Tuesday, March 8, 2011

BD Spring Training Report: Is There A Fireman In The House? | Baseball Digest

Brian Wilson is one of the handful of closers with a secure job.

BD Spring Training Report: Is There A Fireman In The House? | Baseball Digest

There are some things that are certain when it comes to baseball’s closer role. Mariano Rivera will be on the hill for the Yankees, Brian Wilson will toe the rubber in San Francisco, but some decisions are not clear cut when it comes to filling the role of baseball fireman.

Case in point, the Minnesota Twins where Joe Nathan is coming back from the Tommy John surgery he underwent back in March, 2010. Feeling healthy, Nathan proclaimed he was taking role his back from trade deadline acquisition Matt Capps. He recently told Kelly Thiesier of MLB.com that he’s pleased with his progress thus far. “The command has really been a pleasant surprise to this point, and I can’t ask for much more than what’s gone on out there now as far as life on the ball, movement on the ball, sharpness and stuff. Just keep moving forward and keep trying to improve and build arm strength, and I’ll be ready for April 1. I’m happy, very happy with how things feel right now.”

Seattle’s David Aardsma was a subject of trade rumors soon after the 2010 season ended, but then underwent hip surgery. He has yet to be cleared to throw which means he won’t be ready for opening day. Erratic set up man Brandon League is the favorite to fill the role, while former Orioles’ closer Chris Ray and reliever Manny Delcarmen are auditioning as well.

Jonathan Papelbon is the Red Sox closer to start the season, but the front office isn’t totally happy with the him or his $12MM salary. With former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks and closer in training Daniel Bard on the squad, the Red Sox could move Papelbon before the trade deadline.

Leo Nunez is the incumbent closer for the Florida Marlins, but by no means is his job safe. Should Nunez falter, Clay Hensley is more than willing to grab the job.

Brandon Lyon is the projected closer for the Astros. That doesn’t say too much for the Houston bullpen.

Fernando Rodney will start the season as the Angels closer, but anyone who has seen him pitch for LA (AL) or Detroit knows that may not last. Free agent pick up Scott Downs should definitely get some save opportunities as he did in Toronto.

The Orioles have Kevin Gregg as the early favorite for closer, but could go back to Koji Uehara who did a fine job when placed in the role late last season.

Texas has yet to decide whether or not to keep 2010 AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz in the closer’s role or move him to the starting rotation. Beat writer Anthony Andro tweeted on Monday that Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels is expected to make a decision around March 22.

Clint Hurdle has named Joel Hanrahan as the Pirates closer to start the season, but give Hanrahan’s erratic performance as closer with Pittsburgh and Washington (in 2008), Hurdle could turn to Evan Meek.

The Atlanta Braves are looking for a closer after Billy Wagner retired following the 2010 season. Craig Kimbrel, Pete Moylan, George Sherrill, Scott Linebrink, and Jonny Venters are all getting a look. It’s possible new manager Fredi Gonzalez will open with a closer by committee.

Tampa Bay lost a number of players to free agency including closer Rafael Soriano. Joe Maddon, like Gonzalez, may go with a committee at first until he can pick a clear cut closer. Rookie Jake McGeeimpressed Maddon immediately when he came out and said he wanted the job. Now he has to back it up.Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, Joel Peralta, Adam Russell, Chris Archer, and Cesar Ramos are among the pitchers looking for roles in the Tampa pen. Farnsworth is the only one with closing experience in the majors.

The Blue Jays shook up their bullpen and now must choose between three pitchers with closer experience- Frank Francisco (the favorite), Jon Rauch, and Octavio Dotel.

In non-closer news, Zack Greinke’s Milwaukee Brewers’ debut is on hold and the Brewers front office can’t be happy about it.Greinke fell hard to the floor while playing pick up basketball the first week of spring training and fractured a rib.

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