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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Tasty bagels at Petco Park

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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It's a casual Friday, let's bullet the blue sky.

The sneaky San Diego Padres were one of April's best stories, rolling up the NL's best record (tied with St. Louis) and providing us with some hidden fantasy gems. We've talked plenty about the offensive guys (especially Chase Headley(notes)), but let's also nod at the starting rotation, which is offering us all sorts of streamable options. Soft-tossing righty Jon Garland(notes) had his 10-strikeout shocker in Florida, crafty left-hander Wade LeBlanc(notes) has been a find of late, and Friday it was Clayton Richard(notes) doing a number against Milwaukee (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K). The Friars have the third-lowest ERA in the majors and it's not just the Petco effect; they also rank first in strikeouts.

I've got a soft spot in my heart for Richard because he's a University of Michigan guy; once upon a time he was a backup quarterback for the Maize and Blue, holding the clipboard while some guy named Chad Henne played. I don't remember much about Richard's spirals (he only threw 15 passes for the Wolverines), but he's doing a nice job spotting his four pitches for the Friars this spring (some friendly called strikes from Paul Schrieber Friday night didn't hurt).

Nothing against Austin Jackson(notes) but the time to sell on the kid is now, fresh off a five-hit game Friday along with his fifth stolen base. The .364 average looks pretty and he did hit for decent averages in the minors, but this is also someone striking out a third of the time and you know how ridiculous a .530 BABIP is (albeit a crazy line-drive rate has made some of his own luck). Buzz rookies generally make for good sell-high candidates, especially early in the season before they have any public struggles. Tell your opponent that you want to move an outfielder and let him come to Jackson.

Is it time to start taking Jonathon Niese(notes) seriously in mixed-league play? The Mets lefty has been useful in four of his five turns (only a Colorado start went awry), and his best turn to date came in a very unlikely place - at Philadelphia Friday night (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K). Niese is getting a lot of mileage from an improved cutter, and although his command has been spotty at times in 2010, he made the key pitches when he had to in this start. I'm not afraid to give him a shot at Cincinnati Wednesday.

Ozzie Guillen had planned on benching Juan Pierre(notes) Friday but at the last second the mercurial skipper decided to let Pierre play anyway at New York. Pierre went 0-for-3 with a walk, dropping his average to .193.

We're always hearing about batters that don't like hitting in April, but let's discuss someone who loves the early-season games: Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome(notes). He's up to .344 with five homers, and for his Chicago career he's got nine round-trippers and a .535 slugging percentage in April. If the pattern holds, the power slips away starting May 1. If you've got a reason to believe in Fukudome 2010, state your argument in the comments.

Clay Hensley(notes) had an outstanding spring for the Marlins (0.49 ERA over 18.1 IP) but most blew it off; who cares about a non-buzz pitcher working in practice games, the skeptics said. Alas, Hensley's kept the momentum going in the regular season, showing an improved sinker and curve and racking up a gaggle of strikeouts.

Hensley fanned seven Nationals in three relief innings Friday (here's the tape) and that's on the heels of a two-inning, six-whiff performance against San Diego Wednesday. Thirteen strikeouts over five innings? Those are Wiffle Ball numbers, and yes, sign me up, let's see where the story goes. For the year he's got a 2.13 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, and while his prospect days have come and gone (Hensley turns 31 in August), those strikeout numbers can't be ignored.

Alfredo Simon(notes) got through a scoreless ninth against the Red Sox, getting the "tie game at home" work that typically goes to a closer once the save situation can no longer happen. He walked two and struck out two; he's going to be a carnival ride, good and bad. Jim Johnson(notes) worked earlier in the game and was knocked around again (3 H, 2 BB, 1 HR); I can't imagine Dave Trembley will be in a hurry to call Johnson's number anytime soon.

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Colby Lewis(notes) and Cliff Lee(notes) hooked up for a dandy in Seattle, matching zeroes in a game that eventually went 12 innings. Lewis recorded 10 strikeouts over his nine innings, the third time in April he's collected double-digit whiffs. Whatever you paid for this guy in March (or April), congratulations, you've got one of the bargains of the year. Lee was making his first start coming off an abdomen injury but you'd never know it, he was in midseason form.

The game had some strange moments in the extra frames; only Eric Byrnes(notes) would offer and then pull the bat back on a suicide squeeze. Ichiro Suzuki(notes) was dead at the plate as a result, and Frank Francisco(notes) was able to get out of a bases-loaded mess in the last of the 11th. Francisco eventually got a win out of the deal as the Ranger rallied in the 12th against a tired Brandon League(notes) (a third inning was too much), and Neftali Feliz(notes) finished up for the save.

Nothing really new to say on the Barry Zito story but we'll give him a quick note anyway after his tidy eight-inning victory over Colorado. Zito has a 2.45 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over his last 20 starts, mostly because of a rediscovered curve, better command of his mid-80s fastball and a calmer approach on the mound. You don't need me to tell you not to expect this level of success to continue, but I fully believe he'll be mixed-league viable for the entire season.

Brian Wilson tweaked his groin playing catch before Friday's game and wasn't around to get a cheap three-run save chance against Colorado. Sergio Romo(notes) retired two of three men to start the ninth, then Jeremy Affeldt(notes) cleaned up with the final hitter. Wilson downplayed the injury after the game, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Speed Round: Brad Lidge(notes) came back into our lives with a bang, allowing a homer and a single over three batters Friday. It was just a mop-up situation, not a save chance, so maybe the Dotel Rules apply. … Must be a fun time to have Paul Konerko(notes) (it ain't me, babe). He clubbed his 11th homer of the year Friday. The only other regular in this lineup not shrouded in shame these days is center fielder Alex Rios(notes), who's at .277 with a sneaky nine steals. … Checking in with the Nickometer, the wacky world of Nick Johnson(notes): .138/.383/.224. … Fausto Carmona(notes) cheated his peripherals through four starts but the Twins got him pretty good on Friday (eight hits, six runs over six innings). … Ryan Zimmerman(notes) got back in the Washington lineup and promptly whacked a couple of homers. … Jeff Francoeur(notes) had a homer and steal for the Mets, but his night ended when he was plunked by a Danys Baez(notes) pitch. … Trevor Cahill(notes) didn't have much in his return to the Athletics rotation, getting rocked for three homers in Toronto (Alex Gonzalez hit two, Vernon Wells(notes) the other). Brandon Morrow(notes) struck out nine over six solid innings. … Chad Billingsley(notes) wasn't dominant against the Pirates (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 4 K) but he'll take the win. A save situation never materialized but Joe Torre used Jonathan Broxton(notes) for the final two outs anyway; Big John put in a dynamite month (no runs, one walk, 14 strikeouts) but has just one save to show for it. Take heart, gamers, these things come in bunches.

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