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Closing Time: Henry Rodriguez, throwing it all away

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Walk of Shame (AP)

If you run into Henry Rodriguez sometime this morning, say at a Philly breakfast spot, be cordial. Offer him some juice, let him work on the crossword puzzle. Send a piece of toast his way.

But forget about the caffeine, Rodriguez. Coffee is for closers, only.

The Nationals held on for dear life in Monday's 2-1 victory at Philadelphia, with Rodriguez providing the high-wire act in the ninth (one walk, one hit, one loud out, two wild pitches). The Rocket of Randomness offered 11 erratic tosses before Davey Johnson mercifully pulled the plug. Only four of Rodriguez's pitches were strikes, and the worst four of them sailed to the backstop (two to the opening batter, and two later as the wild pitches).

Rodriguez was actually yanked in the middle of Ty Wigginton's at-bat, the type of substitution you rarely see. Johnson knew the game was getting out of hand. And it's worth noting that the Nationals first raced to the bullpen phone after Rodriguez's second pitch of the inning. It was obvious to everyone that H-Rod simply didn't have it Monday.

Lefty Sean Burnett finished off the handshake, not that he was lights-out, either (11 pitches, four strikes). Burnett picked up the second out on a sacrifice fly, then walked a batter. The game eventually ended on Placido Polanco's soft liner to second base.

Rodriguez doesn't get a blown save for his carnival act — the Phillies didn't tie the game, after all — but it's hard to trust his current profile. His ERA is up to 4.50 and he's walked 13 batters in 18 innings — that takes most of the value away from his 23 strikeouts. And Rodriguez has unleashed a ridiculous eight wild pitches thus far, tops in the majors. No reliever threw more than 14 last year (come to think of it, that was Bad Henry, too).

What's the skinny, skipper? Here's what Johnson said to MLB.com after the game.

"It's frustrating," Johnson said. "I have all the confidence in the world in [Rodriguez]. He's got great stuff. Sometimes he tries to do too much and gets a little excited out there. It's not easy. He came a long way last year and he's come a long way this year. But he's not quite there to be a polished closer."

Asked if he could continue putting himself in a position where he had to have another reliever warming up behind his closer, Johnson indicated that he couldn't.

"I'm going to sleep on it, but I'm going to look at alternatives," Johnson said. "Henry's either lights out or sometimes he's exciting. I was hoping the first four hitters we'd get a couple outs. I wanted to get by the two big right-handers on their bench [Wigginton and Luna]. But I had no choice the way it was going. I had to go get him and let [Burnett] face the right-handers. Not that he can't get right-handers out, but it wasn't what I wanted to do."

So it sounds like we're dealing with another messy bullpen committee here. The funny thing is, Johnson has plenty of viable alternatives. He doesn't have to subject himself to the nightmare we saw Monday.

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Burnett, one option of many (USP)

Burnett (0.71 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) has been a little wild against righties, but they're only hitting .174 against him. Lefties, no problem (no walks, eight whiffs). Craig Stammen (1.44/0.92, 5 BB, 27 K) has flashy numbers, and Tyler Clippard (3.32/1.21) has been good, not great, as the eighth-inning bridge. Any of these guys would look like vintage Dennis Eckersley compared to the Roddy Horror Show.

Then again, you can see why any of these arms could be passed over. Burnett has to deal with the anti-closing bias against lefties. Stammen has been super in a heavy-inning role, which could discourage the Nats from moving him to a single-inning job. Clippard has been the dedicated eight-inning bridge for a while, where Johnson likes him. But something needs to be done. The Nats are a winning ballclub, man; they can't live like this.

And to make things as complicated as possible, Washington has two closing candidates on the DL. Brad Lidge (hernia surgery) will attempt a bullpen session this week, and he's hoping to return at some point in mid-June. Drew Storen (elbow) is coming back from elbow surgery and the last timetable discussed was mid-July.

Place your bets, save chasers. Your 8-ball is as good as mine. This could be a matchup thing for a while, or maybe Johnson will let the next successful ninth-inning reliever have a go at keeping the job. All I know is this: I don't want Rodriguez on any of my teams. His goose appears cooked.

Here's a new nickname for Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz: Even Steven. After his latest mess of a turn (5.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 2 K), the struggling right-hander has 27 walks against 27 strikeouts for the year. That doesn't cut it in The Show, kid. (I know, Derek Lowe fans, I know. That correction is coming soon.)

What's keeping the Red Sox from sending Buchholz to the minors for a tune-up? The Triple-A affiliate is less than an hour away, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; Buchholz could still keep his regular tee-times with Josh Beckett. Is the club afraid of ticking off Buchholz, who has a reputation of being petulant and uncoachable? Does Bobby Valentine see a silver lining in the Buchholz bashings?

The ridiculous part of Buchholz's season is that he's 4-2, fortuitously backed by the best run support in the majors (teammate Felix Doubront is second; poor Ervin Santana is last, followed by Cliff Lee). Buchholz didn't take a decision Monday and the Red Sox won anyway; Boston is 5-4 in his starts. Maybe that's how a 7.84 ERA and 1.91 WHIP keeps you in the rotation. I don't understand it. (But I didn't invent the sandwich wrap, so what do I know?)

I wouldn't even bother with the ongoing Buchholz story if his ownership level would straighten out. Why is he still owned in 36 percent of Yahoo! leagues? We're in the middle of a pitching boom, amigos, and Buchholz (as I've said ad nauseam) plays in the most jagged division in the majors. We're at the quarter pole now; it's time to accept the reality of the new season. You can do better, and you need to do better. Get on the wire.

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No. 4, dialing eight (USP)

What's keeping so many people off the Jed Lowrie story? When will everyone accept that it's not about the name brands, it's about the numbers?

Lowrie had three hits in Monday's romp over Chicago, including his third homer in five games. He also swiped a base. He's now rocking a .288/.365/.492 slash for the year, and he qualifies at both shortstop and third base. He's only owned in 44 percent of Yahoo! leagues, for some reason.

Perhaps Lowrie's address — he plays for an ordinary Houston club — is being held against him. Maybe some owners are leery about Lowrie's injury background. That's a legitimate concern, but let's take these numbers while we can. Since Lowrie came off the DL in the second week of April, he's the No. 10 fantasy shortstop in overall value: ahead of buzzier names like Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes and Dee Gordon. And he'll pass Emilio Bonifacio (injured) soon enough.

If Lowrie can somehow duck the injury bug for the balance of 2012, we're looking at 20-homer potential with a plus average and some bags thrown in. And he's a .960 OPS monster at home. Find some room on your roster, even in shallower formats.

The National League pitcher I had to give up on recently is Atlanta's Mike Minor. You see that tidy strikeout/walk ratio (48 whiffs, 19 walks) and you want to buy in, but at some point you have to hold gopheritis against a pitcher. Throw too many meatballs and a few are going to wind up in the seats.

The Reds knocked four Minor pitches into the crowd Monday night, including three in a row at one point. Even Mike Leake, the opposing pitcher, got in on the act. That makes 14 homers Minor has allowed over his last five games. You can call it unlucky or unsustainable all you want; I call it unforgivable in a mixed league. Show me the last time this happened to Roy Halladay or Clayton Kershaw. Minor's significantly over-owned at 26 percent; if you can't find a better option, you're not looking hard enough.

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King Felipe (USP)

Whatever Felipe Paulino is having for breakfast these days, pour me a bowl of it, too. Paulino used to be the poster child of a high-strikeout arm that couldn't quite command well enough, but he's been on-point through four superb starts for the Royals this year (1.42 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 29 Ks against 7 BB). And Paulino's list of opponents adds to the validation: he's faced the Yankees twice (Monday's win was at The Stadium), in addition to Baltimore and Chicago.

Here's the scouting tape, you tell me what you see. The Orioles get another crack at Totally Paulino this weekend, this time in Baltimore. Feel like buying in? Paulino is there for the taking in 93 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Some of the expected luck stats apply to this hot stretch (which is to be expected with any outlier ERA or batting average); Paulino's HR/FB rate is low, and his strand rate is at an unsustainable 90 percent. The BABIP sits at .318, so that's not part of the story. But we're talking about a live arm who many scouts have been intrigued with for a while; it was just a matter of harnessing the stuff. Perhaps Paulino is finally doing that.

Speed Round: The soft rock keeps playing for Tommy Milone, at least when he's by the bay (0.60 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, four wins). He had no real trouble with the Angels on Monday, allowing one run through seven innings. But he's been Mayday Milone on the road: 7.16/1.52, getting hit by the Red Sox, Rays and Rangers. His next turn is at home against the Yankees, an assignment I think he can survive . . . Aroldis Chapman was pulled over for driving 93 mph (must have been a slow gun), and was later found to be operating on a suspended license. Poor judgment, obviously, but it's doubtful the Reds will do much more than slap him on the wrist (if they even go that far) . . . Yu Darvish has just one fear through one-quarter of MLB action: the pitchforks of Seattle. He'll return home on the weekend, up against Toronto . . . You can say almost anything you want with arbitrary endpoints, but stick with me for a second. Alfredo Aceves has really turned his season around. Since the nightmare outing against New York on April 21, this is what the Boston closer has done: 17.1 IP, 5 BB, 18 K, 1.04 ERA, eight saves. That works in any format . . . Open-minded skipper Mike Matheny brought Jason Motte into an eighth-inning jam against San Diego, and while Motte made one bad pitch and immediately suffered a blown save (Jesus Guzman roped a double, scoring the inherited runners), Motte wound up with a victory soon thereafter. Tyler Greene put St. Louis ahead with a two-run homer, running into an Andrew Cashner fastball, and Motte then worked an easy 1-2-3 ninth. Kudos to Matheny for being willing to go against convention; he's not the first manager to ask his closer to work before the ninth, but it's increasingly rare these days . . . LA skipper Don Mattingly must be feeling pretty powerful these days: check out the sketchy lineup he dialed up Monday at Arizona. The nameless and faceless Dodgers took the opener of the series, 6-1, pushing their MLB-best record up to 29-13. Retro star Chris Capuano is a blast to watch, a crafty left-hander who can miss bats despite a fastball in the 80s. Yahoo! Nation has been on this story for a while, pushing Capuano's ownership level up to 78 percent. Hat tip to you, gamers.

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