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There wasn’t a lot of movement among closers in Major League Baseball last week, although a pair of injuries served to solidify what had been “temporary” assignments. There was some good news on the injury front, as a pair of former stud closers are nearing their returns to their respective bullpens.

Meanwhile, out west, there’s a familiar face working his way up the Rockies’ bullpen hierarchy, while a newcomer is making a name for himself in Tinseltown.

The news isn’t so good in the Steel City, where a once-reliable closer has misplaced a few miles per hour that belong to his fastball, and his team is hoping that he can locate them in a hurry.

Like many bullpen situations, the Pitt ‘pen bears watching, as another rough outing could scramble the hierarchy – and send Fantasy owners rushing to the waiver wire.

For all of the latest news from bullpens around major league baseball, be sure to bookmark our Bullpen Depth Charts.

Bullpen Briefs For Week 4

Who’s Out?

Former Rockies’ closer LaTroy Hawkins went on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis this week, and it would be nothing short of astonishing to see him back in the closer’s role again anytime soon – or possibly ever. Hawkins has fashioned a long and productive career, but his days as a Fantasy asset appear to be behind him. Even after he returns, Hawkins’ low strikeout rate and lack of dominant stuff figure to limit his value in NL-only formats.

Former Rays and A’s closer Grant Balfour was designated for assignment April 18, and he is clearly not the same pitcher that saved 62 games over the course of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Balfour’s fastball velocity was down more than two MPH this season, and he owned a 6.23 ERA and 1.62 WHIP when the Rays decided to cut ties. He may catch on somewhere, but for now, Balfour can safely be dropped in all Fantasy leagues.

Joe Nathan was once one of baseball’s elite closers, but the 40-year-old may be looking at the end of his stellar career after learning that he had suffered a torn UCL during a rehab appearance April 22, and that he will require another Tommy John surgery. Nathan was a shell of his former self last season, and his was generally acknowledged to be among the league’s most tenuous closer’s jobs. Nathan has vowed to return to baseball, but he doesn’t figure to be back until at least May of the 2016 campaign. He can be dropped in all Fantasy leagues.

Who’s In?

Colorado’s John Axford was away from the team due to a family emergency, but he has returned and has pitched very well, allowing only a single walk and fanning four batters through his first three innings of work. It’s been a roller coaster ride for the Ax Man’s career lately, but don’t forget that he saved 46 games for Milwaukee and finished ninth in the NL Cy Young Award voting back in 2011. Axford is not a threat to supplant closer Adam Ottavino at this point, but he has emerged as the clear No. 2 option in the Rockies’ bullpen.

Nathan’s latest injury solidifies the job status of Joakim Soria, who has pitched very well since ascending to the closer’s chair in the Motor City. Soria has undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries himself, though, and the Tigers are rumored to be in the market for more bullpen help, with one of the names mentioned being free agent Rafael Soriano. Soria should fare well in the closer’s position as long as he remains healthy, and he should be owned in all Fantasy leagues.

1 Reliever on the Rocks

We talked about Mark Melancon last week, and the veteran reliever’s closing job still appears to be in jeopardy. His fastball velocity is down significantly this season, and opponents are batting  .290 against him through his first nine appearances.

His ERA sits at a lofty 6.48 at the time of this article, and that number has been softened by a pair of scoreless appearances since his three-run implosion April 21. Melancon seems to have rebounded from that disaster, but it will be hard to feel comfortable with him until his velocity returns.

The Pirates are standing behind him, but it would be hard to imagine them giving him too long of a leash in what figures to be an ultra-competitive NL Central race.

3 Relievers on the Rise

Tony Watson has been one of the game’s premier setup men for the past couple of seasons, and the southpaw is off to another fine start in 2015. He recorded a six-out save the night after Melancon had imploded for three earned runs in the ninth inning, providing some stability to what has been a rather shaky situation for the Pirates thus far. If you own Melancon or are just fishing for saves, Watson makes a decent speculative stash.

Dellin Betances has taken his share of heat this season – including in this column a couple of weeks ago. Lately, though, the big right-hander has looked a lot more like his 2014 self – allowing just two hits and one walk, while striking out nine batters in his last six innings of work. It doesn’t look like he’s ready to challenge Andrew Miller for the ninth inning just yet, but Betances’ strong performance recently has caused the Bronx bullpen to officially remain a “committee” in the eyes of manager Joe Girardi.

The Dodgers’ bullpen has been a rather messy affair this season, but Yimi Garcia has been the team’s most reliable option in the early going. The 24-year-old has allowed just one earned run and three hits in 9.2 innings of work, while striking out an impressive 16 batters and holding opponents to a miniscule .091 batting average.  He racked up his first career save April 24, and even with closer Kenley Jansen’s return drawing closer, Garcia has clearly pitched his way into a high-leverage role for the Dodgers going forward.

Keep an Eye On These Relievers

This Week in Fantasy Baseball
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Tampa Bay Rays’ reliever (and last year’s closer) Jake McGee is working his way back from offseason surgery to remove loose bodies in his elbow, and he has appeared in an extended spring training game and thrown a successful bullpen session. He reported that his elbow feels fine, but some back soreness set his rehab schedule back a few days. He should begin a rehab assignment soon, but whether or not he will immediately step back into the closer’s chair in St. Petersburg remains to be seen.

The Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen could begin a rehab assignment as early as next week, and his presence would be a welcome addition to what has become a rather muddled bullpen situation in Los Angeles. Track his progress carefully, as Jansen has shown that he can be an elite closer when he’s healthy. He’s not a recommended play for the upcoming week, but he could be a part of your Fantasy lineup plans the week afterward.

For all of the latest news from bullpens around major league baseball, be sure to bookmark our Bullpen Depth Charts.

Photo Credit: Daveynin

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Buck Davidson

Buck Davidson has been writing about baseball since the Internet was more a flight of fancy than a way of life. His Fantasy analysis has appeared on such websites as RotoExperts, RotoRob, Yahoo, CBS, MSN, FOXSports and KFFL.com, and he has hosted numerous Fantasy Sports podcasts over the years. For the past seven seasons, Buck has been a contributing writer for The Fantasy Baseball Guide magazine. Despite all of his years of experience, though, Buck seeks out the unique sports insight of his 95-year-old Granny Lil when the Fantasy chips are truly down.
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