- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Even as I watched Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay overpower the San Diego Padres on Sunday afternoon, and in the late innings the camera panned to the team's quiet bullpen, I wasn't aware that closer Jose Contreras was hurt. In fact, the broadcasters never mentioned it. All they discussed was the fact the 39-year-old Cuban was wearing a watch, but was supposedly available to pitch.
Of course, about five minutes after lefty Antonio Bastardo saved Halladay's win with a one -pitch save, the news was out that Contreras was indeed hurt, and will be wearing that watch somewhere other than the bullpen the next few weeks. Contreras is being examined in Philadelphia on Monday for a strained flexor pronator tendon in his pitching elbow, and if it sounds ugly, it probably is. Perhaps Contreras returns to pitching when his 15-day disabled list stint is up, or maybe he and original closer Brad Lidge hit the beach together this summer.
It's no secret that Ryan Madson has had trouble closing in the past. While his overall blown saves are blown out of proportion because some of them came while in setup duty, and others in his career infancy, he is officially 16-for-23 in more of the "standard" save situations (coming in the ninth inning or later), a pretty low save percentage. And you know what? I don't care. Yes, these are human beings, and some pitchers are just not meant to be closers, but I can't buy that with Madson, arguably one of the top five setup men in the game. His stuff is nasty, and other than that bout with a chair last year (he kicked out, fracturing his toe), he also has been durable.
He's good, and I have to believe he can overcome whatever mental implications have prevented him from impressing people in the past, if there were any. And if you bypass Madson for your fantasy team this week, you might be missing out on more than just a few saves. Nobody knows for sure when Contreras or Lidge will return. And let's face it, saves aren't just sitting on your free-agent wire. It took all of one save for newly minted St. Louis Cardinals closer Mitchell Boggs to be owned in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues.
Bastardo has actually been a bit better than Madson this season, and I expect him to inherit setup duties, and perhaps squeeze in the occasional save as well. Madson was unavailable Sunday, because the 15-6 Phillies have used their core relievers often to protect leads so far, and he had pitched five of seven days. Maybe Contreras was overused, too, and that contributed to his injury. Regardless, manager Charlie Manuel is essentially down to trusting Madson and Bastardo, a combined 3-0 so far with a 0.49 ERA (one run in 18 1/3 innings), 0.81 WHIP and 24 strikeouts. Madson becomes a must-own option in all formats.
I don't want to sound pessimistic when it comes to Contreras -- or Lidge, for that matter -- but if Madson would just pitch well in this role, there would be no need for those guys to even sniff a ninth inning. And I think Madson is going to pitch well.
• It was also a rather interesting weekend for the Texas Rangers' bullpen. I blogged Saturday night about Neftali Feliz's DL stint and its implications. A few hours later, Darren Oliver picked up the conventional one-inning save. On Sunday, Arthur Rhodes induced a Melky Cabrera ground ball for his first save (though he needed nine pitches to get that one out, so it wasn't technically a "Bastardo" save). Regardless, my stance hasn't changed. I think Oliver is first in line, and I wouldn't bother with Darren O'Day. And in two weeks, I expect Feliz to be back in the closer role.
• If you're holding on to former Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin, you might want to see about getting a Mike Adams-like middle relief type at this point. The main reason I was skeptical about cutting Franklin, who was better than most people realize in 2009 and 2010 and thus within range of reclaiming his role, was because Boggs was unproven as a closer. He still is, even after one week of closing. But he looked awfully good to me closing out three games this week, including Sunday night's contest, when he fanned Jonny Gomes and Jay Bruce after the seemingly inhuman Joey Votto doubled. Boggs might just have 30 saves in him.
• Feel free to send Sean Burnett the way of Franklin (to the waiver wire). Drew Storen has the Washington Nationals' last three saves, and he's pitching well after a slow start. Then again, how slow could it have been; his ERA for the season is 0.71, his WHIP is 0.87. Anyway, my concern with Burnett is that he has pitched only twice in 13 days, and allowed runs in each of his past three outings. I'm no doctor, but I'm guessing something is ailing Burnett. Look elsewhere.
• In your getting-ahead-of-the curve update, don't be surprised if Seattle Mariners right-hander David Aardsma comes off the DL later this week, and goes right back in the closer role. And if you think it'll hard to tell who's closing for the 8-15 Mariners, you'd be wrong; the M's actually have five saves in seven chances already, with Brandon League doing the heavy lifting. Don't worry, when the Mariners trade Aardsma this summer, League will be back at closer. The other team is Tampa Bay. Kyle Farnsworth has done nothing wrong, but I'd spend a buck to stash J.P. Howell in a DL slot, just in case. He has closed before. And even as steady as Matt Capps has been for the Minnesota Twins, I still believe it's only a matter of time before Joe Nathan reclaims the role.
Eric Karabell examines the Phillies, Rangers, Cardinals, Nationals and Rays bullpens and takes another look at David Aardsma and Joe Nathan, from a fantasy perspective.