Closing Time: JJ is OK in FLA

Scott Pianowski

A lot happens over the course of a weekend, so we'll keep the clicker handy and be sure to hit every park with all the news that's fit to blog.

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Josh Johnson is just 12 months removed from Tommy John surgery, so it's foolish to expect miracles now, but he's been solid (if not outstanding) in his return. His fifth start Sunday at New York was his deepest work yet (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K). It will be interesting to see how he does with the Cubs next week (NL's top offense), but in deeper mixed groups, Johnson belongs in the circle of trust right now. He's hitting the mid-90s on his heater, and he's also lost 30 pounds since last summer's surgery. Johnson 2.0 eventually should surpass the original version; we're looking at a No. 1 here.

Kosuke Fukudome, part-time player? It might get to that point soon; he's in a .217 funk over the last six weeks, and he's homered once since July 4. "We need him to start hitting," Lou Piniella told the team's official site before Sunday's win over the Cardinals (Fukudome went 0-for-4). "If not, I'm going to have to start looking for other options."

Reed Johnson and Mike Fontenot aren't really mixed-league worthy, but both are over .400 since the break and could steal time from Fukudome. "We've got a couple of guys here that are swinging the bats," Piniella said. "Sooner or later, I've got to give them opportunities."

Forget the novelty factor with Rocco Baldelli's return, the Rays need this guy to play immediately now that Carl Crawford is on the DL. Crawford has a subluxation of his right middle finger tendon (sounds pretty bad, doesn't it?) and the club isn't sure if he'll play again this year. Baldelli had an RBI single and a diving catch in his first game back Sunday, batting fourth in the lineup. The fan in me would love to see Baldelli do something notable out the door in 2008; the skeptic in me can't get past that lengthy injury list.

A "sluggish" shoulder kept Brad Lidge out the last two games, allowing the Phillies to showcase their amazing bullpen depth; Ryan Madson closed out Pittsburgh Sunday, while Chad Durbin got the call Saturday. The Phillies think Lidge should be able to go Monday against the Dodgers.

Joey Devine struck out three of the four Tigers he faced Sunday (non-critical spot), a pretty good sign that he's over the elbow problems that kept him out two months. As much as I've celebrated the Brad Ziegler story (and it's a heck of a story), Devine is the most intriguing sleeper in this bullpen from a keeper-league standpoint. As for Huston Street, I can't see how anyone can trust this guy right now, be it fantasy owners or Bob Geren. Street had another blowup at Detroit, allowing three runs in a messy inning of middle relief.

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I accepted the 2008 Cliff Lee reality early on, and I'll keep riding the train, but keep an eye on those low strikeout returns of late (just eight over his last 20 innings, including a mere one in his Sunday win at Toronto). That said, he's also given up just 22 walks and seven homers over 161.2 innings, and that goes a long way toward explaining his success.

Jonathan Broxton wasn't going to pitch for a fourth straight day, so it was Hong-Chih Kuo's turn to close (and blow a save) Sunday at San Francisco. Kuo deserved a better fate, as an infield gaffe and a cheesy infield hit led to the two unearned runs the Giants scratched across. Broxton will be ready to close if needed Monday against Philadelphia, but Chan Ho Park might not be available for set-up duty.

The optimistic hope for Billy Wagner's return is a week from Monday; in the meantime, Aaron Heilman looks to prove that closing aint' that hard to do, provided you get that multiple-run lead. Your personal desperation in the saves category makes the call on Heilman.

Lastings Milledge continues to justify our love, homering at Milwaukee Sunday ( Seth Rogen Eric Gagne served up a pair in the eighth inning; I'm recycling's BeFun's joke for anyone who missed it last time). The Nasty Nat is on a 17-for-41 binge this month, with five homers and a couple of bags.

Speed Round: Aaron Harang was hammered by the Astros in his Sunday return (4 IP, 8 R, 3 HR), a good reminder that most pitchers need a warm up start fresh off the DL. Even when you fall into a sharp outing in these spots, it's often a limited appearance . . . The Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton slumps came to an end against Baltimore's staff, namely Chris Waters (so much for the fluke turn at Anaheim; his Triple-A form returned in a hurry). The teams combined for 34 hits and 22 runs in this one, so hopefully you had some live guys here (apologies to Markakis Nation) . . . Tyler Yates (1 IP, 3 R) and Craig Hansen (1 IP, 1 R, 3 BB, 35 pitches) both took a step back in the Pittsburgh committee Sunday. Stay loose, John Grabow . . . Joel Hanrahan blew a save at Milwaukee but we'll cut him some slack; he was working in the eighth and inheriting Saul Rivera's mess, and none of the three runs were charged to Hanrahan (a Mike Rivera double cleared the bases) . . . An 8-for-12 run (with two homers and two steals) got Jacoby Ellsbury returned to the leadoff spot Sunday. Alas, he went 0-for-4, though he did snag base No. 38 . . . Ian Kennedy is back in the minors, so forward your fan mail accordingly.

The Twins played a one-run, 12-inning game in Kansas City and never got their rested closer, Joe Nathan, to the mound. Oops, I forgot the silent league mandate that you must manage by the save rule. Never mind.

An Injury Lap, because Eric Mangini said so: Chris Carpenter left Sunday's turn in the sixth inning with a strained right triceps; at least it's away from the surgically-repaired elbow, but I can't see how weekly players can use Carpenter for the next period . . . Ryan Braun still has discomfort in his ribcage and back, and could miss a few more games . . . It's a cruel game, Carlos Lee owners (broken finger, out 6-8 weeks - in other words, the season). Ty Wigginton might see some time in left field . . . Scott Olsen turned his right ankle during Saturday's start and his status for this week is in doubt . . . Milton Bradley (quad) got back in the lineup as the Texas DH, but a stomach virus took him out in the fourth . . . Jose Contreras ruptured his Achilles tendon Saturday and figures to be out nine months . . . Orlando Hudson (wrist) is done for the year, which slots the unmixable Augie Ojeda into the Snakes lineup . . . Tim Wakefield heads to the DL with a sore shoulder; even knuckleballers get the blues . . . Kerry Wood (back) had a clean inning Sunday and should be ready for ninth-inning work next week . . . Michael Young (finger) got back on the field Sunday but had to settle for a 1-for-5 day. He's just 10-for-53 since the injury cropped up . . . Hideki Matsui (knee) might start a rehab assignment this week. I'm not expecting any miracles here . . . The Blue Jays got Vernon Wells back Sunday, but Scott Rolen (shoulder) is ticketed for the DL.

Livan Hernandez in Coors Field? Hope you did some San Diego streaming, as we suggested. The human batting tee allowed seven hits and nine runs in his Rocky Mountain Revival Sunday; the widely-available Jody Gerut hit one of the two homers served up. Heck, I bet the Nationals get on Livan Friday, even at a normal altitude.

Four home teams won in their last at-bat Sunday, and that keeps the handshake-count down. But we'll give a fist pump to Fernando Rodney (3, and I still don't trust him) and Bobby Jenks (24) before we close up shop. Heads up on those Monday lineups, the NL has a couple of matinees on tap (Pirates-Mets, Nats-Brewers).