Rays interested in Brian Fuentes as their new closer

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Brian Fuentes has been linked to the Red Sox for most of the offseason, but now Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times reports that the Rays are interested in signing the veteran southpaw to be their new closer.

Fuentes served as a setup man for the Twins down the stretch after coming over in a late-August trade, but has plenty of closing experience and racked up an average of 30 saves per season from 2005-2010, including a league-high 48 in 2009.

As a side-arming left-hander many people assume that Fuentes would fit best as a situational southpaw and he certainly shuts down left-handed hitters. However, he’s also very effective versus right-handed hitters, holding them to a .224 batting average and .684 OPS during the past three seasons.

He certainly won’t be as overpowering as the man he’d be replacing in the ninth inning, Rafael Soriano, but Fuentes’ high-80s fastball and excellent changeup have made him one of the most effective (and underrated) relievers of the past decade and even at age 34 he posted a 2.81 ERA and 47/20 K/BB ratio in 48 innings.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.