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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: No worries in the ninth, mate

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It's another casual Friday, so feel free to catch up to these notes at your leisure on the weekend. Rather than try to force a cheesy theme at you, let's just admit it's "A Column About Nothing" and see where the bullets take us.

You probably know about Grant Balfour's numbers, but the tall Aussie passes the eye test as well - easy heat in the mid-90s, good sinker and slider. Injuries have kept him back more than anything during his career, but he's becoming a star, and a strikeout ace, in the Tampa Bay bullpen this year (23.1 IP, 10 H, 11 BB, 36 K, 1.54 ERA). Balfour cruised for the final four outs in Friday's game (three strikeouts), and figures prominently in Tampa's closer-by-committee while Troy Percival rehabs his hamstring. If Balfour can prove durable enough for regular work on consecutive nights, I'll endorse him as a mixed-league play even if he's not getting saves. It will be interesting to see how Joe Maddon handles save situations for the rest of the weekend. (Additional Down-Under Endorsements: Robert Allenby, "Overkill" - far and away Men at Work's Best song - and the Sydney Opera House . . . from the outside only, please. The Crocodile Dundee series? You're on your own there, cobber.)

Joe Torre gave Jonathan Broxton a semi-endorsement as the team's closer prior to Friday's game, but perhaps Broxy's emphatic save at Arizona (perfect inning, two strikeouts) will extend the leash. Any reading off a radar gun has to be taken with a grain of salt, but according to the Chase Field gun Broxton was reaching 102 on Friday, and his off-speed pitches had plenty of bite. Don't be too thrown by Broxton's history of blown saves - that stat is generally irrelevant for set-up men, as they're routinely asked to assume risk (protecting a lead) without the promise of reward (they rarely get to finish up and collect the save). As for Broxton's previous role, it looks like old retread Chan Ho Park (a nifty surprise in 2008) will get a shot as the preferred set-up guy.

The Yankees didn't waste any time unveiling their new bat, giving Richie Sexson the start at first base and the No. 5 slot in the lineup Friday against Oakland's Greg Smith. Sexson came through with a quality night (1-for-3, walk, RBI), no major surprise as he's been productive against left-handers this year (.344 average, 1.045 OPS). Good luck to the Yanks if they plan on using Sexson as a regular against righties (.178/.281/.304).

Another maddening start for John Maine (4.1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 BB, 5 K), who hasn't looked right in two months. Is the elbow 100 percent right now? Even on a good day it's hard for Maine to be more than a six-inning guy, since he burns through pitches so quickly. I overrated this guy for about a year and a half, but I'm walking away now.

A.J. Burnett picked up a loss Friday at Tampa despite another excellent start (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 6 K). Burnett's funky contract won't be the easiest thing to unload (partial no-trade clause, player can opt out after this year), but his power stuff is going to be attractive to a lot of contenders. At the end of the day the Toronto front office will be looking to do what Oakland did with Rich Harden - time the market and unload the volatile stock before another injury hits.

The Rays aren't going to rush Scott Kazmir back, a logical move given that he threw 104 pitches Sunday then worked in the All-Star Game when Terry Francona ran out of options. The new plan is for Kazmir to work Monday against Oakland.

Consistency is not really Bronson Arroyo's thing, but hey, he won his fourth straight start Friday and he's been particularly sharp in three of those outings. His next turn comes Wednesday at home against the snake-bitten Greg Maddux (12 starts without a win, though he didn't have it at St. Louis Friday).

I mentioned it offhand earlier in the week but let's get the official recommendation out there: when you get a chance, read Tom Verducci's excellent piece on Tim Lincecum and pitching mechanics.

I made what I thought was a token Tout Wars offer on Joe Blanton Friday (NL-only league) and wound up being the second-highest bidder. Whew, that was close. My point: there's not a lot of Blanton faith in our community. Flip-side, many of us are curious about Oakland's Gio Gonzalez, a strikeout-happy lefty (117 Ks at Triple-A) who might get a shot now that the Athletics have a rotation vacancy.

Pudge Rodriguez rang up four hits Friday, with a homer. He's looked pretty spry over the last six weeks (.358, four homers, three steals), and there are a handful of other Tigers who are starting to hit their stride - despite the modest returns in the first half, this remains a good offense to invest in.

MLB Extra Innings is running a free preview through Wednesday, so if you're not already a subscriber, settle in for a lot of free baseball.

Darin Erstad once again moved Michael Bourn to the bench, and it looks like it's going to be that way for a while. Think the Astros regret last winter's Brad Lidge trade? In the meantime, Kaz Matsui (who's criminally ignored at 35-percent owned) slides into Houston's leadoff spot.

Another hitless night for Alex Gordon, though he did draw a walk in the eighth inning at Chicago. I haven't seen him take many good swings this month, and he continues to be overmatched against left-handers (.188/.272/.214). So much for the sophomore year breakout.

Clay Buchholz was hammered by the Angels Friday (4.2 IP, 8 R, 4 ER), and for all of this kid's promise, he's been rocked the last four times he's toed a major-league rubber. In non-keeper groups, let someone else be tantalized by the upside.

We are not an injury blog: Roy Oswalt (hip) will do some throwing Saturday, but it doesn't look like he's going to avoid the disabled list . . . Erik Bedard (shoulder) isn't making any real progress and the Mariners don't expect to see him this month . . . Jose Guillen (back spasms) didn't play Friday and is day-to-day . . . Yunel Escobar (shoulder) might take batting practice Saturday but it's not clear when he'll be able to play again. As for Rafael Soriano (elbow), he might be back Sunday . . . Dustin McGowan (shoulder) will be re-examined in two weeks and remains out indefinitely. It's hard to be optimistic on his status for the balance of the year. The club also isn't sure if it will get Aaron Hill (post-concussion) back this season . . . Hideki Matsui (knee) will rest for two more days then be re-evaluated Monday. He's still iffy for the balance of 2008 . . . Justin Upton (oblique) finally hit the DL, though the move is retroactive to July 9.

Wedding bells have been inspirational for Jim Edmonds and Greg Norman, but in the case of Billy Butler, it was a divorce - his unceremonious drop from Brad Evans's fantasy roster - that sparked his best fantasy night in a while on Friday (homer, single, four RBIs). Big Noise, we await your reply.

Speed Round: Raul Ibanez went 3-for-4 with a grand slam Friday, and like 90 percent of the Seattle roster, he's available in trade . . . Robinson Cano started his second half with two hits, including a three-run homer. He was endorsed across the board by the High Fives panel earlier this week . . . Jeremy Guthrie hasn't pitched in much luck this year, but Friday he got a win without his best stuff (6 IP, 12 H, 4 R) . . . Mike Gonzalez wasn't particularly sharp, allowing two hits and hitting a third batter, but escaped with his fourth save of the year . . . Jamie Moyer rarely dominates, but he's now got nine wins, and he's allowed three runs or less over eight straight turns . . . Glen Perkins has wins in five of his last six starts, though he's collected just 10 strikeouts in those victories. Be careful, he's not as good as the 3.84 ERA suggests . . . Brian Fuentes mowed them down again (perfect ninth, one strikeout), picking up his 16th save. Work the phones, Dan O'Dowd . . . Four more hits for Delmon Young, who's at .341 with 22 RBIs since June 1 . . . Two hits, both singles, for Ichiro Suzuki. I'm sure he was a monster in batting practice . . . To the surprise of no one, CC Sabathia dominated the Giants (CG win, 10 Ks) . . . John Buck's work behind the plate has led to six straight starts.

Some leftover handshakes on the way out: Brad Lidge (21), George Sherrill (29; didn't look worse for wear after Tuesday's heavy use); Francisco Cordero (20, nice bounce back after Thursday's mess). Jason Isringhausen took the final inning in St. Louis, but the Cardinals were ahead by four runs (courtesy of Heath Bell) so it wasn't a save situation.

I'm over the word count, so let's wrap this up and ship it out. Get some sleep, amigos - Joba Chamberlain drops in about 10 hours (Sean Gallagher works for the visitors). If you're around in the PM, take a gander at Chad Billingsley and Dan Haren in the desert.

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