The ninth is dark and full of terrors: Updates on MLB closing situations

Please, someone hire this man. Give him the keys to the ninth. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

We’re approximately 48 hours away from the first pitch of the MLB regular season, and somehow Greg Holland is not yet employed. It’s a little hard to believe Holland is not yet a member of the Cardinals or Angels or Rangers, but no such luck. Add it to the growing list of fantasy problems.

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Throughout the season, we will keep track of every closing situation in baseball right here, with a handy bullpen depth chart. Scroll through the list to find updates to each club’s ninth inning hierarchy. For those who still have baseball drafts upcoming, here are a few key closer notes…

The Orange County Register’s Jeff Fletcher speculates that Blake Parker “likely enters the season as the first choice to pitch the ninth inning.” This is notable because Parker has had a brutal spring, allowing 19 hits, 14 runs and three homers over just 8.2 innings. Cam Bedrosian has been better (as has everyone else), but he certainly hasn’t been lights-out. It’s a terrifying bullpen, basically. A situation that A.L.-only managers need to care about, but most of you can avoid.

Luke Gregerson (hamstring) will open the season on the DL, leaving Dominic Leone as the favorite for early season saves in St. Louis. Leone has been excellent throughout the spring (0.90 ERA, 10.0 IP, 13 Ks) and, at this point, needs to be owned in mixed leagues. Left-hander Tyler Lyons could see the occasional save chance as well, based on matchups.

Dominic Leone should get a look in the ninth inning in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Texas seems to have a bullpen full of bad ideas, but we should note that Alex Claudio has been solid this spring (0.67 WHIP) and he saved 11 games last year. However, the Rangers want the flexibility to use him before the ninth:

“Claudio is a significant pitcher in our bullpen,” [manager Jeff] Banister said. “Claudio can pitch with significance in the sixth, significance in the seventh, eighth and ninth. That is how valuable he is to us, and that’s how valuable he will be going forward.”

Keone Kela, Jake Diekman, Jose Leclerc and (eventually) Tim Lincecum could get ninth inning chances as well. For now, it appears to be a committee. Kela would be my pick right at this moment, if you made me draft a Texas relief pitcher.

It sounds as if Nate Jones and Joakim Soria will share closing duties for the White Sox in the early weeks. Jones seems to be healthy these days, and he hasn’t allowed a run this spring. Soria, of course, has the proven closer credentials, plus he’s right-handed. He also posted a swinging-strike rate of 13.2 percent last year, so it’s not as if he’s washed up. Both deserve to be owned.

We’ve learned that Brad Boxberger, not Archie Bradley, will open the season as closer for the Diamondbacks. You’re probably clear to drop Yoshi Hirano in mixers at this point. Bradley’s fantasy ratios and K-rate make him a reliever to own in most formats, even in a non-closing role.

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