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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Slowey on the fast track

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It's almost an industry mandate that we have to compare Kevin Slowey to Brad Radke, but maybe it's time to put a stop to that - Slowey's ceiling is starting to look a lot higher. Slowey was letter-perfect from beginning to end in Tuesday's gem against Oakland, scattering five hits and two runs (one earned), along with 12 strikeouts and no walks. Talk about pounding the zone - 82 of his 110 pitches were strikes.

Slowey doesn't have a big head about his emergence - he openly acknowledges that smarts and placement have more to do with his success than the raw stuff. "I'd love to throw it 96 or 97, but I definitely don't. I don't have a slider like Joe Nathan," Slowey concedes. "But the Twins are huge proponents of location over velocity and I'm always making a big point of that. If you keep the ball low, 92 looks a lot harder than 97 at the belt." That said, he's not going out there with beer-league stuff, either. Ten of his 12 whiffs Tuesday came on Oakland swings; Slowey will miss his share of bats when he's on.

It was a far different story for the other young starter in this game, Oakland's Sean Gallagher. He was hammered for 11 hits and 10 runs over his five-inning stint, and afterwards complained of a dead arm. "The ball felt like a feather," he told the AP. "I just didn't feel like I had anything behind it." Sounds like it might be time to slide into shut-down mode.

We'll keep the focus on the mound tonight, auditing the hurlers from every game, with a few bats ducked in for good measure:

Daisuke Matsuzaka continues to dodge traffic and snag wins, no matter how many jams he puts himself in. He handed out 11 baserunners to the Orioles over five innings Tuesday (and also threw a wild pitch), but somehow the O's managed just two runs. End result was Matsuzaka's 15th win, and his ERA moved up just a speck, to 2.77. Get out the "overvalued in 2009 list" and make another entry - someone will pay far too much for Dice-K next spring, book it. His peripherals from this season suggest an ERA over 4, and eventually that bill is going to come due.

It was a pedestrian five innings for Anthony Reyes against Kansas City (6 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 3 K, no clean innings), but all we're looking right now is baby steps, and a sign that maybe he can go on the sleeper list next spring. "I think I'm getting there," Reyes told the Tribe's official site. "I've had a lot of bad outings over the past couple of years, so I'm just trying to come over here and get rid of them."

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Ryan Garko was benched a couple of weeks ago for not hustling, and he's answered the proper way - with his bat. He homered Tuesday and is on a 15-for-37 binge the last two weeks, with 12 RBIs. "His approach has been more consistent and his discipline has been a little better," Eric Wedge noted.

Ronnie Belliard has taken full advantage of Cristian Guzman's absence, rapping out 12 hits over his last five starts (four Tuesday). Belliard might not be a long-term mixed-league play, but he qualifies at three infield positions and he'll be adding shortstop later this week.

Jason Isringhausen's year is over and his career may be, too. He's got a torn flexor muscle near his right elbow, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, and the free-agent-to-be turns 37 next month. Sticking with the Cardinals, Chris Carpenter threw off flat ground Tuesday and didn't have any setbacks; he'll do it again Wednesday. The club is hoping Carpenter can work during the stretch run, but nothing is guaranteed.

Man, the Marlins have a lot of nasty arms: it was Ricky Nolasco's turn to strut his stuff Tuesday at San Francisco (9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 K). Normally this column takes on something of a West Coast bias given the production time, but the Slowey copy was already on the press before Nolasco's masterpiece was complete. In a keeper league, who's would you target from this staff? I'd still go with Josh Johnson, but I welcome your intelligent disagreement.

Billy Wagner is battling a sore elbow and is out indefinitely, collateral damage from the forearm problems he was having. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst on this one. Jerry Manuel briefly considered shifting a starting pitcher back to the ninth inning, but for now it looks like he'll keep with the status quo.

If A.J. Burnett could work against the Yankees every time out, maybe he'd win the Cy Young Award. He had his way with the New Yorkers again Tuesday, allowing just five hits and one run over eight dazzling innings. Burnett walked one and fanned 13 (Jason Giambi took the golden sombrero). Adam Lind kept his feel-good story going with his sixth homer of the second half.

The weather stayed clear enough for the Angels and Rays to get their game in, and the Tampa Bay pitching took care of the rest. James Shields went eight strong innings for his 11th win (2 R, 7 K), and Dan Wheeler kept rocking in the closer chair, grabbing his third conversion in as many days (perfect ninth, two Ks).

Oliver Perez didn't have his best command against the Braves (five walks, just three strikeouts over 6.1 innings), but he was backed up nicely by 2.2 innings of scoreless relief. Much-maligned Aaron Heilman picked up the win with a hairy eighth (dodging a pair of baserunners), and Scott Schoeneweis worked the ninth to finish up (no save because the Mets were ahead by four). Atlanta has just 26 runs over its last nine games and 11 of those came in one sitting; perhaps it's time to do what Scooter281 suggested in the comments last night, start streaming against this floundering lineup.

Armando Galarraga got through his six innings at Arlington relatively unscathed (6 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 5 K), and if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. The Sneaky Cat is now 12-4 with a 3.17 ERA on the year, and while the output isn't completely backed if you look under the hood, he has nudged his strikeout rate up a bit. Matt Joyce continued to swing a heavy bat against right-handed pitching, knocking a couple of balls out of the yard (11, 12).

A lot of pundits were skeptical when the Cubs acquired Rich Harden and I was definitely seated at that table. Phooey on us. Harden absolutely dominated the Reds Tuesday with seven electric shutout innings (2 H, 0 BB, 10 K), and he's putting up wiffle-ball stats in his first NL tour (42 IP, 26 H, 59 K, 1.17 ERA, 0.95 WHIP). Harden's gem spoiled a snappy outing from Johnny Cueto on the other side (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K); the Cincinnati rook has quietly been making strides in the second half.

As discussed in our pregame show, George Sherrill (shoulder) is down at least two weeks, so Jim Johnson most likely will take over the big chair for the Orioles. "Johnson will probably be the guy - he's got the experience," manager Dave Trembley said. "He might get the first crack at it as far as closing, but we'll have to play it game-by-game." Sherrill sounded relieved Tuesday night, noting that his shoulder injury isn't considered to be serious.

I picked up Brian Moehler in a very deep mixed league this week, but of course I didn't have the stones to actually use him. Moehler's line at Milwaukee wasn't anything that special (5.1 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K), but we mark our teams every week and I'll want that win come Sunday. Ben Sheets struck out seven on the other side and managed to dodge the Ty Wigginton experience, but Geoff Blum (three-run homer) and Michael Bourn (triple) took him down.

Ubaldo Jimenez didn't have ideal command Tuesday but a win and seven strikeouts isn't so bad, I suppose. Three Colorado homers paced the offense, including one from good-looking lefty Ian Stewart (if the Rockies are wise, they'll Boogie With Stu all next year and move a veteran, perhaps Todd Helton).

Injury Lap: Josh Beckett has some tingling in his right hand and won't pitch again until Tuesday . . . . . . Ian Kinsler (hernia) has decided to delay surgery on the hopes that he might be able to play again this season . . . Milton Bradley left Tuesday's game with knee soreness, so add that to the laundry list . . . Aaron Harang is battling a sore neck and won't go until Friday - at Coors Field. Good luck with that one . . . Delmon Young (ankle) wasn't able to go Tuesday, but the Twins might get Alexi Casilla (thumb) back Wednesday . . . Hideki Matsui (knee) came off the DL and went 0-for-3 as New York's DH . . . Ryan Braun (ribs) was out of the lineup Tuesday, as expected. He remains day-to-day.

Brandon Lyon often struggles with non-save situations, and that was the case again Tuesday as he couldn't finish off a four-run lead against San Diego. Tony Pena cleaned up for his second save, but if Lyon ultimately loses this post, it will be Jon Rauch (who pitched earlier in the game) who gets the fantasy boost. Rauch has allowed five runs over 12.1 innings with the Snakes, but the rest of his profile befits a closer (10 hits allowed, 2 walks, 16 strikeouts).

Handshakes on the way out: Brad Lidge (31, two strikeouts); B.J. Ryan (24); Jose Valverde (32, and locked in); T.J. Beam (1, cleaning up John Grabow's mess). Get some rest and back at them Wednesday; Francisco Liriano drops just after 1 p.m. Eastern Time.

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