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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Union of the Snakes

Scott Pianowski
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Did Brandon Lyon lose ground or gain ground in the Arizona bullpen Wednesday night? Hard to say. The slumping Lyon was headed for a pre-determined night off, so Jon Rauch picked up the save chance in the ninth with the Diamondbacks holding an 8-5 edge on San Diego. Those three-run leads aren't that hard to protect (remember the 97-percent rule) and Rauch was up to the task, though he did give up a Jody Gerut homer. Bob Melvin said Lyon will step back into the closer role, as needed, Thursday.

Okay, so Lyon keeps his job for now, but will he have it for the balance of the year? Rauch still looks like a heck of a spec play to me; Arizona is fighting for its division and playoff life, and any additional Lyon meltdowns could force a chance in the pecking order. We don't get to influence Melvin in his decision making, of course, but you can't help but notice the entire stat sheet favors Rauch over Lyon: he's striking out more, walking less, more difficult to homer off, more difficult to reach base on, and heck, 10 inches taller. In mixed leagues I'm stashing Rauch and giving him at least a 50 percent chance at promotion.

Skeptics will point to the six runs Rauch has allowed in his 13.1 Arizona innings, but that's somewhat of a fluke: it's tied to a WHIP under 1 and a zesty 17-2 strikeout/walk ratio. Rauch looks like a closer, acts like a closer, throws bee-bees like a closer, and currently sits behind a shaky closer. Stay with this one a while.

Brett Myers has faced a pretty easy schedule since his return from the minors four weeks ago, but they don't ask how in this game, they ask "how many?" His best outing of the new wave came Wednesday at the expense of the hapless Nationals, a shutout and a dodge-em special (9 H, 1 BB, 9 K). A couple of double plays helped the cause, and Washington left five runners in scoring position. Myers goes up against New York and Chicago next week.

The Twins as a staff threw a five-hitter against the Athletics Wednesday, but the Minnesota hurlers worked hard for the money - 164 pitches in all. Francisco Liriano ran up 107 quick ones over his five innings (one unearned run, eight baserunners, five Ks), and Joe Nathan labored even in a 1-2-3 ninth (21 pitches). Huston Street retired all four batters he faced on the other side, getting middle-relief work with the A's down two runs. Back to Liriano, he now has four wins in a row on his Reinvention Tour; he'll work twice on the road next week (Seattle, Oakland).

Alexi Casilla (thumb) came off the DL Wednesday, though he didn't play in the ballgame. He's expected to settle in as the team's starter at second base for the pending road trip, while Nick Punto and Adam Everett share the shortstop load. With Brendan Harris also around, Ron Gardenhire has plenty of lineup options if he feels like a switch on any given day.

Manny Parra said he "had nothing" and the boxscore confirms it, but still he allowed just two runs over five innings, and he snagged his first win in a month. The Milwaukee bullpen was outstanding behind him, working four scoreless frames and allowing just one hit (at the end of it was save No. 24 for Salomon Torres). Rickie Weeks is apparently over his thumb bruise; he walked three times and scored three times, along with a stolen base.

Clay Buchholz had another messy start, and before the night ended he was jettisoned to Double-A. We'll re-open the Buchholz file next spring; he's been dreadful over the last three months and change.

Alexei Ramirez swings at anything, and I mean anything (10 walks through 100 games). Roll it up there and see what he does. But you can't argue with the results he's showing - a .309 average and 14 homers, with four long-balls over the last six days. I figured the second half for Ramirez would be about adjustments, and a prolonged slump as the league figured him out a bit, but he's got a tasty .305/.320/.551 line in the second half. Aggressive Rookie 1, Skeptical Pianow 0.

Jason Isringhausen told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that wants to return to the majors in 2009. Izzy used the Jeremy Roenick method to convey the news, a text message. "Tons of desire," Isringhausen said with his fingers. "Mind is willing. Just gotta get the body there." Sticking by the St. Louis archway, here's your rundown: Adam Wainwright is returning (Friday against Atlanta, good draw); Chris Perez is staying put (the ninth is his); and Steven Jackson is headed back to work (not worth its own blog post, but at least it makes the first round tidy again).

Injury Lap: Hanley Ramirez suffered a right thumb contusion on a stolen base Wednesday and left the game. X-rays came back negative and he's considered day-to-day; journeyman Alfredo Amezaga took his spot . . . Carl Crawford (finger) is still hoping he might be able to play at the very end of the regular season. I'll be surprised if he offers anything for our purposes; if the roster spot has value to you, I'd move on . . . Erik Bedard (shoulder) isn't going to throw this weekend, after all, and the Mariners aren't sure if he'll pitch again this year. In redraft leagues, it's long past cut-bait time . . . Tom Glavine (elbow) isn't going to need surgery, so perhaps we'll see a curtain call in 2009 . . . A bruised foot scratched Yadier Molina at the last second Wednesday, but it's not thought to be major. Did you notice this cat is hitting .301 over 385 at-bats? . . . Jerry Hairston (hamstring) is back on the DL, perhaps the last words to his 2008 story.

I predicted a 7-5 bating-practice special with Bronson Arroyo and Ted Lilly at Wrigley Wednesday night, so of course they hooked up in a 2-1 beauty, won by the visitors. Francisco Cordero generally pitches to extremes and he hit the positive one in the ninth, three consecutive strikeouts.

I want to love Jonathan Broxton with all the madness in my rotisserie soul, but with three losses in six appearances, he's testing my patience a bit. He's having trouble locating his fastball early in the count and some defensive lapses haven't helped, but he started his own mess Wednesday by hitting Matt Holliday to leadoff the ninth.

Speed Round: Casey Kotchman is away from the Braves for a few days while he tends to a family matter. Have other options ready through the weekend . . . You know the Mets are bullpen-desperate when they sign Al Reyes to a minor-league deal, as they did Wednesday . . . Stop me if you read a Wandy Rodriguez endorsement at any point over the balance of 2008. I'm so over that guy, too inconsistent, too homer prone, too volatile on the road . . . I'm not even going to try to explain Melvin Mora any longer, I just hope you're getting a piece of this ballistic run. He filled the box (3-1-2-4) and added a homer and steal Wednesday . . . I don't know if it's more confidence-related or health-related, but Jacoby Ellsbury definitely has his groove back this month (.302, six steals) . . . Mike Pelfrey got away with too many fly balls Wednesday, but any day the Mets bullpen doesn't have to work is a good day in my book . . . The three-gamer between the Angels and Rays was baseball as it oughta be . . . With the wind blowing out and Nate Robertson chucking, sure, the Rangers hit six homers Wednesday. Travis Metcalf got two of the bunch, which solidifies his hold on the weak side of the platoon . . . Trey Hillman is getting some guff for his bullpen usage in Wednesday's loss, that's how second-guessing works. I respect a manager who isn't afraid to use his closer in the eighth inning; it's not Hillman's fault Joakim Soria had a very rare off night.

Saves that didn't get their own table: Brian Fuentes (24); Jensen Lewis (4, and the leash keeps extending); and of course Francisco Rodriguez (48). Brian Wilson blew an easy one against the Marlins (sorry Matt Cain), then scored a vulture win when the Giants got one against Matt Lindstrom in the last of the ninth.

I'll be monitoring Cliff Lee, Jamie Moyer and Pedro Martinez Thursday, in between some traveling, what's on your docket? There's also a Smith showdown set for Safeco, Oakland's Greg against Seattle's Ryan Rowland. Whatever your pleasure, hope it falls well for you.

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