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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Baltimore tries David Hernandez in the ninth

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It's common to see a big-league club go outside its organization for a closer; every winter someone will come running at a saves grabber, dollars be damned. But you have to wonder if teams misjudge this position – it's not really that hard to find a closer in your own organization. Here's the simplest formula I know of: start with a talented but struggling starting pitcher, and see what he can do in a new role requiring less innings. Some of history's best closers fit that pattern (Dennis Eckersley, John Wetteland and Rick Aguilera come to mind), and it makes you wonder why this hasn't turned into the industry standard.

The Orioles thought they had their 2010 closer when they signed Michael Gonzalez(notes) in the offseason, but things quickly fell apart; Gonzalez has been hurt most of the year and there's been a turnstile of closing options trying to take over for him since then. Perhaps the O's have finally have stumbled onto something this week with David Hernandez(notes).

Hernandez couldn't stick as a starter this year but his live arm has been an asset in the bullpen over the last two weeks, and he showed Thursday that he's got the moxie to handle the ninth inning. Hernandez worked a scoreless closing frame against the Yankees, recording the first of what might turn into a run of saves for the intriguing 25-year-old righty. Interim manager Juan Samuel says Hernandez will be the team's closer until Alfredo Simon(notes) returns later in the month, and if Hernandez can reel off a few quick save conversions, he might make it very difficult for the Orioles to take him out of the chair.

Hernandez's brief career as a starter hasn't shown much promise, but there's raw stuff here. We saw it in spring training (when he whiffed 20 men, against three walks, over 15 innings) and you can see it with your eyes as you scout his pitching arsenal: Hernandez has an average fastball in the 93 mph range. So often in fantasy it's more important to ask "why not?" when others are asking "why bother?" … and this is one of those times. If you're in a league where every save is competed for, Hernandez should be on someone's roster – why not yours?

The current rules in major league baseball have essentially turned June into "Callup Season" and it looks like we have another juicy one to enjoy on the weekend. According to ESPN Deportes, slugging catcher Carlos Santana(notes) will join the Indians on Friday, in time for their interleague game against Washington. Let's hope the Indians have a sense of the dramatic and let Santana face Stephen Strasburg(notes) on Sunday.

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Jonathon Niese(notes) was on our radar after a snappy April, but a hamstring injury and some poor May starts killed the buzz and ultimately led him to the disabled list. Now it's time to re-open the Niese argument; he threw seven strong innings against Florida last week, and his follow-up Thursday against San Diego was absolutely brilliant, a one-hit shutout that required just one batter over the minimum (six whiffs, 108 pitches, 76 strikes). Have a look at the scouting video here.

Okay, no one gets into the Hall of Fame with one snappy outing against the current San Diego lineup, point taken. But Niese now has five starts this year where he's allowed one run or less, and his walk/strikeout ratio is at a purchase-acceptable level (45 whiffs, 19 walks). The roomy confines of Citi Field certainly don't hurt the cause. Let's give him stream consideration for his turn at Cleveland next week.

Jacoby Ellsbury's(notes) visit with Dr. Lewis Yocum in California didn't go so well; new fractures in the ribs were discovered and it's going to push back the return timetable by several weeks. And when Ellsbury does eventually get back on the field, how eager will he be to dive, slide, and do all the other things that make him an effective ballplayer? Sorry it played out like this, but Ellsbury probably won't be much of an asset for 2010.

The Rangers hate to leave their friendly ballpark in Arlington; Texas went 5-2 on their just-completed homestand, piling up 53 runs along the way (12 more came on Thursday). The Sons of Ron Washington have a 23-11 record at home and their 202 runs at home are far and away the most in the majors. The offense doesn't travel nearly as well; Texas is 25th in the majors in road scoring, and the team has a mediocre .252/.309/.355 slash line when it's living out of a suitcase.

Keep these numbers in mind when you're considering what to do with your pitchers that go up against the Rangers. I'm at the point where I won't let anyone short of a star pitcher work as a visiting starter in Arlington. These guys can and will put the hurt on you.

We talked about the David Hernandez save above but we should also touch on Baltimore's kid starter, Jake Arrieta(notes); the 24-year-old righty took on the Yankees and didn't look out of place, allowing four hits and three runs over six innings. Following with his minor-league track record, he gave us a healthy amount of strikeouts (six) and more walks than you'd want to see (four). He'll work at San Francisco next week, and then he'll wait for the call against San Diego or Florida.

Kerry Wood's(notes) blown save against the Red Sox was a touch on the odd side, because he mowed down the first two batters and then got to 1-2 against J.D. Drew(notes). But Wood seemed to come unraveled after hitting Drew with the fourth pitch of the sequence, and three pitches later he grooved a fastball to Adrian Beltre(notes) and Beltre crushed it over the left-center fence. Wood now has a 9.58 ERA on the year and he's only recorded a single 1-2-3 inning over his 12 appearances. Keep Chris Perez(notes) nearby: he's probably going to get another shot to close here for one reason or another.

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Alas, Wood collected a win when Daniel Bard(notes) couldn't close the game on the other side. Bard's velocity was off the charts, as usual, but he never found his control, firing 12 of 22 pitches out of the strike zone. The Indians ultimately took the game courtesy of two walks, a ground-ball double and a soft-liner single that fell between several fielders. Russell Branyan(notes) did a good job to make contact on the game-deciding hit, but when your soft-liner finds the turf despite the fact that you hit it right into the heart of a dramatic overshift, you're living well.

This missed opportunity to the side, Bard still looks like the game's next dominant closer to me; I envision him turning into the AL's version of Jonathan Broxton(notes) in a year or two. He started off a couple of Indians with breaking pitches and they were absolutely frozen; when you dig in against Bard, you have to worry about the heater first and foremost. This was a rare messy appearance from Bard, but he's fine – and it won't shock me if the Red Sox let Jonathan Papelbon(notes) hit the road as a free agent at the end of the year. Bard's upside is that exciting, and he's still making peanuts by MLB terms.

Trevor Cahill(notes) might be the best kept secret in fantasy baseball right now. He's worked six quality starts in a row and he's only had one bad turn out of his eight thus far this season. His latest effort might have been his best of the year; he threw eight superb innings at the Angels on Thursday, giving up just six hits and one run. The strikeout numbers aren't there with Cahill yet (just 26 whiffs in 47.2 innings), but the large park and the pedigree buy him a lot of credibility with me, especially in leagues that aren't tied to an innings cap, and he's inducing ground balls 53 percent of the time. I'll roll with Kid Cahill next week, no matter that he's working at Wrigley Field.

The Giants got a lot of flack for the Aubrey Huff(notes) contract but there's nothing wrong with his bat: he's off to a .300/.396/.498 start, and 14 doubles and eight homers isn't a bad start in the power department, given the environment he plays in. As for Huff getting time in the outfield, I can't get behind that – but it's their outfield defense, not mine. And when Huff and Pat Burrell(notes) both head the outfield at the same time, you have to feel sorry for the San Francisco pitchers. If I were doing a Corner Shuffle right now, I'd put Huff in the $15 range.

Kings of Pain: Alex Rodriguez(notes) left Thursday's game with tightness in his right groin and he might have to have an MRI. … Kendry Morales(notes) (ankle) finally had his surgery and it's official – he's out for the entirety of the 2010 season. … Magglio Ordonez(notes) (oblique) remains day-to-day and the Tigers could really use him. … Brian Roberts(notes) (back) and Michael Gonzalez (shoulder) both hit setbacks of sorts this week; there's no timetable for either one to return. … The Twins finally bit the bullet and put J.J. Hardy(notes) (wrist) on the DL Thursday. … Jose Tabata's(notes) hamstring tweak from Wednesday apparently wasn't a big deal because he was able to start Thursday (1-for-4, RBI, run).

Speed Round: Matt Capps(notes) needed a rest in Washington so Tyler Clippard(notes) got the ninth inning call for the same (one hit, two strikeouts). … When Josh Johnson(notes) (eight scoreless) and Roy Halladay(notes) (8 IP, 1 R) are on their games, the hitters don't have much of a chance. The Marlins made their first inning run hold up, though Dan Uggla(notes) tacked on an insurance homer in the ninth. … Mat Latos(notes) showed a nasty slider in the first game at Citi Field (6 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 8 K) and he looks like the next big star pitcher in the NL. … John Danks(notes) had been off his game for a few weeks but the Tigers couldn't figure him out Thursday (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 4 K). … The Brewers collected four scoreless innings of relief en route to a 10-inning victory over the Cubs. John Axford(notes) got the victory, working around a couple of baserunners in the tenth. … The AL East is supposed to be a nasty assignment for any pitcher but Brett Cecil(notes) didn't get the memo. He's faced the Big Three in four of his starts this year and each turn has been useful; the latest example came on Thursday at Tampa Bay (6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 2 K). The walk/strikeout rate for this start might make you a little nervous but cut him a break long term; for the year he's got 47 punchouts against just 16 walks. Welcome to the circle of trust. … Six more walks from Dontrelle Willis(notes), though he only allowed two runs before his departure. There's no format deep enough where I'd choose to own him; his mechanics are too inconsistent and he has no idea where the ball is going. … The Cardinals have decided to take a chance on Jeff Suppan(notes); if Dave Duncan can make this guy useful, start chiseling away on the Hall of Fame plaque. … If you're looking for some chat about the Arizona and Houston bullpens, head over to our separate blog entry from Thursday evening. … Those are the best 1,900 words I had; feel free add to the stories of the night in the comments.

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