Closing Time: A Marlin meltdown

Scott Pianowski

Man can't live on Fantasy Football alone - we've still got pennants to chase on the sandlots. Here's a summary of what you may have missed from Friday night:

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Kevin Gregg has been walking a tightrope for much of the summer, but the other cleat appears to have finally dropped on the Florida closer. He suffered his third blown save and fourth loss of the last two weeks in Friday's stomach-puncher against New York (Carlos Beltran's grand slam sealed the deal), a devastating loss that pushed the Marlins seven games back of the division-leading Mets. Gregg's ERA has jumped a run and a half over his last seven appearances, and you have to wonder how long the Fish will wait before they go to someone else.

A ground-ball spike has limited some of the damage for Gregg in 2008, but there are plenty of red flags at play: a strikeout dip, a walk increase, more line drives. And heck, a league-high nine blown saves speak for themselves.

Perhaps Fredi Gonzalez would have made a change a while back if he had a clear closer-in-waiting. Joe Nelson carries the stat profile of a closer in 2008, but he's also a 33-year-old journeyman with little major-league success into this season. Matt Lindstrom offers the pedigree for the position, but he's been erratic all year. Logan Kensing has a power arm but he still walks too many guys. Let's see how Gonzalez opts to spin this situation for the rest of the weekend, and be ready to possibly make a claim on Lindstrom or Nelson.

Victor Martinez made his long-awaited return to the Cleveland lineup Friday, going 1-for-3 with a walk as the No. 5 hitter. He played eight innings at first base, ultimately leaving the game for a pinch runner. Martinez is going to catch sparingly down the stretch - Eric Wedge seems set on two catching starts or less per week - so don't fret if you're tied to Kelly Shoppach and his 17 homers; Martinez will get regular work at first and as the DH. As for Victor's disappearing power this year, the club feels a hamstring injury suffered opening day played a role there, in addition to the much-discussed elbow problem.

Travis Snider has arrived in Toronto, but the Blue Jays don't want to put too much pressure on the touted 20-year-old prospect. He batted ninth in his MLB Friday in New York, going 1-for-3 with a run. I'm not going to run out and add Snider in a redraft league for 2008; while he's shown plenty of power in the minors this year (23 homers), he's also struck out a bunch (154 whiffs) and keep in mind he started the year in high A-ball. And heck, his ordinary .262 average in Double-A has to be considered here. Bright future? You bet. But this isn't a mixed-league story yet.

Nelson Cruz is in a 0-for-13 funk since his first game out of the chute (3-for-5, homer). A small sample, sure, but keep in mind the Rangers have plenty of options in the outfield, and David Murphy returns next week.

An Injury Lap (maybe two): The Red Sox say Josh Beckett's elbow injury is nothing more than inflammation, and according to the Providence Journal we might see him back in the rotation next Friday . . . Melvin Mora left Friday's game with a sore hamstring and is day-to-day . . . George Sherrill (shoulder) had some stiffness in Friday's session, so don't make any assumptions on when he'll be back. In the meantime, Jim Johnson waits patiently for that first save chance, and Adam Jones (foot) is on target for a Monday return . . . Miguel Cabrera left Friday with a strained pectoral muscle. He's day-to-day . . . Shawn Hill is headed for an elbow scope and is done for the year. He's been injury-plagued for most of his pro career . . . Justin Upton (oblique) came off the DL Friday but didn't start (get used to it, he doesn't have an everyday slot waiting for him). He wound up entering Friday's game as a pinch hitter, stroking a double . . . Julio Lugo (quad) might be back for the final week or two, but in a redraft league without heavy DL protection, this is drop-city . . . CT favorite Jody Gerut is day-to-day with a sprained finger. He's not battling Scott Hairston for playing time any longer; Hairston is done for the season with a torn thumb ligament . . . Flu-like symptoms kept Matt Joyce and Coco Crisp out of their respective lineups . . . Jeff Kent left Friday's game with a sore left knee . . .Shoulder surgery officially pulls the plug on Chuck James for 2008 . . . Fred Lewis is battling a tight thigh but was able to pinch hit Friday.

Max Scherzer Returns - he's back with the Diamondbacks, slated for a relief role. He missed a month with a sore shoulder, but his last month in Triple-A was solid enough (2.60 ERA) and those 73 strikeouts over 53 Triple-A innings get your attention. He worked a scoreless frame of middle relief against LA Friday.

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Speed Round: The Yankees have won both of Carl Pavano's starts now. I have no idea how to respond to that . . . Matt Holliday bagged a couple of stolen bases Friday and seems set on a 30-30 run. He's got 24 homers and 25 swipes on the year . . . Stop your worrying about Garrett Atkins, he knocked two out of Petco Friday . . . The desperate Dodgers gave Russell Martin a start in the leadoff spot Friday. He went 1-for-5 . . . There's been a summer's worth of Kevin Slowey love in this space, so you're on your own tonight . . . Another big night for Chris Dickerson (3-for-5, homer, four RBIs), if you need a final fit in the outfield. If it keeps this up, I'll add him to my RB cheat sheet . . . The Astros beat the rush and signed Brian Moehler and Darin Erstad for 2009; you can fill in your own snarky comment here . . . Mark Reynolds started off Friday with three strikeouts before a rally of sorts (RBI single, walk). He's in a .222 skid for the second half (with a whopping 58 strikeouts), and that puts his playing time in jeopardy down the stretch, given all the options Bob Melvin currently has at his disposal.

Other than Jesus Flores, most of the pesky Nationals did something of note for you in Friday's win over Atlanta. Admit it, this Willie Harris story has lasted much longer than you expected. Lastings Milledge (check those second-half numbers) should be owned in all mixers by now. Joel Hanrahan scored his seventh save of the year and fourth in eight days, recording the final two outs.

Handshakes: J.J. Putz (10) worked a clean ninth with two strikeouts and hasn't allowed a run in his last six appearances. He's rounding back into form . . . Carlos Marmol (7) was on his game, blowing away the Phillies for the last five outs (three strikeouts, 16 of 21 strikes). Kerry Wood, off four straight days of work, got Friday off . . . Salomon Torres (26) didn't have ideal command, but nonetheless he converted his first chance of the week, on the heels of Sunday's blown opportunity . . . Luis Ayala (3) was knocked around for four hits and two runs, but when you're working with a 3-run lead, that's good enough. The 97 percent rule doesn't lie, amigos . . . Craig Breslow (1) worked three solid innings in Oakland, helping the Twins protect that 12-2 lead that no doubt was in jeopardy . . . Francisco Rodriguez (52) picked up another save and might be near a record or something . . . Joe Girardi knows it's a desperate time for the Yanks with the playoffs slipping away, so he had Mariano Rivera get the last five outs in Friday's win over Toronto. Smart move, skipper.