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Closer Updates: Angels, Mariners, Tigers

We've got in-depth closer analysis in this weekly column, but for timely, up-to-the-minute updates, be sure to follow @closernews on Twitter.

Angels
Ernesto Frieri has really taken to this closing thing. For one, he's sort of a ham. His jersey is untucked just so. He's extremely deliberate between pitches. He sports a closely cropped, curly mohawk (a sure sign of eccentricity). And, above all, he's really tough to hit.

And that seems to have been enough to convince Angels brass that Frieri should take the reins from Scott Downs, who has been every bit as good as Frieri, albeit with a completely different style. Perhaps the Halos prefer Frieri because Downs is a groundballer and a left-hander; prototypical closers are typically right-hander power arms.

Regardless, since May 23 Frieri has four saves to Downs' two, and while that's not an overwhelming split, it bears noting that Frieri has the past two and three of four. The Halos asked that Frieri earn his stripes before giving him the closer's gig, and he did; he remains unscored upon as an Angel through 14 appearances. That's about as well as a reliever can pitch.

The unbalanced saves split will continue between Frieri and Downs, with perhaps the former assuming an even larger share. Downs is worth an add if you're in need of saves and he's kicking around on your wire, but Frieri has taken precedence as the must-own.

Mariners
Brandon League was quietly removed from the closer's role late last month, and although I loved League coming into the year based on his strong 2011, he fully deserved the demotion based on his poor performance to date.

The problem is, the M's didn't necessarily have a no-brainer alternative at that point. The options included Tom Wilhelmsen, Steve Delabar, Hisashi Iwakuma and minor leaguer Stephen Pryor. Wow, that's a who's who of prominent relievers, ain't it?

Iwakuma -- in his first year stateside after a lengthy career in Japan -- snagged Seattle's first two saves following League's banishment, but both were under pretty unusual circumstances. The first was a three-inning save in a blowout win over the Rangers -- a mop-up save, as it were. The other came in the 12th inning of a marathon against the White Sox in Chicago, in which the M's had already burned through five relievers (including Wilhelmsen for three).

Pryor, meanwhile, became a trendy pick over the past week based on his minor league dominance, but it's pretty rare for a team to anoint a rookie as its closer immediately upon his debut. He didn't get to close in his first outing, and while he was impressive in striking out a couple batters, he also served up a home run. Keep a close eye on Pryor in the coming weeks, but I don't see Eric Wedge handing over the ninth to him so soon.

Wilhelmsen, 28, is the best add of the bunch, as he locked down a more customary save chance in Monday night's win over the Angels. His 3.60 ERA doesn't look great, but his 2.44 SIERA suggests a nice correction could be in the cards, and the 10.8 K/9 and 2.70 BB/9 seem to back it up. The one word of caution here is that Wilhelmsen didn't flash stuff like this at the upper levels of the minor leagues, but it's possible that he is still improving as he sat out of professional ball in his early and mid-20s before making a comeback prior to 2010.

All that being said, League remains a trade candidate this summer, and the M's would be best served to restore faith in his abilities by getting him right -- and back him back into the closer's role.

Tigers
Jose Valverde seemed to defy ERA estimators throughout the entirety of 2011, and perhaps it has finally caught up to him in 2012. The veteran right-hander has yet to hit his stride this season (4.64 ERA, 4.89 SIERA), and we're left to wonder whether he ever will. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has trended downward for several years now, settling at an unseemly 1.13 through the season's first two months. And every time he settles into a few-outing scoreless stretch, he runs into a meltdown. Ugh.

Joaquin Benoit, meanwhile, is enjoying a fine season and racking up boatloads of strikeouts, and I think he's worth a stash now in 12-team leagues (and deeper) with Valverde so obviously on the ropes. There's mild concern over forearm tightness Benoit recently experienced, which is always worrisome, but assuming he checks out cleanly, he has pretty good odds of dethroning the incumbent. Nothing's ever promised in this ugly chase for the ninth inning, but Benoit right now looks like as strong a candidate to pull it off as any reliever in MLB.

Quick-ish Hits
Santiago Casilla remains unavailable after suffering a bruised leg on a comebacker last week, but the Giants say a DL stint is not in the cards. Sergio Romo picked up the first save in his absence, and Jeremy Affeldt got the one after that. ... Aroldis Chapman pitched on consecutive days Friday and Saturday but wasn't needed on Sunday, although Dusty Baker said he was available to pitch if need be. Chapman has yet to go three in a row this season. ... Drew Storen was transferred to the 60-day DL in procedural move by the Nats. He's still expected back around the All-Star break. ... Huston Street has begun a minor league rehab assignment and could be activated Tuesday. Dale Thayer owners should hold on till Street is back and pitching effectively, but I fully expect Street to return to closing. ... Rafael Soriano will remain Yankees closer even when David Robertson returns from the DL, according to Joe Girardi.


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