Closing Time: In appreciation of R.A. Dickey

In my perfect word, every MLB club would have a knuckleballer on staff, be it as a rotation man or someone to save the bullpen. Heck, most knuckleballers can fulfill both of those roles if you ask.

The reality: we only have one current butterfly artist to enjoy, New York's R.A. Dickey. Let's appreciate this man while he's still around. Better yet, let's see if we can find some roster space for perhaps the National League's most underrated starting pitcher.

Dickey and James McDonald locked up in a dandy pitcher's duel in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, with both men allowing just one run over seven innings. McDonald's power stuff collected eight strikeouts, while Dickey bobbed and weaved to a career-high 11 punchouts. Dickey also got out of dodge with a victory, as the Mets pushed across two deciding runs against Juan Cruz in the top of the eighth.

Dickey has been one of the most reliable arms in our numbers racket this year. He's provided useful stats in all but one of his starts, checking in with six innings or more and three earned runs or less in eight turns. His only messy start came in the rain at Atlanta back in April, an excused absence all the way (cold weather generally hurts the knuckler, and he was up against the NL's second-best offense).

Dickey's solid ERA and WHIP from 2010 (2.84/1.19) and 2011 (3.28/1.23) put him on this spring's radar as a possible late-round selection, but there were two logical reasons why some gamers shied away. Dickey had a mediocre 19-22 record for the Mets over the last two years (part of that is bad luck, part of that is toiling for a sub.-500 team), and his strikeout rate never pushed past the 6.0 mark. It's hard to justify a Circle of Trust spot, or even a preferred streamer spot, to someone who's struggling to get win support and likely to compromise our K/IP ratio.

Alas, those two concerns haven't been issues through the opening quarter of 2012. Dickey's already collected six wins for a 23-20 Mets club — keep in mind he had just eight all of last year — and his strikeout rate has spiked as well (51 whiffs over his 57.1 innings). While no one will ever point to the knuckleball as a consistent pitch, Dickey's current form makes him someone we can employ with confidence. His stats to this point rank him as the No. 27 pitcher in the Yahoo! game.

While upcoming matchups can be a little misleading for someone who throws such an unconventional pitch, the projected slate to follow doesn't look bad. Dickey gets San Diego this weekend (yes, please), and in June he'll visit the Nationals (low-scoring club) and Rays (most pitchers are comfortable under the catwalk). A home date against St. Louis is more imposing, but the Cardinals have some injury issues at present, so perhaps Dickey can keep the Houdini act working against them, too.

Shouldn't this guy be owned in more than 43 percent of Yahoo! leagues? I sure think so. Maybe it's not going to be a six-month story, but Dickey is welcome to pitch on any of my fake teams right now.

Everyone knows that 2012 has been The Year of the Blown Save, but the ninth-inning mischief largely took the night off Tuesday. We saw a whopping 12 handshakes on the full slate, and every pitcher who converted a save did so without allowing a run. Collectively the group struck out 15 batters, walked just two, scattered a mere four hits. Smooth landings all over the land.

Rather than giving every closer their own extensive write-up and podium moment, let's assemble the crew for a collective cheer. Take a bow, men: Jim Johnson (winner of the Thigpen Timing Award), Kenley Jansen (bailed out with a double play), Tyler Clippard, Chris Perez (greeted by Cleveland cheers), Heath Bell, Santiago Casilla, Aroldis Chapman (lights out, as usual), Fernando Rodney (bullpen story of the year), Brett Myers, Rafael Soriano (working around a double), Joe Nathan, and last, but not least, the Rasputin of Closers, Frank Francisco (a creamy-smooth 1-2-3 in Pittsburgh).

We'll give the Clippard conversion a few extra words, given how we devoted Tuesday's CT to the Washington save chase. Clippard went to Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty before the game and basically said "what about me?" with respect to the closing vacancy. In the past Davey Johnson has preferred to keep Clippard locked into the eighth inning, but the reliable righty found himself inserted into a ninth-inning spot at Philly. Just get three outs before they tally three runs, big guy.

Clippard came through with a tidy 1-2-3 inning, though one batter (Pete Orr) greeted him with a 330-foot liner that just barely hooked foul. Ten of Clippard's 14 pitches were strikes, and the Phillies didn't hit a fair ball out of the infield (one strikeout, two ground outs). Consider Clippard the chairman of the Washington bullpen until further notice.

Arizona's J.J. Putz was the lone closer to lose his way Tuesday, issuing a couple of walks before allowing a game-flipping two-run double to Ivan DeJesus Jr. (one of the anonymous hitmen Don Mattingly is employing these days). Putz has a messy 7.20 ERA and 1.53 WHIP for the year, but he's also 9-for-12 on saves (not great, but not horrendous) and has 17 whiffs against just three walks. I'd be surprised if he were lifted from the role without further missteps along the way. If you feel the need to hedge immediately, David Hernandez (2.22/1.10, 29 Ks against eight walks) is your man.

Post-game hugs and smiles are routine for any club right after a win, but the Cardinals looked extra happy after Adam Wainwright's four-hit masterpiece over the Padres (1 BB, 9 K; 76 of 111 pitches were strikes). Wainwright commanded all of his pitches and basically looked like the star we all remember from 2009 and 2010; sure, the outing came against a cushy opponent, but the video jumps off the screen. Here's the tape, see for yourself.

So much for any buy-low window, it's been slammed shut now. Enjoy the comeback portion of the program. Wainwight's next five projected opponents look reasonable: the Phillies this weekend (against Doc Halladay), followed by the Mets, Astros, White Sox and Royals. Let's hope the Cardinals don't need to shuffle the rotation, due to weather or unexpected happenings; that's a slate Wainwright should succeed against. Welcome back, ace.

I'm almost glad I didn't have an eye on the Royals and Yankees for most of the night: the last thing I need is to talk myself into Luke Hochevar and Phil Hughes (both were effective). New York's lineup hasn't been doing much lately, but use that slump to your advantage. I'd go out and buy Mark Teixeira (.229) today, if any sort of discount applied; many rotoheads are frustrated with him, but he has a history of these slow starts and the womb of the offense will eventually be good to him. The Kansas City offense has fleas of its own, but at least Jeff Francoeur has finally woken up (7-for-13 with two homers and a triple since Sunday). You have to root for anyone as cool as Frenchy, the type of guy who routinely picks up the dinner check in the bleachers.

While the Angels are a definite disappointment at 19-25, it's a monumental fluke that the club has just five saves through the opening quarter (lowest count in the majors). Every team in baseball is capable of landing 25-30 saves in a given season, in theory, so there should be some payback handshakes to come when things normalize a bit. And it's entirely possible that the Angels will eventually play up to their pre-season notices and make a push for the playoffs, which could push the handshake line into overdrive.

Arcade-endorsed Ernesto Frieri mopped up Tuesday's win at Oakland, in relief of the brilliant C.J. Wilson (8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K). Frieri struck out two of the three batters he faced, giving him a silly 34 punchouts in 19.1 innings this year. If he can stick around the strike zone (he does have nine walks), he's capable of having a breakout year, a difference-making year for our purposes. That 22-percent ownership tag should be a lot higher.

I'd like to go a full shift without Red Sox angst, but the Olde Towne Team doesn't make it easy. The Tuesday loss at Baltimore featured the return of Kevin Youkilis, and while Youkilis clocked a homer in his first at-bat, his presence in the lineup caused a notable shift in the team's defensive plan. Bobby Valentine (or the front office) decided to move Adrian Gonzalez to right field, opening first base for Youkilis and leaving third base to rookie Will Middlebrooks. Perhaps Gonzalez can get away with the outfield assignment in some road parks (he handled it in Philly last weekend without major incident), but using him in Fenway Park's expansive and tricky right field would be a major mistake. And what's the logic behind taking a Gold Glove winner off his natural position, anyway?

You get the idea Boston would like to trade Youkilis eventually, and heck, he'll probably be hurt again before you know it. But the longer the club tries to use Gonzalez as the fish out of water, the more it's risking a potential catastrophe. Here's hoping this is a short-lived experiment. Even if Middlebrooks has to go back to Triple-A for a short time, it's not the worst thing in the world for the kid.

Brian Matusz recorded the win for Baltimore (6.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K), his fifth strong start in six turns. And you can excuse him for the one day he didn't have it; the Rangers wrecking crew can do it to anybody. I know many of you have been burned on Matusz in the past and I can't recommend him in good conscience for Monday's turn at Toronto; too much jagged history in the rear-view mirror, and the Jays have some formidable right-handed bats. But if you see a compelling reason to hop on board the Matusz bandwagon immediately, state your case in the comments. He'll be one of the more interesting ranks when I assemble the starting-pitcher Shuffle Up on Thursday afternoon.

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