Things change every day in major league bullpens. One day your fantasy closer is dominating, the next he's nursing a sore arm or third in line for saves. Pete Becker takes the mound in relief of Eric Karabell to break down all the key happenings in major league bullpens in the Wednesday Relief Efforts.
Volatile closing situations on my mind:
Astros: The saga that is Brad Lidge's season continues, this time with a trip to the DL with a strained oblique. This is the first good news of the month for Dan Wheeler's owners, who have watched him surrender at least three runs four times in 10 June games. Wheeler's ERA entering the month was a respectable 3.04, but currently stands at 5.85, and he is going to need to lower it substantially over the next two weeks to have any chance of holding on to the job. Otherwise, it may indeed fall to Chad Qualls to close a few games. Qualls has quietly been the most consistent arm in the Astros 'pen, with a closer-esque 38/13 K/BB ratio in 36 2/3 innings, but his 1.36 WHIP and six home runs allowed don't exactly say "lights out," so it's not as if he'll be without his own ups and downs.
As for Lidge, the injury doesn't sound too severe -- he first tried to rehab it with exercise before the team finally put him on the DL on Tuesday night -- but pitchers with oblique injuries have a tendency to frustrate their owners with their long recovery time. Lidge will be back, and he may yet record a save this season, but that might have to come after the All-Star break, and there's no guarantee it will be for the Astros.
Athletics: The good news about Huston Street: He doesn't need surgery. For now. The bad news about Huston Street: There's no timetable for his return. After meeting with a specialist in Toronto on June 14, Street was prescribed rest. He won't even so much as play catch for the foreseeable future, making it impossible to pinpoint his return, although by all accounts, the odds of his returning this season are pretty good. Meanwhile, Justin Duchscherer continues to rehab and isn't a threat to return to the bullpen for another two weeks, and Rich Harden's main role in the bullpen -- he'll return this weekend -- will be not to hurt himself too much. Harden will be limited to 30 pitches per outing at first, and likely will work long relief rather than set-up. Although the possibility exists that he'll end up with some saves by the end of the year, the reason he's in the bullpen is to stretch himself back out to starting shape.
All of this adds up to Alan Embree keeping the closer's gig until the All-Star break, if not longer. Embree has been nails the past 30 days, recording six saves while posting a 1.29 WHIP and a 0.71 WHIP in 14 innings. Santiago Casilla, whom you might remember as Jairo Garcia, is doing a fine job of setting up Embree, and his 14 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings indicate a more traditional closer skill set than Embree's. However, the A's have no reason to upset the delicate balance of their bullpen while they are short their two best arms, so don't expect them to mess with what has worked so far. Casilla, however, is a solid long-term keeper and a good add in AL-only leagues.
Royals: Octavio Dotel and the Royals are starting to make some noise in Kansas City. Dotel has six saves in June, giving up just one earned run in eight appearances. With Kansas City playing better these days, Dotel has a legitimate shot at quickly climbing the rankings and sneaking into the top 20 closers. There is still some concern that his surgically repaired arm won't hold up for the entire season, but right now, Dotel's stock is on the rise and Joakim Soria has little chance of reclaiming the role without an injury to the new incumbent.
Reds: Eddie Guardado is expected to return to the Reds this week, but he likely won't be thrust into the closer's role right away. While rehabbing with the Louisville Bats, his second stop along the comeback trail, Guardado has only one strikeout versus three walks in four outings. He also got knocked around by the Rochester Red Wings during one of those outings. David Weathers is hardly the safest closer around, but for now, he's going to keep the job and continue to deliver some of the most inexpensive saves in fantasy.
This week's relief numbers are 5 and 3:
Five is the number of wins accumulated in relief by the top-three winning relievers in baseball; Chad Qualls, Justin Germano and Carlos Villanueva. That's more wins than currently owned by Randy Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Erik Bedard, Gil Meche, Andy Pettitte, Dave Bush and Mike Mussina.
Five is the most home runs Mariano Rivera has given up in any one season since being converted to reliever in 1996. He already has three so far this season in just 26 innings.
Five is the number of hits surrendered by Todd Jones in his last inning of work. He gave up three runs along with it. Five is also the number of runs Jones surrendered in his first game in June, and the number of runs he surrendered in his last three games of May, combined. Not surprisingly, five is also the first digit of Jones' ERA.
A story in the Baltimore Sun relays that Chris Ray might have been rushing his delivery from the stretch, which would go a long way toward explaining his troubles with men on base. This is something the Orioles should be able to fix, and if they do, you can take Ray off the endangered closers list.
Jeremy Accardo has looked a lot better in his two outings since taking losses in back-to-back games. He has faced seven batters, striking out four and walking one without giving up a hit.
Luis Ayala is back. Ayala missed all of 2006 after blowing out his elbow in spring training. He's less than 15 months removed from the operation, so it'd be rather optimistic to expect him to return to his pre-injury form (2.75 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 232 1/3 career innings) but he's someone to stash on your bench in deep leagues. There's no telling what the Nationals will do with Chad Cordero this season; Jon Rauch has been vulnerable; and Ayala has been known to convert a save or two in his day.
Manny Delcarmen is back in the Boston bullpen and has yet to be scored upon in three appearances -- one of which came during his first call-up in late May -- but tread lightly. Delcarmen is a good prospect with terrific strikeout potential and a "closer-of-the-future" label slapped on him, but he's not ready for prime time. In 29 1/3 innings with Pawtucket this season, he has surrendered 14 walks -- a horrible 4.29 BB/9 -- and his WHIP has suffered for it. His 3.38 minor league ERA is thanks in no small part to his ability to strike out hitters (37 K's) and limit home runs (just one allowed), but Fenway Park is a long way from McCoy Stadium in Rhode Island.
David Aardsma, who was one of the best relievers in baseball in April, is back from a two-week sabbatical in the minors. He has a strikeout-per-inning arm, but he's still giving up a few too many walks to be an elite arm. He still can be useful in deep AL-only leagues.
Pete Becker is senior editor of ESPN.com Fantasy.