Programming note: We'll be live-blogging the major league debuts of Stephen Strasburg(notes) and Michael Stanton(notes) on Tuesday in a special edition of Closing Time. The festivities begin at 6:45 pm ET. It's an all-ages show, no cover. You're invited. Please stop by.
On Monday night, Diamondbacks closer Chad Qualls(notes) walked the bases loaded in the ninth inning, but he managed to escape with a save when Yunel Escobar(notes) grounded into a game-ending double-play. Qualls threw just 10 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Yet within the context of his horrid season, a scoreless three-walk performance seems like a gem.
If you're a Qualls owner seeking reassurance, you'll find none in his postgame comments. This from MLB.com:
"I was just out there trying to throw the ball down the middle, to be honest," Qualls said, adding that his fastball, which is supposed to sink, instead cut too far away from the strike zone.
Arizona manager A.J. Hinch offered no votes of confidence, either. Instead, he sounded like a man who simply wanted to forget what he'd just witnessed:
Except to say that he was leaning toward calling on a fifth reliever if Qualls had failed to retire Escobar or the ensuing batter, Hinch was in no mood to dwell on the imperfections of victory.
"The way the bullpen has thrown throughout the year," the skipper said, "at the end of the day, I'm going to take a zero and move onto tomorrow."
So let's recap: Qualls was awful again, yet he somewhat miraculously closed the game. He could not control his fastball, even though he was simply trying to groove the pitch to Braves hitters. And his manager was this close to removing him.
I'm pleased to report that I have no shares of Qualls in my fantasy portfolio. If I did, however, I would have acquired Aaron Heilman(notes) as a hedge a few weeks ago. Heilman currently owns the eighth inning responsibilities for the D-backs, and he's unquestionably out-pitched Qualls this season. Over 25.1 innings, he's struck out 21 hitters while posting a 2.84 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
Of course Heilman's career fantasy ratios aren't nearly as good (4.16, 1.33), so his season could take an unfortunate turn at any time. But for now, he's the handcuff. He's one of many setup men who occupy the "Threatening" position in the stylish grid below…
• Jonathan Papelbon(notes) was placed on the bereavement list, so he'll be unavailable for at least three days. Hard-throwing Daniel Bard(notes) is the favorite for saves in Papelbon's absence. He pitched the final inning on Monday in a non-save situation.
• As soon as Will Ohman(notes) inherited the ninth in Baltimore, he immediately transformed back into the old Ohman, the guy who typically posts a 4-something ERA and a useless WHIP. In his last four appearances he's allowed seven hits, three walks and seven earned runs. Alfredo Simon(notes) (hamstring) is eligible to return from the disabled list on Wednesday, and he should reclaim closing duties as soon as he's activated. Add at your own risk. Michael Gonzalez(notes) isn't close. The O's have recently discussed using prospect Jake Arrieta in relief, at least temporarily. He has a record of 6-2 at Triple-A Norfolk with an ERA of 1.85, and 64 Ks in 73.0 innings. His future is clearly in the rotation, not the 'pen.
• Brad Lidge(notes) has in fact reacquired his old job after returning from the DL, and he's been perfect in his two June appearances. I haven't yet dropped Jose Contreras(notes), but that day is likely to arrive soon.
"If we take him from the ninth to the eighth, it doesn't help — you can lose a game in the eighth inning just as easily as in the ninth."
• Yeah, I realize that both Scott Downs(notes) and Jason Frasor(notes) have struggled in recent days. But it just doesn't feel right to leave the "Threatening" cell empty next to Kevin Gregg's(notes) name. Gregg has given up at least one hit in each of his last 10 appearances, and he's allowed 10 earned runs and 12 walks during that stretch.
• Huston Street(notes) had a rough inning of rehab for Triple-A Colorado Springs on Monday, but he recorded three Ks and suffered zero setbacks. Colorado pitching coach Bob Apodaca has suggested that Street will be eased slowly back into the ninth when he finally comes of the DL. He's expected to make at least two more appearances in Triple-A this week.
"He's throwing the ball well," Riggleman said about Capps. "He just has to make an adjustment with his sliders. He can't just have his fastball going. I haven't really thought about anything like [taking Capps out of the closer's role]."
The rest of us have thought about it plenty, but apparently not Riggleman (who's clearly not telling the truth, but is doing the smart thing by publicly supporting his player). Capps has allowed 14 runs (nine earned) over his last 8.0 innings, dating to May 17. He's blown four of his last six save chances, too. Tyler Clippard(notes) is still the short-term handcuff; Drew Storen(notes) could be next year's closer.
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