- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Oakland Athletics right-hander Grant Balfour saw his first action of the week in Thursday’s 8-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. It wasn’t a save opportunity, but Balfour hadn’t pitched since Friday, when he needed 35 pitches to close out the Houston Astros for his 37th save. Overall, Balfour is having a terrific season, but watching him Thursday he sure didn’t look like his ol' dominant self, and one has to wonder if his recent admission of arm fatigue will present more of a problem than a first-place team wants to deal with, especially with a huge series this weekend in Texas against the second-place Rangers.
On Thursday, Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham squared up hits to left field, two other right-handed hitters were able to pull fastballs to third base, there was a wild pitch and for the third time in four outings the right-hander did not register a strikeout. It was also the fifth time in seven outings Balfour allowed multiple hits in an inning, though this time he didn’t permit a run. The velocity was fine, in the 94-95 mph range, but the Twins weren’t missing it. Perhaps it’s nothing major, but with basically no big league closer situations changing over the past month -- the Houston Astros just don’t count -- it’s not a bad time to preemptively add Athletics right-handed setup man Ryan Cook just in case.
Balfour surely isn’t the only tired closer at this point of the season, but as he told the San Jose Mercury News about the fatigue, “It would be one thing if it was June. But this late in the season it’s all good.” Well, it’s not actually all good, not with an ERA of 5.06 and 1.78 WHIP in the past month. Of course Balfour wants to keep on closing, but look for Cook or lefty Sean Doolittle to see the occasional chance if the Athletics get save opportunities on consecutive days.
Closer talk: Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney put a few Boston Red Sox on base in a one-run game Thursday, but ultimately retired Will Middlebrooks and Dustin Pedroia for his 34th save. It’s not fair to call Rodney one of the season’s signature closer busts; his strikeout rate is strong and he’s got 34 more saves than Jason Motte, who was generally drafted in the same range. … I don’t think Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wants to officially admit that right-hander Mark Melancon will remain his closer, because he doesn’t want to dispirit former closer Jason Grilli. But how can he remove Melancon and his 1.10 ERA? … Not only are closer jobs not changing, few closers are blowing saves recently. Mariano Rivera has two this month, but he’s in no danger. … Of course, big news was made with Rivera on Thursday, when he should have earned his 44th save, but setup man David Robertson was lit so badly the official scorer gave Rivera the win instead. This is new territory for fantasy owners. You might have needed the save more! For more, listen to Friday’s Fantasy Focus baseball podcast as Tristan H. Cockcroft angrily explains the difference. … Baltimore Orioles right-hander Jim Johnson created the Rivera win/save with another rough outing. You know what, he’s still getting the next save chance, so don’t overreact in fantasy. … With right-hander Sergio Romo unavailable to pitch Wednesday, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy could have given rookie Heath Hembree a chance to close out a meaningless September game. Alas, he went with right-hander Santiago Casilla, who is fine, but is 32. Hembree saved 87 games in basically three minor league seasons. Why not see what he does at the highest level? Managers are so predictable.
Box score bits (AL): Don’t count on New York Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner for at least this weekend; the leadoff hitter with 24 stolen bases and 81 runs strained an oblique Thursday. Check back Friday for updates but in daily leagues, add an outfielder. … No fantasy owner who spent Thursday watching football wants to see they had the starter on the losing side of a 14-3 game. Chicago White Sox lefty John Danks was that starter, and he allowed seven runs (six earned) in four innings. Danks had a respectable 4.15 ERA and 1.19 WHIP three outings ago. Now, 17 runs in 14 1/3 innings later, he doesn’t. You shouldn’t use him. … Cleveland Indians outfielder Ryan Raburn hasn’t played much this month, but he homered and knocked in five Thursday. He’s a must-use versus lefties. … Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick homered and knocked in three Thursday in his second game since coming off the disabled list for a wrist issue. Reddick won’t provide many singles, but he’s got pop for the final weeks. … Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes smacked his 10th home run Thursday, the sixth time in nine seasons he has been in double digits. Reyes missed half the season with injury, but he certainly has hit when active. What he hasn’t done is run. Reyes has only 14 stolen bases in 19 chances. Still, this is a top-five shortstop and top-40 player in 2014 drafts. By the way, it’s possible Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion (wrist) does return this week, so don’t cut him yet.
Box score bits (NL): Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman smoked his 20th home run in Miami Thursday, the third time in as many seasons he has reached the mark. Freeman has proved he can hit for average, and should be a top-50 pick next season. He’s ahead of Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and pretty close to Joey Votto on the Player Rater. … You have to hand it to New York Mets outfielder Eric Young Jr. He saw only eight pitches Thursday, hitting two singles, flying out and drawing a walk. So he’s not patient and might have had dinner plans. But he stole his 37th base. The way Jean Segura is struggling, Young could end up leading the NL in steals this year. … Don’t be afraid to add Washington Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark. He controlled the Mets Thursday, and now is 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA in 34 2/3 innings, two of them starts. He’s scheduled to face the Braves and Marlins next week. … Choose Roark and just about anyone else over Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay. It’s tough to watch the former Cy Young winner, who couldn’t get through five innings against the San Diego Padres Thursday. He walked four consecutive Padres in the fifth inning. His velocity and command just aren’t there, no matter the matchup. … Let’s end on a positive note this week: Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett had two more hits Thursday, his third consecutive multihit game. He’s hitting .344 in 154 at-bats, and .386 off right-handed pitching. He can help, and it’s always fun to own a man named Scooter.
Have a great weekend everyone!
Oakland Athletics right-hander Grant Balfour saw his first action of the week in Thursday’s 8-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. It wasn’t a save opportunity, but Balfour hadn’t pitched since Friday, when he needed 35 pitches to close out the Houston Astros for his 37th save.