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Closing Time: A thousand aces do work, but CC Sabathia isn’t one of them

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CC, pick up that declining velocity and talk to me (USAT)

Settle in, settlers, and welcome back. It's time to kick off the sixth season of Closing Time, the regular wrap we've been giving to you since 2008. Where does the time go?

Let's establish some of the ground rules up front; there are types of players we will and won't discuss here as a rule of thumb. When a big-name star does something nifty, he probably won't be in this space. You already know how terrific Clayton Kershaw is and there's little utility to further underscoring that fact (though I might occasionally do it anyway in a Shuffle Up). Similarly, when a scrub goes through a .157 month, we're probably not going to discuss it, either. Nothing to see, keep moving right along.

[Also: Robinson Cano replaces agent with Jay-Z | Bodes well for Yankees]

You'll generally find four types of items in this space:

-- Underappreciated fantasy assets playing well (perhaps worthy of a pickup)
-- Name players struggling (perhaps worthy of a sell-high before things get worse)
-- Closing situations dissected (you know how volatile that position and category can be)
-- Random silliness and snark (if you're not having fun in this game, you're playing it all wrong)

Sometimes a big-name player can push his way into the column if his value seems to be fundamentally changing, and occasionally we'll do a name drop just to celebrate a terrific performance (waving at you, Bryce Harper). But if you're looking for a column to show you how wonderful Justin Verlander is, you've got the wrong space. The kiddie game is down the street.

All that preamble out of the way, let's examine one of the name-brand stars who did not pitch well Monday. All you homeboys in the Bronx, this one's for you. CC Sabathia, please report to customer service – and bring your declining velocity with you. You apparently weren't invited to Monday's Parade of Bagels.

Sabathia is known for his slow April pushoffs (it's far and away the worst complete month for his career), and his opener against Boston on Monday followed that path (5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 5 K). Sabathia's best fastballs barely crept into the low-90s and he had trouble locating his pitches throughout. He needed 102 tosses to get through those five innings.

If you're a Sabathia sympathizer, it's not hard to spin this opener positively. Call it one bad inning if you want; all of Boston's scoring against the lefty came in the second inning. The April splits can't be ignored, and it's fairly common to see pitchers operating at less than peak velocity at this time of year. Sabathia has been a 200-inning horse for six consecutive years and he's never failed to make fewer than 28 starts in any season, so we'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt with respect to durability, no matter the mileage on the odometer (just under 2,600 innings).

Alas, there's a flip side to the coin. Sabathia had elbow issues in 2012 and required a minor elbow surgery after the season. And his velocity trend has been declining in recent years. Sabathia's average fastball was a 94.2 mph heater in his first Yankee season of 2009; since then he's registered at 93.5, 93.8 and 92.3. Most of his heaters on Monday stopped in the high 80s.

Share your Sabathia slant in the comments, gamers. Does the radar-gun readout worry you? Do you agree with my assessment that this is the worst Yankees roster since the early 1990s? Or will the calendar history come through again with Sabathia: slow start, mid-season rally? It's not like he's the only big-name arm who didn't have it on Opening Day; Cole Hamels served up three homers in Atlanta, while Adam Wainwright labored in Arizona (11 H, 4 R, 3 ER). They all get hit sometimes.

[Also: Jackie Bradley Jr. could make Red Sox-Yankees rivalry sizzle again]

My bottom line with Sabathia: I'm glad he's not on any of my rosters this year. Nonetheless, I still had him in the 12-15 range on my cheat sheet for the majority of March. I wasn't screaming "don't draft him" from the rooftops.

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The kid is alright (USAT)

Rookie left fielder Jackie Bradley was one of Boston's bright spots in the 8-2 victory. He drew three walks (two of them off the lefty Sabathia), scored two runs and picked up an RBI, a lot of utility from an 0-for-2 day. He also made a nice running catch on defense, shown above. To put the three-walk game in perspective, consider that Carl Crawford drew just three free passes total in his 31 games last year. (No one in The Hub misses that albatross.)

Yahoo! Nation is keen to the Bradley story, making him the most-added offensive player over the last 24 hours. His ownership tag is now up to 39 percent at the Y. While no one is saying the kid outfielder, almost 23, will be a star right out of the box (remember he spent last summer between Single-A and Double-A), his minor-league profile does remind you a little bit of Jacoby Ellsbury. Bradley was a first-round pick back in 2011 and he showed up as a Top 35 prospect for both Baseball America and MLB.com into this season; there's your pedigree. I'm certainly intrigued, and I wish he weren't long gone in most of my pools (alas, he already is). Kick the tires while you still can.

Gamers can't freely acquire Jon Lester, of course, but they can at least feel good about his opener (5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K). More working-class than dominant, but recall how poorly Lester pitched last year. Boston's retooled bullpen took over from there, with five pitchers holding the Yanks to one hit (and no runs) over the final four innings. Lester gets a sterner test, on paper anyway, at Toronto on the weekend.

Interleague baseball is now a part of daily life in the majors, and the Angels and Reds provided a snappy debut there. Los Angeles ultimately secured the win, a 3-1 victory in 13 innings. It felt a little bit like a playoff game, albeit it was frustrating to see Mike Scioscia keep Ernesto Frieri in reserve for so long. Handshake hounds didn't mind in the end, with Frieri getting the eventual save chance and putting things down with a strong frame (one walk, two strikeouts). When in doubt, let the save rule run your life.

[Also: Yankees keep Alex Rodriguez at arm's length as season opens]

The Reds lost more than the game, as left fielder Ryan Ludwick suffered a separated shoulder and is out indefinitely. Chris Heisey is the next man up in Cincinnati, and he has the Andy Behrens deep-league endorsement. You might remember Heisey clubbed 18 homers in just 279 at-bats back in 2011, though he did a lot less with additional playing time last year.

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Jim Leyland, juggler (USAT)

The Tigers went to an all-hands-on-deck approach when it came to closing out the Twins. Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke split the final eight outs, with Coke securing the final two and grabbing the handshake. Unless you're save-desperate in a mixer, I don't see an intriguing target here. As wonderful as Coke's back story is (you'll enjoy this terrific feature from Jonah Keri), the lefty has been mediocre against right-handed batters for his career. This looked like a situational spot for Jim Leyland to dial him up; Justin Morneau was the second batter in the ninth, and Ryan Doumit is less threatening from the right-hand side.

Speed Round: The Brewers escaped with an opening-day victory despite John Axford's blown save in the ninth. Dexter Fowler took The Axman over the bridge. Axford certainly has the personality to handle the rigors of closing (revisit this gem from last year), and it helps that the Brewers don't have a deep set of options behind him. But he also had a gopher problem last year (10 homers allowed), in addition to a messy walk rate. On the plus side, Axford did strike out the other three batters he faced Monday. … The Mets had an 11-run party on San Diego's account, with leadoff man Collin Cowgill providing the finishing touch (a grand slam, his second hit). Just what the Mets needed, apparently: More Cowgill. Perhaps the 26-year-old journeyman has finally found a home. … Gerardo Parra roped three doubles in Arizona's win, so queue up the Rico Suave. … David Ortiz (heel) and Brett Lawrie (oblique) might be ready for minor-league work this weekend. And the Cardinals are hoping David Freese (back) could be cleared for Monday's home opener. … If you came for the Cubs Bullpen Discussion, please click through to our Monday blog on that very subject. … The Yahoo! Staff also released its 2013 MLB Predictions before Monday's first pitch, in case you missed it. Jump in on the fun, make your forecasts known and your voice heard.
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