Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report: Jhoan Duran gets his first save; Ryan Helsley challenging for closer role

Normally, I focus on 10 newsworthy closer scenarios in this space, but I’m stretching to get to eight this time, which hopefully means we’ve reached a point of relative stasis. Or at least we’ve accepted that certain bullpens are going to remain tandems or full-blown committees for now, the Royals and Pirates being chief among them.

In fact, I thought I might skip the Bullpen Report this week and focus on some other pressing topic instead, time being finite and all, but the way the Twins managed their bullpen Monday changed my mind. Quite simply, we need to talk about Jhoan Duran.

Note: “Pecking order” refers to rosterability in Fantasy and not necessarily who’s first in line for saves (though it’s usually one and the same).

Duran, a 24-year-old rookie who spent basically his entire minor-league career as a starter, is the pitcher Fantasy Baseball analysts have been hoping to see in the closer role all along. It started with him striking out 10 over seven one-hit innings this spring and has continued with him striking out 19 while walking just two in 12 regular-season innings. Part of what made Monday’s save so encouraging is that Emilio Pagan, who had handled the Twins’ previous two save chances, worked the eighth inning, so it wasn’t about him needing a day off.

Manager Rocco Baldelli has always preferred a closer committee, but alternatives like Tyler Duffey and Caleb Thielbar have seemingly disqualified themselves through their early-season struggles. At worst, Duran looks to be part of a closing tandem right now, and he’s the more likely of the two to claim the role outright. Just look at this 97 mph splitter he throws:

Ryan Helsley might have the best numbers of any reliever so far, having allowed just one baserunner while recording 16 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. His track record is uninspiring, but his fastball is looking like more of a weapon than it’s been in the past, peaking at 103 mph. He got a two-inning save Sunday even though presumptive closer Giovanny Gallegos hadn’t pitched in a week, seemingly shelved after a rough four-run outing, but then manager Oliver Marmol turned right back to Gallegos for a conventional save Monday. Perhaps Helsley was unavailable a day after throwing two innings. Perhaps no change is coming after all. For now, though, both relievers need to be rostered.

At last report, Anthony Bender appeared to have fallen out of favor as the ninth-inning option for the Marlins, which spelled doom with Dylan Floro working his way back from a shoulder injury in the minors. But Bender has been piling up saves since then, going 4 for 4 in the thought past seven games, which likely earns him more leash. He was better than Floro last year, after all, and manager Don Mattingly did officially anoint him the closer at the start of the year. Floro is due back any day, for what it’s worth.

It sounds like Lou Trivino is on the verge of rejoining the team after being sidelined for two weeks with COVID-19, but Dany Jimenez has been so reliable in his absence, going a perfect 4 for 4 in save chances, that I do not know that Trivino will reclaim his old role. He lost it for a stretch last season, remember, and isn’t the sort of bat-misser best suited for the role. It does not help that he gave up five earned runs in his one rehab outing. It’s a wait-and-see situation, but I wouldn’t be so quick to drop Jimenez.

Ryan Pressly was expected to make a quick return from the knee injury that landed him on the IL in mid-April, but only now is he beginning to ramp up again. Meanwhile, Rafael Montero has emerged as a pretty good backup plan, securing each of the Astros’ past two saves. He has previously gotten chances to close for the Rangers and Mariners but did not miss enough bats to stick in the role. He’s up to 15 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings this year, though, and may be someone to keep close in case Pressly suffers a setback or continues to have velocity issues.

The Red Sox at this point would probably be willing to turn the role over to anyone who steps up and claims it. The pitchers they’ve tried there have all taken turns blowing it so far, left-hander Jake Diekman most egregiously. The latest to botch his opportunity is the one I still consider to be the front-runner, Hansel Robles, who did not actually blow the save but needed Matt Strahm, another left-hander, to bail him out. Robles has been the Red Sox’s most reliable reliever overall and throws right-handed, giving him a leg up in any tandem situation. Matt Barnes still isn’t a serious consideration until he regains some velocity.

The Mariners are the team most committed to the committee these days, and because they have so many capable closers, it’s hard to imagine anyone distinguishing himself. Andres Munoz looked like he was emerging as an early favorite a couple weeks ago, recording a save and then closing out a four-run lead a few days later, but he was most recently asked to work the seventh inning of a game. It’s still hard to imagine Ken Giles filling any role other than closer, but he still has a ways to go in his recovery from a finger tendon injury. They’re the two most likely to claim the role outright, but it still doesn’t seem particularly likely in either case.

It took a while for the Rangers to get their first save chance, and when they finally did April 23, Joe Barlow was not available, allowing Matt Bush to claim it instead. But manager Chris Woodward clarified that day that Barlow would normally be the first choice for saves and finally put his money where his mouth is Saturday. Barlow handled the role capably down the stretch last season and has done an excellent job missing bats so far this year. The Rangers do not have anyone else suitable for closing, so his role seems pretty secure, for however many chances the Rangers give him.

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