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Closing Time: Mike Gonzalez, closer on the brink

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When you sign a two-year, $12 million deal to be a closer, there's an automatic leash that comes with the package. But if Mike Gonzalez(notes) can't find his form soon, winter smiles and promises aren't going to mean a thing.

Gonzalez turned in his third messy outing in five days Friday night, allowing two runs in the ninth as the Blue Jays rallied to beat the Orioles. Gonzalez couldn't find the strike zone (just nine strikes over 19 pitches), his velocity was down (this was a problem all spring), and his command was spotty. The O's don't want to make a hasty, knee-jerk change to their bullpen order, but one or two more stomach-punch losses in April could force Dave Trembley's hand. (If you want to see the critical hit, a double by Travis Snider(notes), your video is here.)

"Obviously, Gonzalez isn't off to the start that he wants or that we expected," Trembley said after the loss. "You live with it. It doesn't sit with you real good, but that's all I can tell you."

Jim Johnson(notes) worked a perfect eighth inning in front of Gonzalez on Friday, with two strikeouts. He was mediocre as the stopper after the O's traded George Sherrill(notes) last summer, but anytime you're hedging against a closer on the brink, you look at the eighth-inning man first. Johnson doesn't come close to the strikeout potential Gonzalez has at his best, but Johnson gets a lot more ground balls and has far better control.

How you choose to play the Gonzalez-Johnson situation depends on the scope of your league. In the shallowest of groups, you can just wait for things to play out, then make a move if and when a switch is announced. In medium groups you have to consider being proactive with a possible move now, and in deeper leagues, Johnson surely is long gone, either from March's draft or from a pickup earlier this week. One size never fits all in this game. We'll toss this around in the comments, get through this together.

Home runs were all but illegal for the Mets during home games last year but the New Yorkers got off to a nice push Friday, cranking four out of the yard in a victory over the Nationals. Jeff Francoeur(notes) and Rod Barajas(notes) both connected twice, and David Wright(notes) would have joined the parade had they been playing in a smaller park (his double in the seventh just missed clearing the left-field wall). Mike Pelfrey(notes) was solid if unspectacular in his first turn of the year (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 4 K) and a trio of relievers backed him up with three scoreless innings. If the Mets could just get Mike Jacobs(notes) out of the lineup somehow, things would be groovy.

Adam Dunn(notes) faced an exaggerated shift in New York, as usual, which makes you wonder why he doesn't lay down a bunt now and again. Drop anything down the third base line and Dunn could walk to first base, and after a few of these cheap hits teams might go back to defending him in a more conventional manner. Ian Desmond(notes) had a two-run triple to produce the Washington runs; I really hope the Nats aren't going to jerk him in and out of the lineup all year. Let your young players develop, already.

Jorge De La Rosa(notes) is already owned in three-quarters of the Yahoo! universe, but this is a guy who deserves to be 100 percent bankrolled. He finally got control of his awesome arsenal over the final two-thirds of 2009, he looked great in spring training, and the Padres didn't have a prayer against him Friday (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K). Have a look at some nasty pitching here.

The modern manager's handbook probably cost the Red Sox a shot at a win Friday in Kansas City; Jonathan Papelbon(notes) sat in the bullpen waiting for the "ninth inning save chance" while Hideki Okajima(notes) and Daniel Bard(notes) lost the game in the eighth inning against the heart of the Royals lineup. I'm not picking on Terry Francona, he's merely doing what just about everyone does these days: manage by the save rule. If I had a professional ballclub, my ace reliever would pitch when the situation was most critical, stats be damned.

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Magglio Ordonez(notes) earned a controversial contract vesting with his hot finish in 2009 and he's kept things rolling in the first week of the new year (9-for-18, two doubles, homer). Batting third in an American League lineup, slotted between Johnny Damon(notes) and Miguel Cabrera(notes), sure, this could work out.

Trevor Hoffman(notes) only gave up two homers for all of 2009 but a long ball from the unheralded Nick Stavinoah cost Hoffman a ballgame Friday. Ryan Franklin(notes) had an uneventful save conversion on the other side, getting three batted-ball outs over four batters.

Javier Vazquez(notes) back in the AL East, what could possibly go wrong? The Rays ate his lunch Friday at the Trop (5.2 IP, 8 R) while post-hype sleeper David Price(notes) was effective on the other side (7.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 7 K). Vazquez will look west for a fix, as his next two starts will probably come against the Angels and Athletics.

Maybe it's best to hold off on the Jason Heyward(notes) anointing oil for a bit. He struck out four times in six plate appearances at San Francisco, and he's now 3-for-17 on the year with eight strikeouts. Heyward might want to do something against Todd Wellemeyer(notes) Saturday, as Tim Lincecum(notes) awaits for Sunday.

We had a good joke at Oakland's expense earlier in the week, but the pesky Athletics offense has been heard from of late, piling up 22 runs in three games. But the most interesting potential pickup that emerged from their Friday victory in Anaheim is lefty starter Gio Gonzalez(notes) (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K); if he gets the ball over the plate and trusts his stuff, good things can happen.

Kelly Johnson's(notes) big day out Thursday was a blast, but he was back in the No. 8 slot in the lineup Friday. Chris Young (grand slam) and Adam LaRoche(notes) (3-2-2-3) got the best of a lopsided win over the Pirates.

Speed Round: The Phillies are good and the Astros aren't, no new spin on that one. Imagine how lethal this Philly offense will be when the weather heats up in Citizens Bank Park this summer. … The Rangers aren't fun to pitch to in Arlington (Nelson Cruz(notes) looked primed for a monster year), though Julio Borbon(notes) has yet to join the party. … Jason Frasor(notes) needed a day off so Kevin Gregg(notes) got the save in Baltimore (1-2-3, two strikeouts). … Francisco Liriano's(notes) first start wasn't a gem by any means (6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 3 K) but it's something to grow on. He'll probably face Boston next week. … Jon Rauch(notes) worked around two hits and grabbed his third save in five days. … San Diego's Chris Young has a sore shoulder and will miss a start. … Ian Kinsler(notes) (ankle) has April 21 set as his return date. … Brian Roberts(notes) left Friday's game after stealing a base in the first inning and straining his abdomen. Keep in mind he had a back problem all spring. … Edgar Renteria(notes) bailed out the Giants with a ninth-inning homer off Billy Wagner(notes); the shortstop is on an 11-for-16 tear. … Drew Stubbs(notes) put Cincinnati ahead with an eighth-inning grand slam off Esmailin Caridad(notes), and Francisco Cordero(notes) barely held on in the ninth (some spotty infield play didn't help).

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