May 14, 2008
Shortly after Eddie Guardado blew through the Mariners in the ninth inning tonight to close out a 5-2 win for Texas, Andy Behrens sent me this email:
I'd assume Wilson wasn't available after all the pitches lately.
You, sir, have a busy Closing Time ahead. Enjoy!
My response to him was something along the lines of, "You never know …" As Behrens mentioned in his email, and wrote about earlier today, Wilson had been used heavily over the previous three days (53 pitches combined in two outings), and he was lit up for six runs in those 1.2 innings. So, perhaps "Everyday" Eddie was just out there tonight to give Wilson a break. But that doesn't change the fact that Wilson has been struggling and Guardado was fantastic tonight. He threw just nine pitches, all of them for strikes. He got Jeff Clement to fly out to center to open the inning before mowing down Yuniesky Betancourt and Ichiro on strikes. And, once he punched out Ichiro, he was pretty jazzed about it.
Guardado has been used cautiously this season after landing on the DL in early April with shoulder soreness. But he said last week that he was ready for heavier lifting. Which brings us back to my response to Andy – "You never know …" Bottom line: If you have spare change lying around on your bench, why not take a gamble that something develops here? In the Friends and Family League, I cut extra outfielder Fred Lewis loose in favor of some "Everyday" action. Then I grabbed the dice and rolled them one more time …
… and pink-slipped Scot Shields to make room for Cleveland reliever Masa Kobayashi, who picked up his 228th career save tonight – the previous 227 coming in Japan. He came on with two outs in the eighth with a one-run lead on Oakland (1-0) and allowed a single to Donnie Murphy before retiring Kurt Suzuki on a fielder's choice grounder to close the inning down. The Indians then scored three runs in the top of the ninth, making it a 4-0 lead. With the added cushion, Kobayashi, who lowered his ERA to 1.93, remained in the game and pitched a seamless ninth for the save. This comes a night after Rafael Betancourt coughed up three runs in the ninth inning of what was a 0-0 contest to take the loss against Toronto. Betancourt has allowed at least a run in four of his past six outings, resulting in two losses and a blown save. And so, considering that Kobayashi and Shields have produced fairly identical numbers, I decided I'd rather roster the guy setting up the closer with the 6.89 ERA as opposed to the one setting up the closer with a 2.93 ERA and 12 consecutive saves (F-Rod). I'm not going to make a definitive statement about what kind of role Guardado or Kobayashi will have going forward. But I'm sure there are a few of you out there like me that could use some saves and also have some non-integral bench players worth kicking to the curb for a "You never know …" closer candidate (or two).
• Eric Gagne is no longer in closer timeout. The Seth Rogen of MLB (see below) returned to ninth inning duties for Milwaukee tonight after asking out of the nightmare just a few days ago. Gagne preserved tonight's two-run lead against the Dodgers, allowing a hit and a walk, but no runs, to pick up his 10th save.
• In case you haven't been paying attention, the Mariners are atrocious. They committed four errors in tonight's loss to Texas. And, after M's pitchers combined for 13 walks the night before, Felix Hernandez walked five batters in what would be his fourth consecutive loss. A quick glance at the box score and one might be able to rationalize that Felix's line (6 IP, 2 ER) wasn't all that bad. But don't be fooled. I mentioned the five walks, which really speaks to his complete lack of focus tonight. He ignored base runners, basically handing stolen bases to Michael Young and Ian Kinsler. He threw a pitch into the dirt in the fourth inning that allowed a runner from third to come home. And he was muttering to himself all night long. I've been waiting (hoping) for Hernandez to develop a steely resolve on the mound, and I thought we might see major progress in that department this year, but it's just not happening. In a stretch of games (2-12) when the M's need an ace (or a "King" in this case) to stop the bleeding, Hernandez has been a joker.
• It was a nail-biter type of night across the league. Twelve of the 15 games on the schedule produced a save, and no team won their game by more than four runs. Of those currently in a closer role, only Tampa Bay's Troy Percival blew a save opportunity.
• Jeff Keppinger, who has been on a royal tear of late (nine hits in his past 14 at bats) fractured his patella when he fouled a ball off his knee in the second inning against Florida. Jerry Hairston Jr., who is hitting .316, replaced him. Unless they make a deal, the Reds don't have many other options outside of continuing to use Hairston at short. Alex Gonzalez's recovery from a knee fracture is going slow and he's not really that close to a return yet.