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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Make room for Maholm

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

It's a casual Friday, come as you are, and you have my permission to microwave these tasty nuggets on Saturday if that works better for you. But with all 30 clubs in action on the sandlots, there's much to discuss. To the bullets:

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Paul Maholm's seven scoreless innings against Atlanta might have been a little fluky; he only threw 57 of 102 pitches for strikes, he plunked a couple of batters, he only managed two strikeouts (giving him a modest six over his three turns), and the Bucs made a few defensive gems behind him. That established, I'm still on board with this break-out story; Maholm stepped forward nicely in the second half of 2008, he's got a first-round pedigree, he was dominant in spring training, and he's always owned left-handed batters. It will be fun to watch him go up against Ricky Nolasco and the Marlins next week.

Jair Jurrjens finally got his BB:K rate going in the right direction (two walks, seven whiffs), but he turned into the tough-luck loser as his teammates were shut out. It's time to call off the Jordan Schafer party for the moment; he's down to .234, with 15 strikeouts in 37 at-bats. And NL teams generally don't run much with their eighth-place hitter – Schafer has yet to attempt a steal.

So much for Huston Street's job security – Clint Hurdle announced before Friday's game that Manuel Corpas is back as Colorado's ninth-inning guy. "I'm going to have Corpas doing the closer's role and try to find a way to find a workload and consistency for Street," Hurdle told the team's official site. Street hasn't fooled anyone since the bell rang, allowing nine hits (two homers) and four runs over 3.2 innings.

How sore is Jose Valverde's back, anyway? He wasn't able to take the ball Thursday, and then he coughed up a save Friday against the Reds. LaTroy Hawkins stands to benefit if anything's wrong with Valverde long-term. Francisco Cordero stranded a couple of baserunners in the bottom of the ninth en route to his third save.

Cole Hamels had another spotty outing (6 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 3 HR), in part because his fastball was topping out in the 89-90 range and he couldn't consistently locate his change-up. He gets Milwaukee next week. Chris Young wasn't any better on the other side, handing out nine hits, seven runs, and three stolen bases (he's notorious for being slow to the plate). Charlie Manuel bumped Raul Ibanez (three hits, two walks) to the No. 5 spot, mindful of the fact that the Padres don't have a left-hander on their staff. San Diego got production out of its No. 5 guy as well; Chase Headley rapped out three more hits and looks cozy slotted behind Adrian Gonzalez.

Say this for the Athletics, they know how to assemble a dynamic bullpen; five scoreless innings of relief in Toronto carried them over the .500 mark. Andrew Bailey parlayed a tidy spring (0.66 ERA, 10 Ks) into a roster spot, and he's been even better in the real games (8.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 K). If he can keep his control under wraps, maybe he's got a shot to be this year's Grant Balfour. Veteran Michael Wuertz has been just as good (6.1 scoreless, 8 K), and Brad Zeigler already has three saves.

There's nothing new to say on the Aaron Hill story other than "hope you drafted him, hope you picked him up." If you can still grab Hill as you read this, it's a sad commentary on your opposition. Hill clocked homer No. 4 Friday and reached base three times, and remember that everyone talked about him as a potential star at this time last season. It's a harder call on Marco Scutaro (4-2-2-1, homer), a journeyman infielder who's got a mediocre career resume over 2,209 at-bats (.262/.327/.382, 41 homers, 21 steals). It seems rather pointless to suggest a sell-high here – really, are people beating down your door for Marco Scutaro? – so let's just ride it out and see where he's at in a couple of weeks. I do have a soft spot for leadoff hitters and position-flex guys, I'll say that for Scutaro.

Maybe Justin Verlander is destined to be another Javier Vazquez, eye-popping stuff with plenty of strikeouts, but the full stat package lets us down in the end. Verlander had his usual "one bad inning" in Seattle and it wiped out all the good work he did the rest of the night (7.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 8 K). Felix Hernandez had a similar outing, one messy frame against five good ones (6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 6 K). The M's bullpen shut the door from there, including four strikeouts over the last two innings (well done, David Aardsma and Brandon Morrow).

John Baker stayed in the No. 2 slot even against a left-hander and repaid the faith, going deep off John Lannan in the fourth. Lannan didn't make many other mistakes over his sterling effort (6.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K), but he lost his win when Cody Ross took Joel Hanrahan into the first row in the top of the ninth. Nolasco only went four innings for the Fish, but the Marlins bullpen shut the door from there (five scoreless innings; Matt Lindstrom looks totally healthy again, friends). You don't get a trophy for beating the Nationals, I get it, but this Marlins team has "this year's Tampa Bay" written all over it. Just keep the pitching healthy, that's all I ask.

Give a wave to P.J. Walters, the new St. Louis starter, but don't bother picking him up. The 23-year-old righty averaged a strikeout per inning at Triple-A last year, but the 4.87 ERA and 1.52 WHIP scare you away. His turn at Wrigley Friday was about what you'd expect (4 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 7 K). The Cards lost this one when Alfonso Soriano took Chris Perez deep in the eighth; Ryan Franklin becomes more and more intriguing with every passing day. Don't misread the Carlos Marmol save; he was already warming up as the Cubs batted in the eighth (down a run), and Lou Piniella didn't see the point of wasting his ready-to-go pitcher.

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Dan Haren's tough luck continues; he trimmed his ERA to 1.89 at San Francisco, but the Snakes just aren't hitting for him this year (scoring all of one run in his three starts). Again I'm not going to suggest the silly "buy low" – anyone in a competitive league can see the forest for the trees here. If you're in a group where an 0-3 record puts owners into a panic, you don't need the advice here – you'll coast to a wire-to-wire victory.

We've now seen 104 runs in seven Arlington games this season, including Friday's 15 tallies (most of them for the visiting Royals). Maybe you're intrigued by Kevin Millwood and Kyle Davies, but I'm not starting them this weekend (Millwood goes for the hosts Saturday, Davies for the visitors Sunday). Zack Greinke, you ask? Depends on your league specs, but I think he's earned the right to start anywhere.

My condolences to the David DeJesus public (5-0-0-0), but otherwise the Royals got well at the Arlington municipal softball park. New third sacker Mark Teahen collective five hits, and Mike Jacobs had a homer and four RBIs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is having his struggles on the Texas side (one walk, 13 whiffs, .161 average), but he did go deep Friday, for what it's worth.

It was a fun night for the Minnesota outfielders Friday, unless you're invested in non-participants Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez. Jason Kubel jumped on the cycle wave (third in the majors this year) and ultimately won the game with a grand-slam; Michael Cuddyer had two hits and a steal; and Denard Span set the table nicely (5-1-2-2).

Handshakes: Troy Percival worked around a couple of baserunners (I still don't trust him). … Jonathan Broxton (five outs) and Brian Wilson (four outs) worked hard for the money. … Joe Nathan is surely the best stopper no one gushes over (perfect ninth against Anaheim). … Jonathan Papelbon, just happy to be needed. … Matt Capps worked a perfect inning against the Braves. … Heath Bell has a quick six and might be this year's winner of the timing lottery. … Cue up Enter Sandman for Mariano Rivera, who stranded a couple in the ninth.

Not an Injury Blog: Vladimir Guerrero has a torn pectoral muscle and is expected to be out at least a month. … Both of the Matsuis are day-to-day: New York's Hideki has a sore knee, while Houston's Kazuo has a wonky back. … Stephen Drew (hamstring) wasn't able to go Friday. … Cristian Guzman (hamstring) is headed for the 15-day disabled list, a shame given how he's been hitting. … Dustin Moseley (elbow) left Friday's start after three innings. … Yunel Escobar (abdominal) took some cuts and is hoping to play Saturday. … J.J. Hardy (back) returned to action and went 1-for-4. … The angels in heaven no doubt wept as Matt Wieters suffered an apparent hamstring cramp down at Triple-A. It's not thought to be serious. … Fresh off the cortisone shot to his wrist, Mark Teixeira homered and walked a couple of times.

Speed Round: Ryan Ludwick laughs at anyone who doubted over the winter (okay, I'm raising my hand); two more homers, four RBIs, and a zesty .405 average. Hitting behind Sir Albert Pujols doesn't hurt the cause, either. … Emilio Bonifacio went 0-for-1 off the bench and has eight strikeouts over his last 12 at-bats. … Mark Ellis reached base three times and stole his first base of the year, but I'd like him a lot more if he wasn't stuck in the bottom third of the order. … You know the story with Jonathan Sanchez, filthy stuff but command often eludes him. He was around the plate enough to win Friday (6.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 4 K). … So what if Jason Bartlett is stuck at the bottom of the Tampa lineup; Joe Maddon is letting him run as he pleases and the underrated shortstop already has five bags. … How did the Angels ever land Bobby Abreu on a $5 million deal? His power might be diminished but the eye (two walks Friday) and wheels (five bags on the season) are still there. … I swear I chased Orlando Hudson for years, then got sick of trying for 2009. Congrats, O-Dog, you're going to have a huge year hitting in front of Planet Manny.

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