After a few weeks in which it felt like just about every bullpen in the league was being flipped upside-down, things have stabilized a bit recently, with far less movement on our closer depth chart than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. There were still some notable shake-ups — Raisel Iglesias and Ryan Helsley may be on the outs for the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves, respectively, while Pete Fairbanks has landed on the IL yet again — but the top headline of the past week was a positive one: White Sox All-Star Liam Hendriks officially returned to Major League action, less than five months after being diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Hendriks will understandably need a little time to get his legs under him after fighting through chemotherapy to get back on the mound, but he’ll be making regular appearances in this space in no time. Now on to the rest of the reliever news and notes from the week that was.
Relief pitcher notes: Week 9
- Hendriks had a bumpy first outing, as a bloop double, sac fly and Mike Trout single allowed three runs to score, but what matters most is that Hendriks is once again healthy and pitching on an MLB mound. He likely won’t be thrust into the closer’s role right away, though, and that opens up an opportunity for the suddenly thriving Kendall Graveman. The righty didn’t pick up a save, but he did strike out three while recording the final four outs of Tuesday night’s win. That’s now 11 consecutive scoreless appearances, and he figures to be the main source of saves for Chicago as long as Hendriks is rounding back into form — and even afterward, as the Sox likely won’t push him on consecutive days for a while.
- We may have a changing of the guard in St. Louis, as Giovanny Gallegos got the call to close out Tuesdays win over the Kansas City Royals. Gallegos made it a bit interesting, giving up a run on two hits, but he got the job done, and the righty now has one more save on the season than Helsley does. We’d still bet on Helsley’s talent to win out in the end, but the fireballer has allowed five runs and 10 baserunners over his last five appearances, and it seems like Oli Marmol’s trust lies elsewhere at the moment.
- Speaking of trust issues: Brian Snitker may find it hard to feel great about Raisel Iglesias at the moment, after Atlanta’s closer issued three walks while recording just one out en route to taking the loss on Tuesday night against the Oakland Athletics. Iglesias doesn’t appear to have run out of leash just yet — and his primary competitors, Nick Anderson and AJ Minter, have struggled themselves — but we could get there soon.
- Just when it seemed like Mark Leiter Jr. had laid his claim to the closer’s role for the Chicago Cubs, David Ross goes and pulls the chair out from under us. Leiter was used in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s win over the Tampa Bay Rays, with Adbert Alzolay following for a dominant six-out save. This seems like a true timeshare at this point, with Leiter having the slight edge but often finding himself out of the ninth inning based on matchups.
- Only the bravest of souls will look for saves in Oakland right now, but it is worth noting that Trevor May has returned from the IL and appears to be back in the closer’s chair for the A’s. May was set to pitch the ninth of a save opportunity on Monday against the Braves only for Oakland to tack on three runs in the bottom of the eighth, suggesting that he’s Mark Kotsay’s choice right now. Again, tread lightly here, but the veteran righty has looked much better since returning last week and doesn’t have a lot of competition right now.
- Pete Fairbanks simply cannot stay healthy, with the latest ailment a hip injury that the righty sustained while warming up in the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen over the weekend. Fairbanks is on the IL again, and while there’s no timetable for his return, it’ll likely be at least a couple of weeks — and even when he’s back his health is impossible to trust. Jason Adam once again becomes the closer for the time being, although he’s struggled a bit of late.
- AJ Puk just began a rehab assignment last night, and Dylan Floro is doing his best to make sure the lefty resumes the closer’s role as soon as he comes back. Floro has blown up twice over the past six days, and as long as Puk doesn’t have any setbacks, he should be back in the ninth as soon as next week.
Week of 5/29