Closing Time: Rick Porcello rising, Francisco Liriano slipping

Scott Pianowski
May 11, 2011

There's no longer a roof over the Minneapolis ballpark, but if you listened closely Tuesday night you could hear the sound of sliding doors.

Rick Porcello and Francisco Liriano are pitchers headed in opposite directions.

The Tigers scored early and often en route to a 10-2 victory Tuesday; an hour-long rain delay in the middle of the game didn't break their stride. Porcello wasn't bothered by the 64-minute wait either; he came back to work two more innings to keep his certain victory. His final line doesn't sing to you (5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K), but he collected nine ground-ball outs in the victory, it's his third win in four starts, and it's the fifth straight time he's allowed two runs or less.

It's time to consider Porcello for medium and deeper formats. Although he's got just 27 strikeouts over his 41.2 innings, he's constantly around the plate (2.4 K/BB) and he's maintained a tasty ground-ball bias (around 50 percent). He's still having trouble putting left-handed batters away (they're hitting .330 against him in 2011), but an improved change-up might eventually help out there. Porcello gets two starts next week (Blue Jays at home, Pirates on the road) and I'll give him a spin for both of them in the Behrens-Organized Roto Arcade Pro-Am.

I wouldn't use Porcello in a league that has a low cap on innings (such as the Friends & Family), but I like him in open mixed leagues with 12 owners or more. Remember this is just a 22-year-old kid, a former first-round pick in his third season in the majors. There's time to hop on board; Porcello is available in 94 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

As for Liriano, there's no format I feel comfortable endorsing him for right now. Forget his fluke no-hitter last week, he's looked absolutely terrible for most of the season. He didn't have a thing on Tuesday (3 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 1 K); 30 of his 59 pitches missed the zone, and his strikes were too hittable. Jhonny Peralta homered off Liriano, and Austin Jackson missed one by about five feet (thanks, gigantic right-field wall). Even an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera turned into an adventure when Liriano had trouble finding the spot.

Liriano works at Seattle (good) and Arizona (bad) next week, if you dare to ride on this train. I'm not trusting someone who has a 7.07 ERA and 27 walks against 21 strikeouts over 35.2 innings. My gut feel is that Liriano won't be in the Minnesota rotation all year; perhaps ineffectiveness will bounce him, or a DL stint (real or manufactured). There are too many red flags with this high-maintenance pitcher.

• Up front I'll admit that I'd love to see Eduardo Sanchez take the St. Louis closing gig and run with it; he's on two of my most important teams (not that you care, nor should you). But Sanchez's command has been off for about two weeks, and it's making every appearance a white-knuckle ride. He was able to work around a walk and pick up a save in Tuesday's win at Chicago, but the Cardinals had Fernando Salas and Trever Miller warming in the bullpen and would have probably summoned one of them had Starlin Castro not flied out on a 3-2 pitch to end the game.

Sanchez has walked nine men in his last six innings (against four strikeouts), and his last walkless outing was the three-hit, two-run mess at Houston. You still admire his raw stuff, of course, but it's difficult to hold a closing job with spotty control (Carlos Marmol a notable exception, but hey, no one's that nasty). I'd still pick Sanchez first in today's edition of Cardinals Closer Roulette, but Salas and the cast of thousands can't be far away.

• It was no surprise to see Tim Lincecum post eight bagels against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday (he carried a no-hitter into the sixth and struck out nine), but Ian Kennedy was just as good (8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K). Kennedy might have fallen out of your circle of trust when he allowed nine runs to the Cardinals back on April 13, but since then he's been terrific (36 IP, 6 ER, 9 BB, 32 K). His hybrid cutter/slider (even the Arizona announcers weren't sure what to call it) was driving the Giants crazy.

The Yankees have no regrets with Curtis Granderson, but they wish Kennedy (a former first-round pick) wasn't part of that three-team deal. Kennedy is currently owned in 64 percent of Yahoo! leagues but his tag should be in the 80-90 range; dial him up for Saturday's start at Los Angeles.

• The Mariners and Orioles played a fun extra-inning game if you like plays at the plate — there were four home-plate showdowns in the last five innings, with the outcome essentially on the line each time. But if you had a closer investment in this match, it wasn't nearly as fun — Kevin Gregg handed away the lead in the ninth, then Brandon League did the same in the 13th (taking the loss in the process). League's an interesting case at the back of the Seattle bullpen; he's a little too hittable (two homers, .267 BAA), but his walk-strikeout rate is in the right place (two walks, 13 whiffs). The best thing you can say for League is that he's 9-of-10 on saves thus far while rehabbing David Aardsma is headed for a visit with Dr. Lewis Yocum.

Baltimore collected 20 hits in the victory, so it was mostly a fun night for the Orioles offense (not so fast, Roberts and Reynolds). J.J. Hardy's first game off the DL was a success (4-for-5, homer, walk), though he didn't look so spry when he was thrown out trying to score the winning run in the last of the ninth. Hardy has batted last in each of his seven games this season; bad batting order slots aren't as penal in the AL as they are in the NL, but I'd like Hardy a lot more if he got a chance to hit second or sixth. There's still an intriguing upside here nonetheless.

• I realize Rajai Davis is batting ninth and is still under the Mendoza, but don't sweat this one, amigos. He's going to run like crazy for you. Davis ran the Blue Jays into a tenth inning victory over Boston, swiping two bases in the tenth and then scoring the game-winner on a sacrifice fly. Davis beat a pitchout attempt on the first swipe; as much as I'd like to blame this on aging Jason Varitek, Davis got an insanely-good jump on the play. Davis is ripe for the picking in 55 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

• I have no faith that Freddy Garcia can hold up all year, but Fab Six Freddy gave the Yanks another solid effort in Tuesday's win over Kansas City (6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K). He gets the Red Sox this weekend, good luck with that. Surging Derek Jeter had two hits and a bag for the winners, while surprisingly-useful Melky Cabera (23 runs, 22 RBIs, four homers, three steals) went deep for the Royals. Cabrera's making it work despite a terrible walk rate (four free passes over 149 at-bats).

Speed Round: Homer Bailey knows how to get the Astros out, that much is true: he's beaten them twice in a week with two dominant turns (12 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 12 K). The test should be sterner next week against the Cubs and Indians. … The Twins are hoping to have Delmon Young (oblique) back for Friday. He's currently playing in extended spring training. … Geovany Soto strained his groin in the first inning and is headed for an MRI. … Ike Davis left with a strained calf muscle, a shame because he's looking like a potential star. … The Sam Fuld story was fun for a while but he's gone Chris Shelton on us in May. An 0-for-5 collar at Cleveland dropped him to .238. … Sneaky Michael Brantley had a homer (his second) and a steal (his fifth) in another Tribe win at the former Jake (they're 14-2 at home). Brantley is owned in just 11 percent of Yahoo! pools. … Ted Lilly drew the Pirates just in time (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR). He's at home against Arizona on Sunday. … Does it seem like the Angels have 12 players just like Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis, or am I imagining things? They're both playing terrific ball for the pesky Halos. Izturis (.885 OPS) batted third again Tuesday. … Aroldis Chapman has officially lost his way: he walked three batters and hit a fourth in a horrendous 19-pitch display Tuesday. Only five of his pitches went for strikes. In redraft leagues, there's no reason to carry him. … Ian Stewart is now 3-for-47 on the year (another collar Tuesday) and Ty Wigginton's almost ready to return. Jim Tracy is not the type of skipper to wait around forever; he's already talked about making a switch. … Is Leo Nunez another winner of the Thigpen Save Lottery? He's already 12-for-12, closing up Mike Dunn's relief victory over Philly. Josh Johnson pitched well in a no-decision, while Roy Halladay was effective but took the loss. … Michael Young got the first cleanup start of his career and came through, posting a 4-2-3-2 line in a 7-2 runaway over Oakland. Julio Borbon got the call in the leadoff spot and went 1-for-5 with a run scored. He's hitting .367 this month, but only has three walks for the season. … Howie Kendrick started in left field (life without Vernon Wells), then shifted to first base. Kendrick put up two hits and produced two runs; he has a .322/.384/.530 line for the year.