Closing Time: Free passes for Pujols

Scott Pianowski
July 3, 2009
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No doubt fireworks are on the way with the holiday weekend upon us, but there weren't a lot of explosions from the Thursday activity on the sandlots. Here's a peek at the notes I collected.

Given how Albert Pujols(notes) has ripped through the National League over the decade, he's been walked less than you might suspect. Last year was the first time he collected more than 100 free passes (including 34 intentional walks), though he's going to sail past those numbers this year, sitting at 64 walks with 28 intentional. The Giants shifted their strategy after Pujols homered twice on Tuesday – Sir Albert received four intentional passes over the final two games of the series, including one in the first inning of Wednesday's game. Ryan Ludwick(notes) stands to benefit if Pujols starts receiving the "Bonds treatment" – he drove in three runs over the past two games, and has started to take some better cuts this week.

Pittsburgh outfielder Garrett Jones(notes) has spent most of this decade in the minors and his prospect status expired a while ago (he just turned 28), but that doesn't mean we can discount him out of hand. He was in the midst of a solid campaign (.307, 12 homers, 14 steals) before the Pirates recalled him Wednesday, and Jones made an impact in his second start, collecting three extra-base hits (double, triple, homer) against the Mets. Jones batted third in his Pittsburgh debut and fifth Thursday, for what it's worth. You could make a worse spec play in deeper mixed groups.

John Lackey(notes) was excellent for the third time in four starts Thursday (8 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K) and he's probably someone I priced too low on the current Shuffle Up and Deal dollar values. He's gone at least seven innings in all but one of his last eight starts; when Lackey is right, this is a horse who gives you a chance to win every five days. He's going to allow his share of fly balls and homers, sure, but with his strikeout rate rallying back of late (31 over his last 30 innings), there's no reason to be paranoid here. Lackey should miss enough bats to be successful.

The Diamondbacks played their usual game at Cincinnati Thursday – Mark Reynolds(notes) homered, Stephen Drew(notes) went hitless, and the Snakes lost. Doug Davis(notes) also followed his personal script to the season (pitching well with no win), allowing just one run over seven innings despite a whopping 11 baserunners. It would be nice if fantasy owners could sell high on Davis's 3.15 ERA (his FIP is in the mid-4s), but good luck finding someone who actually believes in this journeyman. His next start comes at home against San Diego.

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Derrek Lee(notes) didn't hit a lick in April but he's been mashing ever since – .326, 13 homers, 38 RBIs. He knocked two balls over the ivy and drive in seven as the Cubs cruised pass Milwaukee Thursday night. Alfonso Soriano(notes) once again was a healthy scratch; Sam Fuld(notes) lead off and went 2-for-4 with a walk (the same line as Wednesday night).

Mark Buehrle(notes) had the Royals off balance all night Thursday, taking a shutout into the ninth despite just one strikeout. The hosts eventually got a run on David DeJesus's(notes) bloop double, setting up a cheap save for Bobby Jenks(notes). Mark Teahen(notes), who's owned Buehrle through the years, had two of Kansas City's six hits. Buehrle's next turn is a home start against scuffling Cleveland.

Trey Hillman says that Miguel Olivo(notes) will keep his regular at-bats even when John Buck(notes) is ready to play again. Olivo's 12 homers in 190 at-bats get your attention, but he's walked just twice all year and it's unlikely he'll be hitting .258 very much longer. How badly do you need some pop at the position?

Tim Redding(notes) was hammered yet again for the Mets Thursday (2.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R), pushing his ERA to 6.99 and his WHIP to 1.57. How many starts is New York going to waste on this guy? He's already toed the rubber nine times, and the Mets are just 3-6 in those games (albeit they rallied to win at Pittsburgh Thursday). You're a big market club, New York – figure something out.

Speed Round: Alex Gordon(notes) (hip) has hit Triple-A in his rehab work and should be back in the majors after the All-Star break. … Nate McLouth(notes) (hamstring) took BP and did some running Thursday but Bobby Cox nonetheless kept him out of the lineup. Yunel Escobar(notes) (hip) was able to go, however; he went 1-for-3, batting fifth. … Jimmy Rollins(notes) had a pair of singles at Atlanta, snapping his 0-for-28 skid. … Alexei Ramirez(notes) (finger) missed another game, while Jayson Nix(notes) homered in his absence. Ramirez says the injury only bothers him when he's throwing the ball, and it looks like he'll probably go Friday. … Todd Wellemeyer(notes) held the Giants down with a strong turn (7.1 IP, 2 R) and probably saved his rotation spot in the process. … A swarm of bees delayed the Astros and Padres for 52 minutes Thursday. Don't blame this one on Biggio and Bagwell – the game was played in San Diego. The Astros quieted the Kevin Correia(notes) buzz when order was restored, knocking him around for eight hits and six runs. … Is Ichiro(notes) Suzuki going to give Joe Mauer(notes) a run for his money? Ichiro hit .407 in June and he collected two more hits at Yankee Stadium Thursday, along with his 17th stolen base. Russell Branyan added his 20th homer in the top of the ninth, counterfeiting David Aardsma's(notes) save chance. … Jorge Posada(notes) had a minor thumb injury and was rested Thursday. … Joey Votto(notes) has been unstoppable since returning to the Reds, and he had four hits in Thursday's win, including the walk-off hit in the bottom of the tenth. It would be nice if Dusty Baker would wise up to Ryan Hanigan's(notes) professional bat; the good-looking catcher got a start and went 3-for-3, upping his average to .336. … Scratch Raul Ibanez(notes) (groin) and Mark DeRosa(notes) (wrist) from your weekend plans; neither player will be able to go until next week at the earliest. Ibanez's rehab assignment, twice pushed back, is now scheduled to begin Friday. … Bobby Abreu has three homers over the last eight games (including two Thursday) after hitting just three in his first 63 starts. With or without the power, he's still a useful fantasy player because the eyes (45 walks) and wheels (17-for-20 on steals) are intact.