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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Paging Adam Wainwright

Scott Pianowski
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If Adam Wainwright is going to have any fantasy value the rest of the season, it apparently will come out of the bullpen. The Cardinals have told the righty that he's ticketed for a relief role when he comes back up, and his first Triple-A rehab appearance Friday was budgeted for 25 pitches (he wound up at 27).

"They've made it clear to me that I'm down here for a reason, and that's to get ready to get guys out in the last inning or two," Wainwright told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "That's what I'm doing."

Wainwright's Friday stint was rocky – he allowed four solid hits (including a homer) and a walk over two-thirds of an inning. At least there weren't any setbacks with his finger. He's scheduled to pitch again on Monday and Thursday. "I really believe that I can impact the team in a long-term sense as a starter probably better," said Wainwright. "(Pitching coach Dave Duncan) has made it pretty clear to me that next year I'll be starting." Nonetheless, you can't really fault the organization for the temporary switch; keep in mind Wainwright was a dynamic closer during the Cardinals' stunning 2006 title run.

While Wainwright gets right, we still have a keen fantasy interest in Chris Perez (who pitched a scoreless ninth at Chicago Friday). And obviously you want to steer clear from the struggling Ryan Franklin (Friday's loser) and Jason Isringhausen (who's so out of sorts these days, he's stopped talking to the media). But it looks like the ninth inning will belong to Wainwright again, faily soon.

How do you break a 10-game losing streak? For the Athletics it was all about Getting Ziggy With It – submarine specialist Brad Ziegler worked the final two frames at Detroit Friday (0 H, 2 BB, 2 K), extending his scoreless stretch to 37 innings and picking up his first major-league save. "Not sure my role, long term, is as a closer," Ziegler told the AP. "But I'll come in from the bullpen, pitch a couple of innings and anything I can do to help the team, I will." Ziegler has worked five innings over the last four days, so figure for him to rest Saturday. He was one of four pitchers to record their first save of the year on this night, and we'll touch on all of them here.

Aaron Heilman tweaked his motion Friday and mowed down the Marlins; yeah, like anyone saw that one coming. "Hopefully he could be our guy," Jerry Manuel told the AP. Heilman's close came on the heels of another outstanding Oliver Perez start (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K); the often-erratic lefty has been brilliant in seven of his last eight turns, compiling a 1.71 ERA and 55 whiffs. Tightened mechanics and a biting slider go a long way.

Rafael Perez had a mediocre set-up appearance Friday at Toronto (1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K), and it was Jensen Lewis (one walk, one strikeout) who got the cushy ninth-inning work in the 5-2 win. "I had a different heartbeat going in there tonight," said Lewis, who recorded the first save of his career. Their combined efforts made a winner out of Anthony Reyes, who was solid in his Cleveland debut (6.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K).

The committee is alive and well in the Pittsburgh bullpen, where Craig Hansen became the third Bucs reliever to earn a save over the last two weeks; his scoreless 12th inning at Philadelphia sewed up a 2-0 win. Hansen was far from dominant (two walks, no strikeouts, just nine strikes on 18 pitches), and ultimately he was bailed out by Brandon Moss's catch and Shane Victorino's base-running gaffe. John Grabow had a scoreless ninth (just seven pitches), for what it's worth, while Tyler Yates didn't work in the ballgame.

Both starting pitchers were excellent on this night, albeit home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt was in a giving mood. Paul Maholm finished with 10 strikeouts over seven innings, while Joe Blanton checked in with a snappy 7-1-0-0-2-7 line.

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Another two runs and two hits for Denard Span, along with his seventh stolen base. It took Ron Gardenhire forever and a day to displace Carlos Gomez from the leadoff spot, but at least the right guy is setting the table now. As for Michael Cuddyer's return to Minnesota, that's on hold – he took a line drive off his left foot Friday during a rehab game and fractured his second metatarsal. The Twins will take a look Sunday.

Brad Penny was effective in his first start back, holding the Giants to one run and four baserunners over five innings, but it's hard to get excited about any turn that doesn't feature a strikeout. His next assignment comes at home against Philadelphia.

Speed Round: Jeff Clement is 11-for-36 since the break (two hits Friday) and I wouldn't be surprised if he ended the season on a little run, similar to the story we saw last summer from Dioner Navarro. Clip and save . . . Ian Kennedy didn't show anything in his latest trial with the Yanks (2 IP, 9 H, 5 R) . . . Livan Hernandez hooked on with Colorado and will start at Coors Field Sunday, so get ready to stream a few Padres . . . Glendon Rusch outpitched Jake Peavy Friday, and just typing that sort of unsettles me a bit . . . Matt Romig would like you to know that J.J. Hardy is back in form; four hits the last two days, including his 16th homer . . . When Francisco Cordero doesn't have it, he really doesn't have it. Friday's loss in the tenth inning (four runs) was his third absolute blowup of the last three weeks . . . If there's a more underrated pitcher in the AL than Jeremy Guthrie, steer me to him. The Baltimore righty kept it rolling against Texas Friday (7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K), trimming his ERA to 3.26 . . . Brandon Lyon was hammered in another "inning of work" against the Braves (three hits, three runs, homer), while Jon Rauch was perfect (with two strikeouts) in the prior frame. Keep this situation on your radar . . . Brian Giles decided to veto a move to Boston, so he'll stay with the Padres for now. He cracked his second homer in three days Friday, though he's only got seven for the year.

I recently traded low-cost keeper Carlos Quentin for a non-keepable Alex Rodriguez and Jason Bay, AL-only league. I'm wondering if I didn't get enough. The Q knocked out his 31st homer Friday and is 10-for-27 since the break. It's scary to think that he doesn't turn 26 until later this month and he really hasn't figured out lefties yet.

Mike Cameron always brings a lot of average risk to the table, but when he does make contact, good things still happen. His last 62 games shape up this way: .258, 34 runs, 14 homers, 37 RBIs, nine steals. Pretty solid in four categories, amigos. He's got plenty left in the tank at age 35. (And if you want Cameron 2.0, note that Lastings Milledge had two more hits Friday, plus his 15th bag of the year.)

Injury Lap: Chipper Jones (hamstring) didn't miss a beat in his return, rapping out two hits including a homer. He's up to .371 on the season . . . Aaron Harang (forearm) will come off the DL Sunday and work against the Astros. Given how Harang was pitching before the stoppage, I can't see how we can start him on spec. Harang's return means the struggling Edinson Volquez can take two extra days of rest before his next turn . . . John Maine (rotator cuff) threw 61 pitches in a simulated game Friday and is likely to return to the rotation Wednesday. Jerry Manuel told Newsday he was "very pleased what he saw," but he wants to check Maine's recovery before the team slots him for next week . . . Carlos Guillen left Friday's game with back spasms and is considered day-to-day . . . Adam LaRoche (rib cage) is hoping to return on Tuesday. Little brother Andy (thumb) was held out of Friday's marathon . . . Victor Martinez (elbow) is taking batting practice and might start a rehab assignment next week. Travis Hafner (shoulder) isn't as close; he's limited to soft-toss for now.

Handshakes: Joe Nathan (31), Bobby Jenks (23), Brian Fuentes (21), Troy Percival (25), Jonathan Broxton (7, one-outer), Jeff Bennett (3, rogue save). I'll be icing the elbow and shoulder for Saturday, but catch me in two days and we'll run it all down again.

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