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Chasing Saves: Injured Closers Nearing Return

Before the season, some fantasy owners bought low on a few injured relief options with an eye toward getting them back after a month to six weeks. Now that we’re heading to the middle of May, it appears that Kenley Jansen, Sean Doolittle and Jake McGee are very close to joining their respective teams’ bullpens.

The best of the bunch, and the one who has the clearest path to saves, is Jansen. The Dodgers were unable to find a go-to option with the elite closer out. Joel Peralta dealt with his own health issues before ultimately hitting the disabled list, but he was able to secure three of the team’s six saves. Chris Hatcher earned the first save of the season as well as the most recent one, but he didn’t manage any saves in between and has dealt with an ugly 7.20 ERA that doesn’t reflect how well he’s pitched. The team’s other save went to Yimi Garcia, likely the most talented of the fill-ins and someone who has allowed just one earned run and four hits in 13 2/3 innings while racking up 21 strikeouts.

Garcia should wind up as the closer-in-waiting in this bullpen once Jansen returns, which should come next week after he throws on back-to-back days this weekend. One would think Garcia would be the go-to option in the event of another Jansen injury.

The returning closer with the next-best shot at regaining the ninth-inning role in Doolittle. Tyler Clippard has done well enough in the role, though he only managed to record one save in April before picking up two in the first week of May. He’s also dealt with control issues, leading to six walks issued in just 12 innings of work. Considering Doolittle’s M.O. is to not walk anyone, the A’s would figure to be eager to get him back in the closing role.

Doolittle is likely the furthest away from a return of the three injured closers, but since he’s scheduled to face live hitters Friday, it’s not like he’s too far behind. While Jansen and McGee will likely be back by the end of next week, Doolittle will likely take until the second half of May to return. Available in 48 percent of CBSSports.com leagues, he should be scooped up quickly.

Finally, we come to Tampa Bay, where the Rays spoke in the spring of using a committee to close while McGee was sidelined. While five pitchers have ultimately earned saves, Brad Boxberger has predictably become the go-to option in the ninth, racking up seven of the team’s 12 saves. His walk rate has been higher than it was during his breakout 2014 campaign, but that has yet to cost him, as he owns a 1.59 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings.

McGee was fantastic last season and certainly deserves another shot at closing, but Boxberger has just been too good to yank out of the ninth inning completely. The injured former closer is set to make three more rehab appearances before returning; when he does, I expect the lefty and righty to settle into a committee, making both worth owning in fantasy leagues while healthy.

Pick Him Up? Rankings

RPs owned in less than 50 percent of CBS leagues, ranked for save chasers

Addison Reed, ARI

Reed has just one save this season, which I assume is why he’s only owned in 45 percent of leagues. He’s pitched reasonably well, however, and remains the closer, making him ownable in most leagues.

John Axford, COL

Axford should get the chance to serve as the team’s closer for the remainder of the season after Adam Ottavino underwent Tommy John surgery. However, he hasn’t pitched quite well enough to earn complete trust from fantasy owners.

Jake McGee, TB

McGee, like Reed and Axford, is owned in just 45 percent of leagues. All three are worth owning, but any indication that McGee will see the lion’s share of saves when he returns would shoot him to the top of the list.

Tyler Clippard, OAK

Clippard is still racking up saves for the A’s, but I believe Sean Doolittle will become the closer when he returns in a few weeks. Clippard is still worth owning for the short-term, but if both are available in shallower leagues, I’m owning Doolittle.

A.J. Ramos, MIA

Ramos starts our tier of pitchers without a clear path to saves. Steve Cishek hasn’t been as good as expected in the early going, and Ramos represents a clear secondary option who is pitching really well.

Rafael Betancourt, COL

Axford’s shakiness means we also need to consider the Rockies’ other options in the bullpen. Of those, Betancourt would likely have the best chance at falling into saves should Axford need to be replaced.

Ken Giles, PHI

The Jonathan Papelbon trade watch continues, and we assume Giles would take over the closing role if it becomes open. He hasn’t been at his best over the first month of the season, but he’s still worth a speculative play.

Joe Smith, LAA

Huston Street has hit a rough patch, blowing his last two save opportunities while allowing four earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. I don’t think the Angels are anywhere near replacing him, but if his issues turn out to be health related, Smith could quickly gain fantasy relevance.

Tony Watson, PIT

Mark Melancon has come around a bit, taking some of the shine off Watson as a sleeper option for saves. He’s still provided excellent production while making a league-leading 16 appearances.

Brad Ziegler, ARI

Should Reed need to be replaced, Ziegler would be the likely guy to whom the Diamondbacks would turn. He doesn’t have great strikeout numbers, but the groundball pitcher has allowed just four hits in 11 innings.

Jim Johnson, ATL

Jason Grilli has stumbled a bit recently, and while I’m sure the Braves didn’t expect him to pitch like Craig Kimbrel all season, neither do I think they’ll hesitate to turn the ninth-inning into a committee if Grilli isn’t getting the job done. Johnson would presumably get the first crack at saves if a change is made.

Yimi Garcia, LAD

Garcia doesn’t have long-term saves potential if Kenley Jansen remains healthy, but he certainly is useful to fantasy owners as a high-strikeout, low-ratio reliever. If there aren’t any great potential saves options to scoop up, he’s a perfectly fine piece to plug into an RP slot.