Closing Time: The Kids Are Alright

Scott Pianowski

It won't bother us if you're having so much fun tonight that you can't get to these items until much later Saturday; just pop these nuggets in the microwave and they're good to go.

Florida's highly-regarded prospect Chris Volstad had a good-not-great profile through 15 starts at Double-A this year (3.36 ERA, 1.28 ratio, 30 walks against 56 strikeouts over 91 innings), but when the Marlins gave the 21-year-old his first major-league start Friday in Los Angeles, he certainly had our attention. The 6-7, 190-pound righty didn't disappoint, coming one out away from a complete game (8.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) and doing it all on just 87 pitches. Young pitching can break your heart, but given Volstad's pedigree (15th overall pick in 2005) and environment (friendly home stadium, strong offense to graft off), you can't help but be intrigued. Kevin Gregg got the final out for his 19th save, and no, Virginia, it didn't come on a strikeout (make it seven straight Gregg appearances without a whiff, a little troubling given his zesty strikeout rate over the last two-and-a-half seasons).

Up the coast a bit, Oakland unveiled its shiny new model, 22-year-old Sean Gallagher, the centerpiece of the Rich Harden trade. Gallagher brought his nasty stuff, working seven strong innings (2 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 7 K) and making the Angels look overmatched at times. Given the flashes Gallagher showed in his Chicago stint, I'm ready to pronounce him mixed-league worthy right now. He'll get a nice boost from the roomy park he's tied to, not to mention a batch of American League hitters that's unfamiliar with him.

It's Cliff Lee's world, we're all just living in it. The last ace standing in Cleveland worked six scoreless innings against the Rays Friday (5 H, 1 BB, 7 K), grabbing win No. 12. Lee's reputation for being a control master seems to have carried over to the umpires; I've watched him pitch a number of times this year, and I can't recall anyone getting borderline calls as often as he does. Respect goes a long way, kids. You can think about selling Lee all you want, but I'm a believer.

Ben Francisco isn't really a buzz player, but he's been Cleveland's No. 3 hitter for a while, and that's the place to be for run production. Francisco gave us a tasty 4-2-3-1 line against Tampa Bay Friday, and this is what he's done with five weeks in the catbird seat: .286 average, 20 runs, five homers, 22 RBIs. Location, location, location. This guy was less than three percent owned in Y! leagues entering the week.

A.J. Burnett picks up an extra start before the All-Star break – he'll work Sunday against the Yankees on three days of rest, taking Dustin McGowan's spot. This could be a gift and this could be a curse; normally fantasy owners welcome the extra start in a week, but the opponent is formidable and not everyone reacts well to pitching on short rest. Alex Rios won't be around this weekend to pick up Burnett – he's in Puerto Rico with his girlfriend, who just gave birth to the couple's first child.

Jake Peavy did what he does best Friday night – he worked seven dominant innings (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K), no more and no less, en route to a win over the Braves. A sign of the times: he's recorded just one out ten outs after the seventh inning over the last year and a half (only one all of 2007). Fantasy owners won't complain if Peavy keeps the bagels coming; he hasn't allowed a run over his last two starts, covering (do the math, class) 14 innings.

Arlington is a pitcher's nightmare right now, but Gavin Floyd didn't do himself any favors by giving the Rangers seven walks Friday. Throw in homers by Chris Davis and David Murphy and Floyd was in the showers before the end of the third inning (2.2 IP, 5 H, 6 R). Keep a short memory on this one, as Floyd looks like a good play back at home (2.57 ERA, 0.97 ratio) next week against Kansas City.

Roy Oswalt said his hip felt "100 percent" in the bullpen Friday but it was a different story on the mound – he worked just one inning at Washington before the pain forced him out. It remains to be seen if he'll make his next scheduled turn Friday against the Cubs; at this point a DL trip wouldn't surprise anyone. "We'll see what the doctors say," manager Cecil Cooper said.

I think Aramis Ramirez's homer just landed. Man, what a moon shot.

When Kyle Lohse can spot his curveball and throw it for strikes early in the count, he's sneaky effective. He's always had a passable but not great fastball, so it's important that he head to the mound with multiple pitches working. The Pirates made plenty of contact against Lohse Friday but nothing much came of it; just five singles and one double over seven scoreless innings. Lohse has a modest 38 strikeouts over his last 12 starts (75 innings), but he's also 8-0 over that span. (Hmm, sounds like I'll chase a win with Lohse next week and watch him get pounded by San Diego.)

Two hits and two strikeouts for Carlos Pena Friday, who's now 15-for-53 with three homers and 16 whiffs since returning two weeks ago. His keen eye hasn't deserted him – he's drawn nine walks.

Everyone forgets how great that first Pretenders CD is.

Sleepy-eyed sleeper Adam Jones got moved into the No. 2 slot Friday, and even with just one hit he filled the boxscore nicely (run, RBI, stolen base). He's up to .280 and this is a great gig if he can keep it, slotted between Brian Roberts (5-2-3-1 line Friday with two steals) and Nick Markakis.

Clay Buchholz had what I call a "Darren Dreifort start" Friday against the Orioles – plenty of stuff (six strikeouts), but spotty control and command (five walks, 107 pitches over five innings). He should get a few more chances to prove himself; Bartolo Colon's rehab, at last check, was moving at a deliberate pace (Big Noise, fill in your own joke here).

The other cleat dropped with Kelvim Escobar – he's going to have surgery on his torn labrum and is done for the year. Recovery from this type of surgery generally takes 9-12 months, so even in a keeper league, Escobar's value has bottomed out.

Not owning Josh Hamilton anywhere this season is just about killing me. The story of the year put up three hits, two RBIs and a stolen base in the win over Chicago.

Felix Hernandez took the loss in his return to action, but his start at Kansas City wasn't all that shabby (5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 8 K). Felix was outdueled by Luke Hochevar (7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 4 K), who seems to throw up a great start just when you least expect it.

Mark Reynolds was on Arizona's bench Friday, one night after a three-error jamboree that almost cost the Snakes a game (Dan Haren owners weren't too pleased). Reynolds did enter Friday's contest as a pinch-hitter, for what it's worth, reaching on a fielder's choice and stealing a base. A possible penance for the rock-pulling infielder (19 errors) over the break: three days with the Tom Emanski library.

Oliver Perez was a little wild in his Friday turn, though the end result was a marked improvement over recent starts (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 6 BB, 7 K). I didn't get a chance to see any of the start, but my New York bird dog says Perez's mechanics looked a lot tighter.

For a guy hitting just .236 with 126 strikeouts, Ryan Howard is sure getting a lot of mileage out of it (MLB-leading 28 homers, plus 84 RBIs). He went yard for the third straight night Friday (another opposite-field clout; his power to left field is unreal), extending his hitting streak to 14 games, and he's raking at a .378 clip in July. In other words, this Howard cat is still pretty good. (That concludes tonight's edition of "stating the obvious." Tune in again next week.)

This is not an injury blog, but if anyone asks: Yunel Escobar strained his left shoulder in batting practice and was a late scratch. We might not see him again this weekend … J.D. Drew (back) missed his second straight game, and Julio Lugo tweaked a quadriceps in the ninth inning and came out … Ichiro Suzuki (hamstring) got back in the lineup but went 0-for-4 … Johnny Damon (shoulder) is making good progress and might be able to hit the July 20 target … Chris Young threw another simulated game and is ready for rehab starts … Jose Guillen was a late scratch Friday; he's dealing with a knot between his neck and shoulder. Come to think of it, so am I.

Yep, Roy Halladay is awesome, and nope, I don't really have a fresh way to say that.

Some handshakes on the way out: Kerry Wood (24), George Sherrill (28), Joe Nathan (26), Billy Wagner (21), Joakim Soria (25; most unheralded stopper in majors), Eddie Guardado (2; a one-outer thanks to Warner Madrigal's mess), Trevor Hoffman (17; thanks Mike Adams), Francisco Cordero (19). And last and certainly least, there's Washington's Steve Shell, who picked up a save for three scoreless innings against Houston, even as he was protecting a 10-run lead all the while. Way to save the day, big guy. We were afraid Dan Pastorini would throw for a couple of late touchdowns.

That's all I got. Get some sleep, amigos – Rich Harden hits the Second City in about 10 hours.