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Andy Behrens

Closing Thoughts: Lindstrom hangs on; Qualls, Francisco hurting

Andy Behrens
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There's much to cover here today, as several relievers have acquired new coordinates on the closing grid, and others are on the verge. Let's review...

Matt Lindstrom(notes) leads all National League pitchers in votes of confidence, and no one else is really close. (Lidge is second, four Nats are tied for third). Here are the essential details, via the Miami Herald:

Just had our daily dugout pow-wow with manager Fredi Gonzalez, who said he's sticking with Matt Lindstrom as his closer. ... "I think maybe he's just giving the hitters too much credit," Gonzalez said. "But, other than that, his arm's good, everything else is good."

His ratios aren't so good, actually: 6.17 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 1.26 K/BB. Leo Nunez(notes) has picked up a pair of one-out saves recently, cleaning up Lindstrom's messes. He's the handcuff. Don't expect Gonzalez to fire many warning shots before making a change. Publicly he hasn't waffled in his commitment to Lindstrom, but Gonzalez did offer this nugget while explaining his decision to pull his closer on Saturday:

"My responsibility as a manager is to 25 guys, and the Florida Marlins, not just one guy. We're trying to get the win for the club."

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Chad Qualls(notes) gave up a game-tying three-run homer to li'l David Eckstein(notes) on Sunday, and that's no simple trick. Eckstein has hit just 33 home runs in 4866 career plate appearances. Qualls is still bothered by forearm discomfort according to the Arizona Republic:

"I don't think it's going to be something that's going to just heal overnight," he said. "It's going to be a grind to get it back to feeling good and comfortable."

The forearm stiffness already has bothered him for two weeks.

Tony Pena(notes) is the understudy. He has the traditional closer's arsenal -- high-90s fastball, high-80s slider -- but he's been something less than lights-out lately. Pena has allowed nine hits and eight runs (six earned) over his last five appearances dating back to May 25. Still, he earned a save on June 1 when Qualls was unavailable.

As we mentioned on Saturday, the unreliable Mike MacDougal(notes) has taken over for the equally unreliable Joel Hanrahan(notes) in Washington. Do whatever is necessary with that info. Hanrahan can now get tossed on the scrap heap, since he likely won't return to the closer's role anytime soon. From the Washington Post:

This is the second time this year that Hanrahan has lost the closer's job, and this time, there was no immediate talk of nurturing him back into the role.

"We won't even think about that right now," Manager Manny Acta said. "I told him, just be ready to pitch whenever we want to, and not have any agenda about getting back or how many days, how many weeks, how many months. Just pitch. Have fun and help the team in any way you can."

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Frank Francisco(notes) hasn't made an appearance since Wednesday due to shoulder soreness/tightness. CJ Wilson(notes) preserved a three-run lead in the ninth at Boston on Sunday, and he faced Jason Bay(notes) (BB), Mike Lowell(notes) (GIDP) and David Ortiz(notes) (K) in the process. Wilson is clearly the guy to own while Francisco is shelved.

We don't have a timetable on the injury just yet, but Francisco seems oddly hopeful. Via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Francisco said a few more days could do the trick.

"They haven’t told me [what might happen], but I think I need some rest," he said. "Let’s wait and see."

Here's a name to file away: Winston Abreu(notes). He's the closer for the Durham Bulls, the Rays' Triple-A affiliate. Abreu has 47 Ks and just 10 walks in 31.0 innings pitched, and he's saved 10 games. He's 32 years old and it would be an understatement to call him "well traveled." Abreu has pitched professionally on multiple continents, at various levels. Right now he's putting up solid numbers against decent competition, and the major league club's bullpen could use...well, something.

Jose Valverde(notes) (calf) could return by the weekend if back-to-back Double-A rehab appearances go well. Let's hope LaTroy Hawkins(notes) takes a victory lap this week before losing his fantasy value.

Andrew Bailey(notes) hasn't yet allowed a hit in June (4.0 IP, 2 BB, 6 Ks), and he's picked up the last three saves for the A's. There are no obvious threats. He threw 45 pitches over the weekend, though, so we could see a rogue save tonight if Josh Outman(notes) outduels Anthony Swarzak(notes).

Young managers, this is how you express faith in your closer:

RHP Brad Lidge(notes) is 0-3 with a 7.27 ERA and 13 saves in 19 opportunities. Still, manager Charlie Manuel isn't about to find another closer. "He'll always be my guy," Manuel said. "His stuff is good. There's nothing wrong with his stuff. His stuff is good."

The on-field results haven't quite matched the stuff. Lidge had blown saves on Friday and Saturday, giving him a total of six for the year. That's six more than he had in 2008. But only a DL visit can remove him from the closer's role, apparently.

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