Changing roles for pitchers need to be monitored

As baseball enters its final month, pitching becomes more scrutinized than ever. A versatile pitcher who can assume a variety of roles becomes crucial for managers locked in a battle for the postseason.

As important as these pitchers may be for their major-league teams, they are equally as perplexing for fantasy baseball owners. A starter or closer is a whole lot more valuable than a middle reliever, so it’s up to fantasy users to keep a close eye on the pitchers who yo-yo between the bullpen and the rotation.

Boston’s Julian Tavarez has been used in this manner all season and he has proven to be an appreciated commodity for the first-place Red Sox. His numbers aren’t great (7-9, 4.84 ERA) but his intangibles — fierceness on the mound, the respect he garners from his teammates and his ability to accept any responsibility assigned to him — have made him invaluable. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, intangibles mean little, but as the stretch drive heats up, Tavarez’s worth may be filling up with actual statistics.

With second-year left-hander Jon Lester assigned to the minors, Tavarez has once again assumed a starting role — and he has delivered. Over his last two starts he’s pitched 12 innings, given up just three runs and struck out nine, while going 1-1.

Another key pitcher in the Tavarez vein is the Atlanta’s Rafael Soriano, who has dutifully switched roles from closer to setup man. With Bob Wickman, the Braves’ regular closer all season, recently designated for assignment, Soriano once again assumes a role as Atlanta’s closer.

Like a starting pitcher racking up wins and strikeouts for fantasy owners, a full-time closer picking up save after save is a whole lot more attractive than a middle reliever. Soriano is 2-3 with five saves and, with Wickman out of the picture, he will be asked to close out games regularly, meaning those save numbers will jump.

However long he continues to pick up those precious saves remains to be seen, as the talented Octavio Dotel lurks in the background. Once Dotel heals from his recent triceps injury, he could be the closer, with Soriano relegated back to setup man.

WHO’S HOT?

» Esteban Loaiza, SP, Dodgers

» Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies

» Hunter Pence, OF, Astros

» Jake Westbrook, SP, Indians

» Jeff Keppinger, 3B, Reds

WHO’S NOT?

» Mike Mussina, SP, Yankees

» Bob Wickman, RP, Braves

» Moises Alou, OF, Mets

» Gary Sheffield, OF, Tigers

» Casey Blake, 3B, Indians

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