Fernando Rodney is in very rare territory

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The Rays have had the magic touch with lightly regarded relievers before, but Fernando Rodney is easily their biggest success story yet.

The 35-year-old Rodney recorded his 31st save Wednesday, moving himself into a tie for the major league lead, and lowered his ERA to 0.74 with a scoreless inning in a 4-1 win over the A’s.

With the season nearly two-thirds over, Rodney is on pace to join Dennis Eckersley as the second reliever ever to save 40 games with a sub-1.00 ERA.

Eckersley saved 48 games and posted a 0.61 ERA in 73 1/3 innings for the A’s in 1990. That wasn’t his Cy Young and MVP year, though; he got those awards two years later when he finished with 51 saves and a 1.91 ERA in 80 innings.

Just 11 pitchers since 1900 have posted an ERA under 1.00 in at least 50 innings. It happened four times during the deadball era and once by Bill Henry in 1964. The rest to do it were modern relievers:

Rob Murphy (1986 Reds): 0.72 in 50.1 IP
Eckersley (1990 A’s): 0.61 in 73/1 IP
Chris Hammond (2002 Braves): 0.95 in 76 IP
Jonathan Papelbon (2006 Red Sox): 0.92 in 68.1 IP
Dennys Reyes (2006 Twins): 0.89 in 50.2 IP
Eric O’Flaherty (2011 Braves): 0.98 in 73.2 IP

Papelbon, the only closer besides Eckersley in the group, finished with 35 saves in 2006.

After Papelbon, a few others have managed 40 saves with ERAs just above 1.00:

John Smoltz (2003 Braves): 1.12, 45 sv
Jose Mesa (1995 Indians): 1.12, 46 sv
Eric Gagne (2003 Dodgers): 1.20, 55 Sv
Armando Benitez (2004 Marlins): 1.29, 47 Sv

So Rodney could best them all this year, which would be especially amazing considering that his best ERA in the five years from 2007-11 was a 4.24 mark. His career best in a full season was 3.52 in 2006, though he did come in at 2.86 in 44 innings in 2005.

I should also note that Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel could possibly save 40 games with a sub-1.00 ERA as well if he’s near flawless from here on in. He’s pitched 40 innings and allowed six runs so far, giving him a 1.35 ERA to go along with his 30 saves.

Marlins option Tom Koehler to Triple-A, recall Hunter Cervenka

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Long-time rotation mainstay Tom Koehler was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on Monday and reliever Hunter Cervenka was recalled, the Marlins announced.

Koehler, 31, made 131 starts out of the Marlins’ rotation over the last five years, but his 12 this season have not been good, so the club hopes he can figure things out with a stint in the minors. He’s carrying a 7.92 ERA with a 44/29 K/BB ratio in 55 2/3 innings. Koehler battled bursitis in his right shoulder in May and June, which may partially explain his struggles.

Cervenka, 27, posted a 4.50 ERA with a 34/21 K/BB ratio in 34 innings of relief with New Orleans. He hasn’t pitched in the majors yet this season, but compiled a 3.53 ERA over 43 1/3 innings in the bigs last year in the Marlins’ bullpen.

Nationals, Dodgers, and Red Sox are interested in Pat Neshek

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At the trade deadline, relief pitching is the name of the game and one of the names clearly available is Pat Neshek. Today Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that the Nationals, Dodgers, and Red Sox are among the clubs who are closely scouting the Phillies reliever. Last week Ken Rosenthal reported that the Brewers and Rays were involved as well.

Neshek is an impending free agent, so he may come cheaper than Justin Wilson or some of the other bullpen arms available right now. The All-Star is 36 and is posting a fantastic season, featuring a 1.12 ERA and 45/5 K/BB ratio over 40.1 innings this season.