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Closing Time: The Kelly Johnson redemption

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It's a casual Friday, straight to the bullets. We'll start with some notes from the Arizona-Philly game, then take our usual lap around the league.

Kelly Johnson's(notes) ownership level has been under 50 percent all season, but it's time to fix that. He clubbed his fourth and fifth homers of the year in Friday's victory over the Phillies and he's getting some run as the leadoff man now that Conor Jackson(notes) is on the disabled list. Johnson's washout 2009 got him off the fantasy radar but it wasn't entirely his fault – an early hand injury and poor start out of the gate got him on the outs with Bobby Cox. Keep in mind how valuable Johnson was to our fantasy pursuit in 2008 (.287-86-12-69-11) and 2007 (.276-91-16-68-9).

The only downside to Johnson's comeback story comes with the batting order – A.J. Hinch was routinely slotting Johnson in the bottom third over the first two weeks. But with Johnson getting on base at a .426 clip and showing plenty of juice in his bat, he's making a strong push to stay at the top of the lineup even when the full roster is healthy.

Cole Hamels(notes) was a fantasy tease for most of 2009 and the story continues into the new season. The Diamondbacks touched him up for six runs and four homers over six innings Friday and Hamels wound up taking a loss in the desert, outpitched by journeyman Kris Benson(notes). Hamels has a tidy 26 strikeouts against just six walks for the year, which strongly suggests he'll get the ERA in a good place soon enough, but he needs to keep the ball in the park (seven homers allowed). The apologists will point to the crazy HR:FB rate that's working against Hamels right now, but the homers he gave up Friday weren't cheap at all – the Diamondbacks hit a few rockets off him. At the end of the day we might have to accept that Hamels is merely a No. 3 fantasy starter for most mixed leagues, not the staff ace he resembled at times two years back.

Chad Qualls(notes) got what he desperately needed, an easy save chance and a clean conversion. Aaron Heilman(notes) pitched into the stat with a messy ninth against the Phillies and ultimately Qualls was summoned to get the final out (an infield grounder from Placido Polanco(notes)). Juan Gutierrez(notes) was sharp in the eighth, pitching a perfect inning and striking out one.

Make it five saves in seven days for Matt Lindstrom(notes), who's getting a lot of mileage out of his improved slider. He's got nine strikeouts on the year against zero walks. The Astros might get Sammy Gervacio(notes) back on the weekend but he's not a threat to Lindstrom right now, and Brandon Lyon(notes) certainly isn't either. Take a bow, pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

Fred Lewis(notes) went 2-for-4 with a walk at the top of the Toronto lineup and let's not forget how much fantasy cred he had at the end of 2008. He's got a shot to be a double-digit player again. Aaron Hill(notes) also got back at it for the Jays on Friday, going 1-for-4 with a homer.

Manny Ramirez(notes) (calf) officially hit the 15-day DL on Friday and unfortunately for our roto purposes, there's not a clear replacement. Garret Anderson(notes) picked up a start Friday, Reed Johnson(notes) is also in the mix, and the Dodgers called up Xavier Paul(notes) from Triple-A Albuquerque.

Ike Davis(notes) kept the buzz going Friday, clocking his first career homer, a 450-foot rocket to right-center field (collectible video here). Justin Smoak's(notes) debut in Texas wasn't as loud, but he worked the count nicely and reached base a couple of times (0-for-2, two walks).

Carl Pavano(notes) at least belongs on the spot-start radar; he pounded the strike zone at Kansas City and gave us a useful line (7 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 5 K). He's a reasonable play at Cleveland next week.

Justin Duchscherer(notes) kept pitching into trouble over his six innings Friday (five hits, four walks), but the Indians rapped into four double plays against him and never got on the scoreboard. We all know Duchscherer's 1.82 ERA isn't going to stick but so long as he keeps the grounders coming and the ball stays in the park, he's got a chance to be one of the values of the season. If I set his ERA over/under at 3.40, which way would you go?

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Tyler Clippard(notes) worked two scoreless innings against the Dodgers, striking out four, and he's turned into one of the middle-relief heroes of the early season (13.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 18 K). There's a good reason why you don't have to get too aggressive drafting non-closing relievers in most mixed leagues; guys like Clippard will emerge every season, sometimes out of thin air (albeit Clippard was quietly effective last year, too). Drew Storen(notes) is the hot closer-of-the-future name in the Washington chain, but if anything happens to Matt Capps(notes) at some point this summer, Clippard has positioned himself to get the first call. And even if Clippard never gets a shot at closing, his role should lead to some relief wins (he's already got three, and the trust of manager Jim Riggleman).

Andruw Jones(notes) had a nifty bookend night Friday, homering in the first to start the party, then closing the game with a walkoff shot in the ninth. He's now up to .293 on the year with six homers, a surprising start that no one had a reason to expect. Time for a Jones investment? Brad Evans will take take the case Saturday and put Jones under the microscope.

Speed Round: Neftali Feliz(notes) suffered a surprising blown save when the Tigers got him for three two-out hits, but the Rangers pushed a run across in the bottom of the ninth and delivered Feliz a win. … David Ortiz(notes) finally made a contribution to the season, with a homer and a walk against Baltimore. … A tidy night for the Angels bullpen, with Kevin Jepsen(notes), Fernando Rodney(notes) and Brian Fuentes(notes) each working a hitless and scoreless frame. The Halos grabbed the lead for good on Kendry Morales's(notes) blast off Joba Chamberlain(notes) in the eighth inning. … Mark Teixeira(notes) took the collar and is down to .117, but we've seen this story before. He's a great buy-low if you're lucky enough to have it available to you. … Will Venable(notes) is hitting a modest .255 but you have to like the power-speed mix (three homers, four steals), and he's also got a tasty .527 slugging percentage. Okay, he'll sit against some lefties, but this is a very ownable player, even in medium and shallow mixers. … I love the programming on MLB Network but they could do a lot better in the commentator department. I can't get away from Harold Reynolds and Mitch Williams these days. … Ryan Dempster's(notes) slider has been sharp in three of four starts, and for whatever reason he just owns the Brewers. He's a strong play against Washington next week.


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