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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Grab a bat, Dontrelle's back

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If you have something positive to say about Dontrelle Willis's(notes) return at Minnesota (4.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 0 K), you're a kinder man than I am. If you can't miss a few bats in The Show, especially in the hitter's league, it's going to get ugly sooner or later; I don't care if you're in an AL Central-only league, there's no reason to get invested in this story. You're going to hear positive spin doctoring from the Tigers on this return, and I advise you to ignore every last bit of it. I'm going to use as many Rangers as I can next week against Willis, assuming he makes the Tuesday turn as scheduled.

The Detroit bullpen didn't fare much better; five men followed Willis and only Fernando Rodney(notes) escaped unscathed. The Twins eventually ended the back-and-forth slugfest in the 13th inning when Joe Crede(notes) slugged a walk-off grand slam against beleaguered Brandon Lyon(notes).

You should know the story of the knuckleball by now; it's a honey of a pitch when it's dipping and darting, but when the pixie dust doesn't show up, it's basically batting practice for the other guys. Tim Wakefield(notes) faced the latter situation in the OC Wednesday night and the Angels didn't show any mercy, teeing off for 11 hits and seven runs; underrated stars Torii Hunter(notes) and Mike Napoli(notes) went deep.

Surprising Matt Palmer(notes) earned his fourth straight victory on the other side; the Sox got four hits and four runs off him over the first two innings, then nothing for the rest of the night. Palmer had a mediocre eight strikeouts against eight walks entering the night, but he had better stuff working on Wednesday (two walks, eight punchouts). It's likely that he'll lose a starting spot with Ervin Santana(notes) and John Lackey(notes) ready to return to the Angels rotation, but he's at least given Mike Scioscia something to think about.

Cliff Lee(notes) had a lot of fantasy owners in a panic about a month ago; he basically tossed the ball underhand during spring training, and he came out of the gate with a couple of messy turns at Texas and against Toronto. He's rallied nicely since then, posting six consecutive quality starts including Wednesday's matinee gem against the White Sox (7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K). The pinpoint control that Lee showed in his Cy Young year appears to be back, and he's getting plenty of reputation calls from the men in blue these days. Don't be surprised if he winds up keeping most of last year's dynamic haul.

Another collar for Dan Uggla(notes), who's down to .186 and has one measly extra-base hit this month. It's easy to point the finger at his 30 strikeouts and suggest that he's getting himself out, but don't forget about those 17 walks. Fredi Gonzalez has been defending Uggla in public, but it might be time for the struggling second sacker to get a couple of days off, to clear his head as much as anything else.

The surprising Reds (20-14) continue to hum along, banging out 10 runs and 14 hits at Arizona. Sizzling table-setters Willy Taveras(notes) (6-2-3-0, SB) and Junior Hairston (5-2-3-1, SB) led the way, as they have for most of the month; it will be interesting to see what happens to Hairston when Alex Gonzalez is ready to play again. Johnny Cueto(notes) wasn't dominant per se - he only struck out four and he allowed a couple of homers - but nonetheless he cruised to his fourth win in five starts, and he's allowed just six runs over his six turns.

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The Snakes are obviously looking for a spark of their own, which is why they recalled 22-year-old outfielder Geraldo Parra from Double-A and plugged him right into the lineup, starting in center and batting second. He finished the night 1-for-4, clubbing one of the homers off of Cueto. Parra had a tasty .361/.469/.491 line at Mobile through 29 games, and he's been aggressive on the bases, albeit not that successful (7-for-11 this year, 16-for-25 last season). Chris Young was the odd man out Wednesday.

B.J. Upton(notes) rapped out three hits and only struck out once in his six at-bats at Baltimore. I thought he swung the bat fairly well in the Boston series, as well; buy low if it's still available to you. Running mate Jason Bartlett(notes) continues with this "little engine that could" act, swiping his ninth base and clouting his fifth homer. He's at .369 on the year.

Not an Injury Blog: Stephen Drew(notes) (hamstring) returned to the starting lineup and went 1-for-4 with a strikeout . . . Another outfielder is down in St. Louis, as Ryan Ludwick(notes) (hamstring) joined Rick Ankiel(notes) on the disabled list. Good news if you own Colby Rasmus(notes), I suppose. Good luck seeing a strike, Mr. Pujols . . . Joey Votto(notes) (dizziness) sat out Wednesday, as expected . . . Brian Bannister(notes) worked 5.2 ordinary innings at Oakland, then left with a stiff shoulder . . . Adam Jones(notes) grabbed two more hits before a sore hamstring knocked him out of the game . . . Carl Crawford(notes) dinged his shoulder making a fancy catch in the outfield, but he downplayed the significance of the injury after the game . . . Travis Hafner(notes) (shoulder) is expected to start a rehab assignment Friday . . . A headache kept J.J. Hardy(notes) out of the lineup against Florida.

Handshakes: Mike Gonzalez(notes) was a little lucky en route to his sixth save; Jose Reyes swatted a leadoff double that missed being a home run by less than a foot . . . Joe Beimel(notes) retired just one of three men in the eight and then yielded to Kip Wells(notes) for a working-man's save (five outs). Wells allowed a couple of hits and a run himself, but a win's a win . . . Troy Percival(notes) completely blew up (four runs, one out) in the "inning of work" that closers often see; his mess enabled J.P. Howell(notes) to come in, clean up, and get a rogue save at Baltimore. Dan Wheeler(notes) and Brian Shouse(notes) both worked a scoreless inning earlier in the night . . . Maybe Manuel Corpas(notes) has turned the corner; he threw another perfect inning Wednesday (in a low-leverage spot) and hasn't allowed a run over his last four appearances. That said, Huston Street(notes) has been super since he got the ninth inning back and the leash should be lengthy at the moment.

Brandon Morrow(notes) stepped to the Arlington mound with command problems and a straight fastball, and that's not going to get the job done; the Rangers quickly pushed across two runs in the bottom of the tenth and made a winner out of C.J. Wilson(notes) (two innings, one unearned run) . . . Merry Christmas to the fantasy owners that benefited from Carlos Marmol's(notes) rogue save. He barely got out of his one rocky inning of work (2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 0 K), but his reward was a surprise save when the game was called after eight innings due to rain. Trevor Hoffman(notes) needed just eight pitches to put down the Marlins 1-2-3, en route to save No. 7. The Marlins got 4.1 innings of scoreless relief on the other side, but it wasn't enough to offset another poor start from the maddening Ricky Nolasco(notes) (3.2 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 2 BB, 3 K). If you've got a good theory on Nolasco's struggles, I'd love to hear all about it in the comments . . . Matt Capps(notes) still doesn't look all the way back to me, but he retired two of three men against St. Louis and grabbed save No. 6.

Speed Round: Everyone knows San Diego's Chris Young can't hold runners on base to save his life, but the Cubs preferred to clobber him with long balls Wednesday night. Newly-minted slugger Ryan Theriot(notes) hit a pair, and Chicago also got homers from Alfonso Soriano(notes) and Geovany Soto(notes) (welcome to the season, son) . . . Fernando Tatis(notes) and Gary Sheffield(notes) both homered for the Mets Wednesday, not the news Daniel Murphy(notes) owners want to see. The New York pitchers probably are pining for the days of Endy Chavez(notes) in left field, however; Sheffield and Murphy both look lost in the field . . . Another useful line from Ross Ohlendorf(notes) (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K), who's looking someone you can roll with in deeper mixed groups . . . Another two-hit game for Emilio Bonifacio(notes), who's been coincidentally productive since Chris Coghlan(notes) joined the club this weekend. Coghlan batted behind Bonifacio in the lineup Wednesday and went 1-for-4 with a three-run homer . . . Adrian Gonzalez(notes) whacked a couple of homers in Wrigleyville, giving him 13 on the year. To no one's surprise, 10 have come on the road.

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Photos via US Presswire

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