing time when not in left field. The players hurt most in that scenario are likely to be Denard Span, who may see Harper cut into his time in center field, and Danny Espinosa, who will sit if and when Zimmerman returns to the hot corner. Adam LaRoche could end up seeing some added days off, too.
Harper was hitting .289/.352/.422 in 22 games before tearing the ligament in his left thumb, and now healthy, the 21-year-old should return to being one of the more exciting players in the game. Make sure he's active in all formats, especially weekly leagues.
National League Quick Hits: Hanley Ramirez missed Sunday's game with a calf injury. He's day-to-day at this point, and it's not considered serious ... The Diamondbacks placed Chris Owings on the 15-day disabled list with a sore left shoulder. The team recalled Nick Ahmed in Owings' place, and an examination by team doctors on Monday should shed more light on the shortstop's timetable for a return ... The Marlins activated Christian Yelich from the disabled list. Fantasy owners should do likewise ... Justin Turner, who was threatening to take playing time from Juan Uribe with his strong offensive performance recently, hit the DL with a strained left hamstring. Turner's absence ensures Uribe will see most to all of the playing time at third base over the next two weeks ... Gerrit Cole was activated by the Bucs on Saturday, allowing five runs over four innings in a loss ... The Reds signed international player Raisel Iglesias to a seven-year, $27 million contract. The Reds are hopeful Iglesias, a 24-year-old living in Mexico, will be able to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. He won't have an immediate impact, but dynasty leaguers should remember the name.
American League Quick Hits: It's Mookie Betts mania. The 21-year-old was promoted by the Red Sox for Sunday's game, going 1-for-3 with a walk, caught stealing and run scored. Betts was hitting .345/.437/.520 with eight homers and 29 steals in the minors this season and is a recommended add in all formats ... Josh Reddick was disabled with a right knee strain. It's been a season to forget for the outfielder, who's hitting just .229/.296/.358 on the season ... Twins sensation Danny Santana landed on the disabled list on Friday with a left knee bone bruise. It's an unfortunate occurrence for the 23-year-old, who has burst onto the scene with a .328/.366/.448 line through his first 37 games ... Matt Joyce had himself a day on Sunday. The outfielder finished 5-for-6 with a double, two home runs and four RBI. It was his first ever five-hit game ... Felix Hernandez struck out nine while allowing just a lone hit over eight shutout innings Sunday. King Felix is now 10-2 with a 2.10 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 137/22 K/BB ratio over 128 1/3 innings. It's good to be king.