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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Bags for Fowler, bench for Tulo

Scott Pianowski
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The lineup card always seems to be in a state of flux in Colorado, where Clint Hurdle plays the tinkerer's role on a daily basis. Dexter Fowler is doing all he can to force Hurdle's hand these days, but it could be a while before we see Troy Tulowitzki's name again.

The Rockies had a solid game plan Monday against San Diego's Chris Young – run whenever you can. Young's one of the worst pitchers in the majors when it comes to holding runners and delivering to the plate, and Colorado exploited that to an almost-comical extreme on this night. The electrifying Fowler swiped five bases (he's up to nine on the season) and three of his teammates added a bag each – with all eight coming against Young and Nick Hundley. "Run until they stop you," Ryan Spilborghs offered to his rookie teammate.

Of course you can't swipe bases if you don't reach in the first place, but that hasn't been a problem for Fowler. A 2-for-4 outing pushed his average to .302, and he also walked twice. With a .393 on-base percentage and .491 slugging percentage, he clearly deserves a spot in the lineup every day. "He's paying attention," an impressed Hurdle said of Fowler. "He's watching tape. The skill set is unique. I think he's got every opportunity to do real well."

Tulowitzki, meanwhile, wasn't a part of the 12-run- 17-hit attack. He's scuffling with a .167 average and 17 strikeouts, and Clint Barmes started in his place Monday. Hurdle and batting coach Don Baylor spent the day doing extra work with Tulo, and it's not clear when the shortstop will be back in the lineup.

"We've all got to find a way to help him put a foot down on this thing," Hurdle told Thomas Harding of MLB.com. "We've set up a little plan in which to work, consistent work inside and some maintenance work. We're going to get him back in sooner than later to see where we are with it."

Brad Hawpe suffered a possible concussion in the middle of Monday's game, so Hurdle's juggling act will probably have to continue Tuesday. Whether or not that helps get Tulo back in the lineup remains to be seen. Finding a lineup spot for intriguing Ian Stewart is a daily topic, but right field isn't his ideal position. Stewart went 1-for-5 with a steal and three RBIs in the series-opening rout.

The enigma known as Justin Verlander took a major step in the right direction Monday, shutting down the Yankees for seven-plus innings (7 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K). Verlander worked ahead in the count all night, was able to throw his fastball and curve for strikes, and had plenty of high-90s gas when he needed to reach back for a little extra. He'll get another home date this weekend, hosting Cleveland on Sunday.

CC Sabathia pitched better than the numbers suggest (8 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 0 BB, 7 K); he threw 70 of 99 pitches for strikes and probably had his best command of the season. He was hurt by a pair of Placido Polanco doubles and a Magglio Ordonez two-run homer (a lazy fly ball down the right-field line that hit the top of the fence and bounded over), but Sabathia owners should feel encouraged by his work here.

When the wind blows out at Citizens Bank Park, you're going to see a slugfest, simple as that. Don't blame this one (24 runs, 26 hits) on the pitchers. The Nationals socked five homers (two by Ryan Zimmerman) and held an 11-7 lead entering the bottom of the eighth but Garrett Mock (three runs) and Joel Hanrahan (three runs) couldn't beat the elements; Raul Ibanez's grand slam put the hosts in the lead for good.

Ryan Madson closed up for the Phillies in the top of the ninth, getting the assignment in place of ailing Brad Lidge (knee). The Phils are calling Lidge day-to-day for now; an MRI didn't reveal any structural damage.

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I thought Michael Young's power was gone for good but he's proving me wrong with a heavy April (six homers, seven doubles, .600 slugging). Most of the goodies have come at home (.351/.429/.649), but he padded the road stats with a 5-1-2-2 line at Baltimore on Monday (homer, double). Andruw Jones got a rare start against a righty and went 0-for-4, and Chris Davis (0-for-3, .203) has to be thrilled this road trip is over. Six runs were enough to support a surprisingly effect Matt Harrison (7 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 3 K), and Frank Francisco continued to mow people down in the ninth (0.00 ERA, five saves).

There's no rhyme or reason to the knuckleball, sometimes it dances and sometimes it doesn't. Right now, Tim Wakefield has his mojo going; he was outstanding for the third consecutive turn Monday (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 5 K), taking his ERA down to 1.86. Cliff Lee matched Wakefield pitch for pitch (8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K) but like Wakefield had to settle for a no-decision; ultimately the game came down to the closers. Jason Bay's three-run homer off Kerry Wood in the top of the ninth gave Boston the edge, and although Jonathan Papelbon didn't have his best stuff (3 H, 1 R), he was able to close up shop for his fifth save. Asdrubal Cabrera (0-for-4) got another look in the No. 2 slot for the Tribe, while Mark DeRosa (1-for-3, walk, RBI) batted seventh for the second straight game.

Johnny Cueto is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. It was a case of Johnny Be Good on Monday against Houston, as he worked seven sterling frames (7 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K) and pitched Roy Oswalt to a draw. The Astros ultimately won the game with three in the ninth, handing Francisco Cordero his first poor outing of the year. Chris Sampson got the final four outs on the other side, tossing another name into the "subbing for Jose Valverde" mix. Sampson has a tiny 1.42 ERA over 12.2 innings, albeit he's not dominating anyone (just four strikeouts).

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Jose Guillen homered twice as the Royals were able to slow the Jays down Monday. Knowing Guillen's reputation as a streak hitter, I'm going to give him some mixed-league run, effective immediately. Brian Bannister had a strange but effective line en route to his second straight victory: 7 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 6 BB, 2 K. Mike Aviles took another small step forward, posting a 3-2-1-0 line with a walk.

For the second straight turn Anibal Sanchez was messy early but sharp late; the Mets got him for six first-inning runs Monday, but he hung and posted five zeroes after that. Alas, his mates didn't do much of anything against John Maine (6 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K), who pitched as if his rotation spot depended on it (and it probably did).

Emilio Bonifacio had one of Florida's two hits (he also scored the lone Marlins run), but nonetheless the average is down to .266 and he's got 20 strikeouts (against four walks) over 79 at-bats. This is not the profile of a leadoff hitter, speed or no speed. The Marlins concede that Bonifacio is swinging at too many pitches outside the strike zone.

Handshakes: It didn't take long for Brian Wilson to forget Sunday's meltdown in Arizona; he struck out three straight Dodgers on Monday night. … Ryan Franklin worked another 1-2-3 ninth en route to his sixth save; accept it, friends, he's the guy in St. Louis. … The back three in the Colorado bullpen combined for 3.1 scoreless innings, with Jason Grilli (three strikeouts) getting the win. Manny Corpas wasn't really sharp in the final inning (two baserunners) and it's odd that Hurdle keeps using him in non-save situations. Huston Street retired three of four men in the eighth. … Fernando Rodney kept things interesting in the ninth, allowing two runs before the game ended. He wasn't working in a save situation, handed a four-run lead to start the frame. … Trevor Hoffman got back on the mound in a non-save spot, getting the side in order. Two balls were hit deep to the outfield, but settled into Milwaukee gloves.

Not an Injury Blog: Hanley Ramirez left Monday's game after taking a pitch off the hand. X-rays came back negative; we'll see what the club says Tuesday. … Julio Lugo (back) returned from the DL Monday and probably will get back to action in the Cleveland series. … Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder) did some long-tossing Monday and probably will throw in the bullpen Wednesday. … Carlos Delgado has a sore hip and wasn't in Monday's lineup. … Melvin Mora (hamstring) is ready for a rehab assignment and might be able to play for the Orioles Friday. … Jim Thome (heel) wasn't going to play Monday; the White Sox and Mariners were rained out. He's day-to-day. … Chris Getz (finger) has a chance to play at some point during Tuesday's twin-bill with Seattle. "Now that the bruising has calmed down, I feel confident I can play pretty soon," Getz told the Chicago Tribune. … Josh Hamilton (ribs) still isn't feeling right. He'll be re-examined before the Rangers open their homestand Tuesday.

Speed Round: Ronald Belisario got the loss Monday as much for his team's shoddy infield play as much as anything else. He's still a very intriguing set-up arm to be aware of. … He's a long way from being fantasy relevant, but Barry Zito did get another quality start Monday (6.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 2 K), for whatever that means. Note that Pablo Sandoval has caught Zito's last two starts, good news if you play in a format where Sandoval isn't catcher-eligible yet. … As bad as it's been for Geovany Soto, at least he's got eight walks against nine Ks over his 42 nightmarish at-bats. It's got to turn sooner or later. … Scott Baker did make significant progress Monday, even as the numbers don't jump out at you (6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 HR allowed). … Joel Pineiro improved to 4-0 but it's a smoke-and-mirrors show. His peripherals suggest an ERA in the high 4s, and come on, six strikeouts over 26.1 innings? The other cleat will drop soon enough.

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