Death, Taxes and Closer Turnover: Battle Till’ the End

The season may be in it’s final two months, but there is still plenty of time for closer situations to change. Here’s a look at some current movement around the league.

Oakland: Michael Wuertz and Andrew Bailey

Since Andrew Bailey went down with a back injury, Michael Wuertz has been the man in the ninth for the A’s. Wuertz, who was injured earlier this season, has only allowed two earned runs in his last ten appearances. Bailey felt discomfort after playing catch last Wednesday, but felt better after his most recent throwing session. Still, as of today, there is no timetable for his return.
The A’s are 10.5 games back of the Rangers in the AL West, so rushing Bailey back could do more bad than good. Often pitchers that try and pitch through leg and back injuries end up hurting their arm as they overcompensate with their mechanics or arm action.
Wuertz is the man to have for saves in Oakland and is worth keeping around even when Bailey comes back. Back injuries don’t tend to go away very easily.
Pittsburgh: Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan
When Octavio Dotel was traded to the Dodgers, it was Hanrahan that was handed the closers role despite less attractive numbers than teammate Evan Meek. Since the trade deadline, Hanrahan has allowed six earned runs in 3.2 innings of work, causing his ERA to rocket from 3.35 to 4.20. In the meantime, Evan Meek allowed two earned runs in four innings as the setup man.
Reports are stating that the Pirates plan on making the closer role a competition between the two going forward. This means, at least for the time being, that both will split chances. However, the Pirates have also made it clear that they will monitor Meeks’s workload over the final two months as he has already thrown a career high 62.1 innings and is on pace for around 90 innings.
This situation makes it hard to bet on much from either pitcher the rest of the way. If I had to choose one, it would be Hanrahan, but only on the basis that he is not under an innings watch.
Chicago (south side): Bobby Jenks and J.J. Putz
While some will argue that Jenks has only blown three saves this season, his 5.13 ERA and 1.46 WHIP are certainly cause for concern. After blowing his third game of the season on August 5th, Jenks has not appeared in a White Sox game. Two days later. on August 7th, it was J.J. Putz that was called in to finish the ninth. He did so and collected his third save of the season.
Jenks was sitting in the bullpen while Putz closed out that game.
Afterward, manager Ozzie Guillen said that Jenks was unavailable due to a back stiffness and that there was no timetable for his return. However, he didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement that Jenks would be his closer when he does return.
“I don’t have to,” Guillen said. “When Bobby tells me ‘I’m healthy,’ Cooper and myself have a job to do to put him on the spot to see how he throws. And then we make a decision. I’m not the type of guy to say, ‘You ready?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘OK here it is.’ I don’t think that’s fair for a ball club. To me, the team is first, that’s it.

“I’m going to give the team the best shot to win. I don’t say Bobby is not the best shot to win because I always say, if Bobby’s our closer this bullpen will be better. But if not, we’ll find a way to do it.”

J.J. Putz has been an extremely reliable pitcher for the Sox this season and it wouldn’t surprise me if he rolled out three straight saves and kept the job. Ozzie is the type of manager that is not afraid to make drastic changes if he feels that they are the best moves for his team.
Matt Thornton has arguably been the best arm out of the White Sox pen this season, but it seems that Guillen feels comfortable with him in the eighth inning role, while giving the closer role to someone with more closing experience, like Putz.
Wasington D.C.: Drew Storen and Sean Burnett
Both of these late innings relievers have had a save since Matt Capps was traded away, but both ave also given up a few earned runs. While Storen is clearly the closer of the future, most likely as soon as next season, the Nationals are not ready to simply hand over the job just yet. Expect the save opportunities to be shared for the most part going forward.
That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nats decide to turn to Storen as the main closer toward the final two weeks or so of the season. That way they could give him a real taste of the everyday gig and gage his comfort level in the role on a daily basis.