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Closing Time: Billy Hamilton takes off

Bruce helps Reds rally for DH sweep of Cubs

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He's not just a rabbit, after all (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Pete Rose isn't walking through that door. Johnny Bench isn't walking through that door. Joey Votto isn't walking through that door, either.

But maybe the Reds will be just fine. Time to watch Billy Hamilton run through that door, and around the bases as well.

Hamilton was a standout in Cincinnati's doubleheader sweep Tuesday, collecting four hits, two steals and one knock-off strike (lucky as it might have been). He went 2-for-4 with four RBIs in Monday's win. He's turning into a fantasy overlord right before our eyes.

To be completely fair to Hamilton, he's turned out to be a much better real-life player than most expected. Back in March, the consensus said Hamilton would be a speed demon but a poor ballplayer in real life; someone much more valuable to fake baseball than the Reds.

A rotten start didn't help Hamilton's street cred. He stumbled out of the gate, hitting .176 over his first three weeks. You had five steals to show for it, nothing else.

Alas, something clicked for Hamilton in the middle of April. If you crunch his numbers from April 19 to today, you get a .300/.330/.449 slash, 38 runs, five homers, 34 RBIs and 32 steals. He's shown far more pop than anyone expected, and the batting average is a welcome surprise. He still needs to work on plate discipline, but he hasn't been a joke in that department.

Obviously I'm playing the arbitrary endpoint game with Hamilton, but maybe it just took him a little time to get settled into the gig this year. If you grade every fantasy player over the segment we discussed above, Hamilton settles in as the No. 13 hitter in 5x5 roto. If I were redrafting right this second, there's no way I'd let Hamilton get out of the second round - and I might take him at the tail end of the first round.

I'm hardly invested in the story - he's on just one of my teams, and it's an OBP team at that - but I sure wish I were. This certainly isn't my victory lap (though colleague Dalton Del Don might want to take one); I didn't see this coming. But Hamilton belongs in the star class now, a very bankable stud for the rest of the year. Kudos to anyone who was out in front of the story.

 The Justin Verlander start from Tuesday turns into a game of Choose Your Own Adventure. You're free to spin it any way you want. The skeptics (and I'm one of them) will focus on the five-run mess in the first inning. The apologists mention the five scoreless innings that followed (and will happily take the messy win). Verlander walked two, struck out four, allowed a homer to Juan Uribe. He didn't get many swings-and-misses, which is par for the 2014 course. I'm glad he's not my problem. 

I will stump for Hyun-Jin Ryu as a buy-low, however. Ryu had a nightmare in Detroit (10 H, 7 R) but the video wasn't as bad as you'd think; the Tigers collected a bunch of flares and seeing-eye hits, and didn't have a single homer in the game. Ryu posted a 3.14 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over his previous nine starts. Don't let this one interleague hiccup push you off course. He gets the ultimate feel-good opportunity on the weekend, a start against the Padres.

 While neither start was a complete disaster, we should mention the July struggles of Masahiro Tanaka. He didn't have his good stuff in a victory at Minnesota last week (7 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 0 BB, 3 K), and he fed the gopher a couple of times in Tuesday's loss at Cleveland (6.2 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K). The Nick Swisher homer, in particular, was a sinker than didn't sink. 

I'd still have Tanaka in my Top 10 pitcher list going forward, no hesitation, but it's interesting to note how the league seems to be adjusting, on some level, to his splitter. Consider this graph from Brooks Baseball, note how the whiff percentage on the splitter is tumbling. It's a game of adjustments. Your move, Tanaka. 

Be clear on what I'm saying: this is not a fire alarm. But maybe Tanaka is closer to the No. 7-10 area on the cheat sheet than the Clayton Kershaw class. Take this anywhere you want to. We'll have a full Starting Pitcher Shuffle Up later in July. 

(Ah shoot, maybe there's more to the story. Afternoon update: Tanaka apparently needs an MRI on his pitching arm. Hate to see that. Stay strong, gamers.)

• Is the glass half full or half empty with Addison Reed? You decide. He kicked another game away Tuesday, serving up a two-run homer to Marcell Ozuna. We've seen this story before.

When Kirk Gibson looks at Reed, I think he focuses on the 20-for-25 clip on save chances. It's not great, but it's not enough to lose your job in Arizona, apparently. I'd like to focus on the 4.42 ERA, the nine homers, the declining velocity. Alas, I don't make the bullpen calls in the desert. 

Nonetheless, Brad Ziegler is a reliever of interest in most formats. He's carrying a 2.18 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, and he was a capable closer when asked to do the job in the second half of 2013. I don't know where Gibson's breaking point might be on Reed (and obviously there was a recent vote of confidence), but in many pools, the time to act on Ziggy is now (I made a couple of adds during my Wednesday rounds).

I don't like giving pitchers excuses for home runs (get away from me, xFIP), which is a major reason why I'm hedging against Reed. Another pitcher in this conversation is Ernesto Frieri of Pittsburgh. His gopher problem pushed him out of Anaheim, and now he's serving them up for the Pirates (Kolten Wong, come on down). I'd be very surprised if Mark Melancon lost the Pittsburgh closing gig in 2014.

• I don't know if the Phillies will shop reliever Jon Papelbon, like they really should. I don't even know if contending teams would want Papelbon (his bloated contract would probably be a shared burden between the clubs). But if anything does go down in Philly, be ready for the Ken Giles addition. There's your next reliever of interest.

Heck, Giles is worth adding now simply for the quality innings: 12.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 17 K. He throws a 97 mph heater, looks the part of a future closer. He's unclaimed freight in 98 percent of Yahoo leagues. Maybe you have a spot for him. 

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