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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: The (likely) end of the Kevin Gregg era

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Lou Piniella has mellowed by all accounts in his later years, and he's been incredibly patient with closer Kevin Gregg(notes) this season. But the last straw may have fallen Monday night in San Diego; Gregg keeps handing games away and the reeling Cubs can't stand for it any longer (those faces in the dugout say it all).

Gregg's latest collapse came against the NL's worst offense in the league's friendliest pitcher park. Gregg only had a one-run lead to work with but took a walk of shame after handing out a four-spot, capped by Kyle Blanks's walkoff clout to left-center field. Gregg now has six blown saves on the year (and five losses), he's struggled with control all season, and he's served up 12 homers (six this month), unacceptable for anyone who's asked to pitch in so many high-leverage situations.

"I think we're going to make some changes as far as what we're going to do in late innings," Piniella told Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. "We'll have some word [Tuesday]."

The solution going forward isn't as simple as fantasy owners would like. Carlos Marmol(notes), for all his electric stuff, hasn't been the shutdown reliever we all expected this year. Sure, his 3.56 ERA and .165 BAA make a strong case, but he's also walking a batter per inning, the type of thing that gives any manager an ulcer. It wouldn't be a shock if Piniella decided to mix-and-match with Marmol, righty Angel Guzman(notes) and lefty John Grabow(notes) going forward as opposed to just handing the gig to the exciting but erratic Marmol. I'd still make a Marmol grab for now if you have just one card to play, but until Piniella makes a public declaration Tuesday, it's a guessing game for all of us.

Francisco Liriano(notes) was tagged for seven runs in two messy Arlington innings but it's hard to come down on him too sharply; he's trying to pitch through an injury and it just isn't working. The Twins put him on the disabled list after the game, citing left arm fatigue. At this point there's probably a good chance Liriano, and his 5.80 ERA, won't be back on the mound this season.

John Smoltz(notes) has finally been given his official release from the Red Sox; he's free to sign with any club. Smoltz was a bit of a tease in his eight starts with Boston; while he had 33 strikeouts against nine walks over his 40 innings and his velocity was decent, he was hammered by left-handed batters (.444 average, six homers). For Smoltz to have any fantasy value he probably needs to go to a National league club and a specialist role out of the bullpen would also make sense, though the veteran righty balked at the latter idea when the Red Sox suggested it.

Matt Diaz(notes) should be in line for regular at-bats now that Nate McLouth(notes) (hamstring) is on the DL; Ryan Church(notes) shifts to right field. Diaz went 0-for-2 with a run scored and a walk Monday. I knew McLouth's condition had to be on the downswing when wheeler-dealer Craig Falzone offered him to me in trade over the weekend (for the low, low price of Ian Kinsler(notes), Fonzie was willing to part with McLouth and the slumping Brad Lidge(notes). I said no, thanks.)

Handshakes: The Ryan Franklin(notes) reinvention tour keeps humming along; he got the final two outs in Chavez Ravine for his 30th save, and thatr 1.16 ERA is just ridiculous. … The late San Diego rally pushed Heath Bell(notes) into a victory; he worked the top of the ninth with the Pads down 1-0. … It's no shock that the Yankees didn't score against Oakland's excellent bullpen (with Andrew Bailey(notes) at the end), but how did Brett Tomko(notes) escape with five scoreless innings? … No strikeouts for Neftali Feliz(notes) Monday but there's nothing wrong with retiring four of five men. Frank Francisco(notes) came on later for the ninth and had his good stuff, striking out two in a perfect inning. … Bobby Jenks(notes) pounded the strike zone and got a perfect inning on just eight pitches. … The Orioles were kind enough to put up a late rally against the Angels, paving the way for Brian Fuentes(notes) to get a one-out save. … Jonathan Broxton(notes) finally worked a scoreless inning, punching out two of the four Cardinals he faced in a scoreless ninth. It was just an inning of work for Broxy, not a save situation, but it's an encouraging sign nonetheless. … Matt Capps(notes) also got the job done without a save on the line, working a perfect inning as the Pirates wrapped a four-run victory over Milwaukee. A needed step forward, given how Capps pitched in his two previous outings.

Speed Round: The Nats and Stephen Strasburg got their deal done in time, a record-setting four-year, $15.67 million package. You have to figure he'll get a good chance to make the club out of spring training next year. … Mark Reynolds(notes) homered again (No. 38) but it couldn't help the hapless Snakes as they fell to Tommy Hanson(notes) and Atlanta. Back to Reynolds, I haven't seen a performance this dominant go wasted since Peppermint Patty tied in vain to help Charlie Brown's baseball team. … Kinsler, for what it's worth, was back in the leadoff slot Monday after batting sixth in his first two games off the DL. He went 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs. … Vladimir Guerrero(notes) is finally back in the swing of things; he hit two out at Camden Yards, giving him six homers in his last 39 at-bats. … Ryan Theriot(notes) (flu) is expected to rejoin the Cubs Tuesday. … Torii Hunter(notes) was given the night off after playing 13 innings Sunday . . . Justin Morneau(notes) battled dizziness in the Texas heat and left the game in the fourth inning.

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