- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Opening Day of a baseball season is always awesome, but for quite a few closers on Thursday, it certainly was not. There were six games played, and in each one of them there was either a save or a closer directly figuring into the decision (and not in a good way). It was a strange day, and fantasy value might have fluctuated some. Since I'm seeing plenty of feedback about closers that owners are already concerned about, let's take a look at how specific players' fantasy values might have been affected.
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves: Sure, it was only one game -- I won't belabor that point too much -- but one must find it interesting that lefty Jonny Venters was called on for the eighth inning to face a trio of right-handed batters (Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman). Then the right-handed Kimbrel was put in to face lefties Adam LaRoche and Rick Ankiel (plus right-handed Michael Morse) in the ninth. That's a statement. If I knew Kimbrel would be the unquestioned closer, which isn't official yet, he'd be among my top-10 closers, or at least close to it. Yes, he can be that good. Venters can be great as well, but his stock will obviously fall if he doesn't get save chances.
Hong-Chih Kuo, Los Angeles Dodgers: I've seen various opinions on how Jonathan Broxton looked Thursday, but I watched live and thought it was still the second half of 2010. OK, it wasn't that bad, but Pat Burrell, took him deep for a home run and rookie Brandon Belt, in a night of terrific at-bats, worked him for the final at-bat before lining out to third base. Kuo did issue a walk in his one inning setting up Broxton, and like the closer Kuo consistently threw first-pitch balls rather than strikes, but let's just say I didn't get a "warm and fuzzy" feeling about Broxton after watching him.
Fernando Rodney, Los Angeles Angels: Yes, Rodney has a "one" in the save column next to his name, but other than the next fellow on this list, no closer looked as shaky. Rodney certainly threw strikes after walking the first hitter, but Alex Gordon just missed a go-ahead, opposite-field, three-run homer. Then, he struck out. It was a shaky save to be sure, and while Kevin Jepsen struggled in the eighth inning, I could certainly see hard-throwing Jordan Walden quickly putting himself in position to close.
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers: Well, at least Friday is his birthday. It has to be a better day, right? Unlike Rodney, the game-winning, opposite-field, three-run homer Axford served to Ramon Hernandez did not go foul. Still, I feel like Axford is safer in his role than Rodney and didn't get much help defensively, which could be a theme for all Brewers pitchers this season. I'd trade for Axford immediately if his owner is selling low. He allowed one home run all last season, and while his command could be an issue this team does not want to move Takashi Saito into the role.
Other NL notes: It sure looks as if Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel wants to keep Ryan Madson in the eighth-inning role and vault Jose Contreras to the ninth while Brad Lidge is out. And Lidge could be out awhile. Contreras is fantasy's most added player in the past week, but he's still available in more than 65 percent of ESPN standard leagues. ... J.J. Putz seems to have avoided the disabled list for now, but don't get too comfortable. I think David Hernandez is (and should be) next in line, not Juan Gutierrez. ... World Series closer Brian Wilson could be activated off the DL before the next Bullpen Report blog next Friday, so don't panic. In fact, maybe see if you can buy low. ... No, I have no concerns about St. Louis Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin. He made a mistake to a mistake hitter, and Cameron Maybin homered. It's one pitch. And contrary to public opinion, Franklin hasn't been bad. The past two seasons he has 65 saves and a 1.11 WHIP. This is not like 2009, when Jason Motte tried to close on Opening Day, failed miserably and has all of two saves since.
Other AL notes: I'm starting to believe Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter might actually go with Koji Uehara, when healthy, rather than Kevin Gregg. For now look for a timeshare, especially since Uehara and his balky elbow are unlikely to pitch consecutive days. ... I don't understand why Brian Fuentes isn't on ESPN's most added list. In fact, he's barely being added at all. Andrew Bailey is out for more than just a week or two. Sure, Grant Balfour could get some chances as well, but if Bailey is like Lidge, Fuentes could be like Contreras. Don't wait until Fuentes saves a game or two this weekend. ... If Texas Rangers closer Neftali Feliz runs into trouble, Alexi Ogando is not next in line. He's starting. Look for the team to use Arthur Rhodes and Darren O'Day in the eighth inning. ... I'm not sure why David Aardsma is on the most added list. The Seattle Mariners did say he will get the job back when healthy, but that likely won't be until at least May. Brandon League is second on the most added list, which is wise.
Have a great weekend, everyone!