• Ryan Franklin(notes) is almost too good to be true at this point, isn't he? The journeyman right-hander recorded his ninth save of the year Thursday afternoon with a perfect inning against Pittsburgh, and have a gander at his glittering line from the season: 13.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 K. Is this run explained merely by Franklin junking his slider for a cut fastball, or perhaps this is just one of those flukes that we'll laugh about later in the year. I know this, Franklin is throwing strikes like he never has before and he's certainly passing the eye test for every appearance I've scouted, and he's going to be one of the Top 15 closers on my sheet next week.
Jason Motte(notes) is another good story from the St. Louis bullpen, stringing together 10 consecutive scoreless appearances and taking hold of the eighth inning. He'll probably need a good slump from Franklin before he steps into the ninth-inning pressure cooker, however.
• Alex Rodriguez(notes) (hip) passed every test on the field this week and appears all set to go Friday against Baltimore. Maybe his presence in the lineup will help get Mark Teixeira(notes) going; the high-priced Tex took another collar Thursday, dropping back under the Mendoza Line.
• Everyone can see by now that Emilio Bonifacio(notes) isn't ideally suited for a leadoff position (.297 OBP), but he's not much of a treat once he gets on base, either. Bonifacio is just 3-for-5 on steals since opening day, and it's pretty clear he has no idea how to read moves. I had premature dreams of a possible 40-50 steals coming here, but until someone teaches him what to look for on the bases, it's not going to happen.
• Dodger Stadium has a reputation as a favorable pitcher's park, but it hasn't really played that way in recent years. Over the last three years it's been just about neutral for runs scored and batting average, and it's also provided a mild float to home runs (thanks for the info, Bill James Handbook). A lot of the production tends to come in day games when the ball really jumps, but the Nats and Dodgers decided to pad the stats in a night tilt on Thursday (20 runs, 32 hits). Don't blame LA's first home loss on the absence of Manny Ramirez, or starting pitcher Randy Wolf(notes) (6 IP, 1 R); it was the messy middle-relief that tossed this game away.
I can't guarantee you that Nick Johnson(notes) (6-2-3-3) is going to stay healthy all year, but he sure looks comfortable in that No. 2 slot in the order. Every Washington starter in the lineup had a run or an RBI, and Austin Kearns(notes) came off the bench to add a two-run homer. Juan Pierre(notes) went 2-for-4 in his first game as the LA temp in left field, batting ninth of all places behind the pitcher's spot.
• Brian Bannister(notes) was successful with smoke and mirrors during his first three turns (1.96 ERA despite a 1.25 WHIP and 10 BB/7 K), but on Thursday he gave us a line you can respect in the morning, shutting down the Mariners over six innings (5 H, 0 R,1 BB, 7 K). "I would put that right up there with one of the top three starts that we've seen this season," said Trey Hillman, high praise from the manager who gets to start Zack Greinke(notes) every fifth day. Bannister gets another exploitable opponent next week when he works at Oakland.
• The Rays clubbed six homers at the new launching pad in The Bronx, including a pair in the ninth against Mariano Rivera(notes) (Carl Crawford's(notes) first of the year gave Tampa the lead, and Evan Longoria's(notes) second of the night added an insurance run). Carlos Pena(notes) also left the yard; he's got 13 homers on the year, with five of them coming against left-handed pitching. The slumping Pat Burrell(notes) wasn't part of the homer parade but he did get a couple of hits, raising his average to .240. Joe Maddon thinks some of Burrell's recent struggles have been tied to a sore neck.
Not an Injury Blog: Josh Hamilton(notes) (ribs) did some soft toss on Thursday and remains on schedule to come off the DL Tuesday, when he's first eligible. … Eric Chavez(notes) (too many things to name) is aiming at a May 15 return to the lineup. I'm looking forward to slotting him at the very bottom of my infield rankings. … B.J. Ryan(notes) (shoulder) worked a scoreless inning in Single-A on Thursday. The club plans to take its time with Ryan's rehab, and I can't imagine he'll get the ninth inning from Scott Downs(notes) when he returns, but that's ultimately up to Cito Gaston, I suppose. … The Red Sox scored 13 runs with a skeleton lineup against the Indians; Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) (hamstring), David Ortiz(notes) (neck) and Kevin Youkilis(notes) (side) all sat this one out and remain day-to-day. … Rick Ankiel(notes) will get a couple of weeks to rest his shoulder. … John Smoltz(notes) (shoulder) has been doing some long toss and might be ready for mound work on the weekend. … Anibal Sanchez(notes) worked four spotty innings before a sore shoulder knocked him to the sidelines; he'll have an MRI Friday. … Matt Capps(notes) will throw off a mound Friday and might be back for the end of the series in New York. It will be a while before he throws to Ryan Doumit(notes) (wrist); while Doumit had the stitches taken out of his wrist Wednesday, he's still 6-8 weeks away.
Handshakes: I didn't have the patience to watch Mike Gonzalez(notes) do his Rain Man bit while he pitches, but we will salute his perfect ninth at Florida. Rafael Soriano(notes), who's got the much prettier stat profile, worked a scoreless eighth. … Kevin Gregg(notes) got the final two outs for the Cubs in relief of the ineffective Chad Fox(notes), but Lou Piniella didn't wait until a save situation was present. … The Mets used Francisco Rodriguez(notes) for the fourth time in four days, and he came through again with another save (one walk, no runs). Be careful with your $37 million arm, gents. … Francisco Cordero(notes) needed just seven pitches to dust off the Brewers and collect save No. 8. … Maddon managed like it was the deciding game of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium, using lefty Brian Shouse(notes) to get Robinson Cano(notes) and Hideki Matsui(notes) in the ninth, then opting for Joe Nelson(notes) for the final out against Nick Swisher(notes). Troy Percival(notes) got the day off after working in three of the four previous games. … Joakim Soria(notes) didn't have much against the Mariners (two hits, two walks), but he was able to get the side retired on just one run and that was good enough. Keep an eye on Soria's health, and stay warm, Juan Cruz(notes). … George Sherrill(notes) is still working with the tiniest of leashes, but he did retire three of four against Minnesota en route to his fifth save. Chris Ray(notes) allowed a run in the seventh, while Jim Johnson(notes) worked a scoreless eighth.
Speed Round: Maybe I'm stretching it here but I thought Khalil Greene(notes) took some good swings in the two-game series with Pittsburgh. Take that for what it's worth. … Miguel Tejada(notes) stroked four hits Thursday, including his first homer since
dinosaurs roamed the planet last September. … Jeff Niemann(notes) didn't have a thing in his start at New York (3.1 IP, 3 , 2 R, 4 BB, 0 K); he's just begging to lose his spot in the rotation. … Kobe Bryant avoids suspension, now there's a shocker. … The Tigers are apparently desperate enough in the rotation to give Dontrelle Willis(notes) a look next week. Duck, Detroit. … The slumping Garrett Atkins(notes) got a day off, though he spent some extra time in the cage. … Alexei Ramirez(notes) was on the bench Thursday, as expected, but he should be back on the field this weekend. Jayson Nix(notes) started in his place and had a solo homer. … Take your hat off, boy, when you're talking to Mark Buehrle(notes). He worked six perfect innings against the Tigers and ultimately allowed just one hit over eight brilliant frames.
Images via Associated Press