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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: C.J. Wilson would like your attention

Scott Pianowski
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So far, so good with the C.J. Wilson(notes) reinvention tour. When you can pile up strikeouts and keep the ball on the ground, good things tend to happen.

Wilson's tidy training camp (3.24 ERA over 25 IP, 8 BB, 22 K) made him a spring sleeper and he furthered that case Thursday, dazzling the Blue Jays over seven shutout innings (5 H, 2 BB, 9 K, impressive video here). He worked both sides of the plate, changed speeds effectively, and had excellent command of his three pitches. Wilson also pounded the strike zone from the opening toss, throwing 62 of 98 pitches for strikes. It's hard to say how much he'll have left in the tank when the second half comes around and his arm is asked to weather a workload it hasn't dealt with, but we'll worry about that later. He's worth a spot in medium and deeper groups, and I'd certainly use him at Cleveland next week.

Neftali Feliz(notes) was utterly electric working the eighth inning (three strikeouts on 13 pitches) but it all fell apart in the ninth as the Blue Jays went to town on Frank Francisco's(notes) fastball. Francisco certainly belongs on any closer watch list; he's struggled with physical problems his entire career and he's never spent a full season in the ninth inning chair.

Most of the industry wants to mock Ryan Franklin(notes) until he loses his closing gig in St. Louis, but answer me this – who's the main threat here? Set-up man Kyle McClellan(notes) is a ham-and-egger all the way (he's also been scored on in both of his appearances this year) and Jason Motte(notes) doesn't look ready for a step up in class, either. Motte was all over the place in his Monday appearance and Thursday it was a high fastball that got him in trouble – it turned into a walkoff homer for Cincinnati's Jonny Gomes, breaking a 1-1 tie.

It's not that I don't see the flaws with Franklin – his 2009 ERA wasn't supported by the peripherals and he was considered a journeyman before last year's 30-something breakthrough – but just keep one thing in mind: the Cardinals trust him more than the general public does, and they've already made an investment here.

So another home run for Vernon Wells(notes), make it four in three games. Having a pair of healthy wrists – something Wells didn't have in 2009 – goes a long way in the power department. You get the idea that Wells was a modest discount at the table last month because of his gigantic real-life contract, not that that line of reasoning makes any sense. The Jays are stuck paying the freight, you just have to worry about dispensing a mid-round draft choice. This looks like a happy ending.

If you want to ride on the Dontrelle Willis(notes) train after his snappy turn in Kansas City (6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K), be my guest. I'm not giving him a pass for all those spring-training walks (12 in 22.1 IP), and let's not forget that he completely fell apart after a brief revival early in 2009. Successful pitching is directly tied to consistent mechanics, repeating the same physical motion on every pitch – and that's where Willis can't be trusted.

The Indians got a tidy night from their bullpen en route to an extra-inning victory at Chicago. Rafael Perez(notes) got two of four outs via the strikeout, Jensen Lewis(notes) retired five of the six men he faced, and Chris Perez(notes) brought easy gas en route to a smooth 1-2-3 inning. If Perez can continue to throw the ball this well, the Indians will have an interesting decision to make when Kerry Wood(notes) returns at some point in May or June.

The Dodgers finally got a win, sending their JV lineup out for the finale in Pittsburgh. Manny Ramirez(notes) got a routine day off (Joe Torre wants to rest Manny for these getaway types of games), Andre Ethier(notes) is resting a sore ankle, and Casey Blake(notes) and Russell Martin(notes) also got the day off. Chad Billingsley(notes) ran up the pitches quickly, but you'll take his finishing line (5.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 7 K).

The Cubs finally got into the win column with a working-man's shutout at Atlanta, working around 12 baserunners. Randy Wells(notes) kept the ball on the ground and it bailed him out with three double plays in six innings. Carlos Marmol(notes) steered the last four outs and was the usual carnival ride; at times his slider was nowhere near the strike zone, but when he put it where he wanted it, he was nasty (ask Jason Heyward(notes), who struck out on three ridiculous pitches).

The two Chicago runs came on solo homers off Tommy Hanson(notes). Marlon Byrd(notes) connected in the fourth and then circled the bases like he was being chased. Two innings earlier it was Tyler Colvin(notes) doing the honors; he picked up the start in left field while Alfonso Soriano(notes) stewed on the bench.

Brett Anderson(notes) was who we thought he was (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K), not that anyone should throw a parade when a pitcher shuts down the Seattle offense. Oakland knows it doesn't have much power on offense so it's going to run liberally; Eric Patterson(notes) and Cliff Pennington(notes) picked up bases here. Daric Barton(notes) might have some worth as a post-hype sleeper on the corner; he's off to a .333 start with five RBIs and four walks through four games.

Brian Matusz(notes) showed some nasty stuff in Tampa, not that he always knew where the ball was going (5 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 5 BB, 7 K). His victory held up as Mike Gonzalez(notes) skated by in the ninth (one bloop hit, two walks, two whiffs, no runs). Jeff Niemann(notes) had an abbreviated start on the other side, forced out of the game after a line drive hit his shoulder in the second inning. The Rays called the move preliminary and Niemann is listed as day-to-day.

So much for Ian Desmond's(notes) momentum – after a big game Wednesday night, he was forced to watch Thursday as Cristian Guzman(notes) (2-for-4) picked up a start. The Nats picked up their first win of the year, sparked by Willie Harris's(notes) homer and steal. Matt Capps(notes) allowed a leadoff double to Chase Utley(notes) in the ninth but was able to slam the door (well, close it gently) after that.

Speed Round: So much for the Jason Frasor(notes) concerns. He grabbed two saves over the last two games, striking out four of eight batters. … The Mets are eager to get Jose Reyes back Saturday and Andy Behrens is here to tell you all about it. … Chipper Jones(notes) left Thursday's game with a sore oblique and will probably miss a couple of games. Omar Infante(notes) probably will start in the meantime. … Let's not overreact to Leo Nunez's(notes) blown save in New York Wednesday; he was asked to clean up someone else's mess in the bottom of the eighth, and the tying run came in courtesy of a phantom balk call (even the out-of-town announcers concur). Nunez had a much smoother time of it Thursday, putting the Mets down in order on just 10 pitches. … The Rays are running a "Caught Looking" eyeglasses promotion, which may or may not have been inspired by Pat Burrell(notes).Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes), hurt again. Kudos if you had April 8 in the pool. Ron Washington isn't happy about it, either. … Magglio Ordonez(notes) swung a live bat in the Kansas City series (7-for-14, homer, double), and you know all about Miguel Cabrera(notes) (eight hits, two homers). … Chris Getz(notes) picked up his second steal Thursday (both off throwing ace Gerald Laird(notes)) and is a nice sleeper if you need some cheap speed. … Delmon Young(notes) didn't start Thursday but hit a stat-padding homer in the ninth off Rappin' Fernando Rodney(notes).Ted Lilly's(notes) rehab start is getting delayed two days because of a sore lower back but the Cubs say it's not a setback. … A sore hamstring kept Aaron Hill(notes) out on Thursday, he's day-to-day. … Thursday was a tough day for home cooking, as the visiting clubs too 8-of-11 games. … If anyone's taking a poll, I can't stand the new camera angle for home games in Arlington. … Brad Penny(notes) and Bronson Arroyo(notes) had a nifty pitcher's duel in Cincinnati but neither factored in the decision. Check Arroyo before next week's play; he took a line drive off the right calf and had soreness after the game.

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