Closing Time: Mike Minor, shutdown reliever

Mike Minor finishes up Thursday in Toronto (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The Mike Minor story has bounced around a bit. He was a first-round draft choice, a rated prospect. He’s been a starter, he’s been a reliever. He’s played in both leagues. He’s dealt with injuries. He’s been in the majors, in the minors, on our fantasy rosters, on the waiver wire.

And as we meander towards the end of the 2017 season, Minor stands as the key to the Royals bullpen. It’s a crazy world out there. Let’s appreciate the breakout year in his age-29 season.

Minor has two saves in his last two appearances, and they’ve both been milk-can escapes. Back on Sept. 15, he closed out a win over the Indians, Cleveland’s first loss after 22 remarkable, consecutive victories. Minor finished the game in style, striking out the side. Thursday’s handshake was just as impressive, as he put down Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak and Jose Bautista at Toronto.

After two full years in the minors, Minor is a nifty comeback story in 2017. He’s sitting on a 2.68 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, in his first year exclusively in relief. He’s pushed his strikeout rate up to 10.2/9, he hardly walks anyone (2.6/9), and he keeps the ball in the park (five homers allowed).

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The all-out approach to relieving certainly agrees with Minor — he’s throwing a 94 mph fastball after sitting around 90-91 in his starting days. He’s also increased his slider usage, offering that pitch about a third of the time now. Both the heater and the slider grade out as plus offerings.

Minor carries dual eligibility in Yahoo — we’ll never say no to flexibility — and he’s available in 84 percent of leagues. If your’e looking for saves, he can help. Perhaps you’ll get a win somewhere, given the high-leverage use Minor receives. And those ratios, and strikeout rate, are welcome on all of my teams.

Hyun-Jin Ryu is the big catch in the Saturday streamer market, with a home start against San Francisco. He’ll be a notable favorite and a 3.46 ERA is solid enough, even if it comes attached to a 1.33 WHIP. But how long will Ryu stick in the game, and will it be long enough to score a win? His last six turns have all been between four and six innings, with an average of just over five. (To be fair, they haven’t come against the Giants, either.)

I’m wondering what to do with Robert Stephenson. His seasonal stats will make you run away, but he’s also struck out 38 batters in his last 26.2 innings, with a tidy 3.04 ERA. Then again, that ERA comes with a bloated 1.50 WHIP — and when ERAs and WHIPs don’t jibe, I tend to trust the WHIP. And it’s the Red Sox coming to town. In at least one head-to-head game, I feel forced into a Stephenson play because I need the volume. I don’t blame anyone who fades this ticket, however. It’s a third-and-long call.

Joe Mauer is the type of player who gets lost in the 2017 home-run apocalypse. And he’s not a base-stealer, as you know, so what can we really do with him? But Mauer’s line-drive bat is alive and well. He’s on a .369/.428/.503 binge over his last 44 starts, and I can’t see how that isn’t useful for more than 17 percent of Yahoo (his current tag).

Even if you don’t need the batting-average boost, maybe you’re blocking it from someone else. If the recent results matter most to you, note Mauer is batting .395 — with 16 RBIs — in 20 September games. There’s a comfort in his splits; Mauer is pretty much the same guy home and away, against righties and lefties.