The pressure of the ninth inning and the chase for saves, it's always going to be one of the most prominent themes in this space. Let's collect some stories from the second full day of 2009 MLB, with a detailed eye on that maddening closer carousel and the pitchers that ride on it.
• The Mariners were one out away from a two-game winning streak in Minnesota when things abruptly came unraveled and closer Brandon Morrow couldn't find the plate (three straight walks, and most of the pitches weren't close). Seattle skipper Don Wakamatsu was essentially forced to take Morrow out, and the Twins promptly ended the game with a pair of hits against journeyman Miguel Batista. Deep sleeper Alexi Casilla had the game-winning knock to center, delivering the tying and winning runs.
I have to assume this was a one-night blip for Morrow and he'll be fine eventually; the mediocre depth behind him in Seattle will ensure that he gets plenty of chances. Don't do anything rash with the add-drop button; Wakamatsu, for what it's worth, gave Morrow a vote of confidence while he was removing him from the game.
Erik Bedard pitched better than the final line suggests (5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 8 K), showing signs of dominance before tiring in his final inning. I don't think Ms fans will ever feel good about the Adam Jones deal, but a rebound from Bedard would go a long way towards making this team competitive again.
• Managing by the save rule very often leads to terrible matchups in high-leverage situations, as the Royals illustrated in Chicago Tuesday. Rather than have Joakim Soria face the meat of the Chicago order in the bottom of the eighth, Trey Hillman left Kyle Farnsworth on the mound and paid the price when Jim Thome belted a go-ahead three-run homer. Bobby Jenks retired three of four men in the following inning to close things up, making a winner out of Octavio Dotel (perfect eighth, three strikeouts).
Mark Teahen went 1-for-3 with a walk as Kansas City's No. 3 hitter, but he didn't look comfortable at second base. We'll see where this experiment goes. Alex Gordon provided both of KC's runs with a homer and a ground out, and it's encouraging to see the round-tripper come against a left-hander, Mark Buehrle.
• I was settling in for the always-entertaining Fernando Rodney carnival in Toronto but Brandon Lyon blocked Rodney from ever seeing the field; the Jays went ahead of Detroit in the bottom of the eighth on Aaron Hill's three-run homer. Full disclosure, it was a pretty good curve that Hill connected on (let's give hitters some credit now and then), but it's a disturbing sign for Lyon given how he struggled most of the spring.
Brandon Inge briefly squared the game for the Tigers in the top of the ninth, absolutely hammering a B.J. Ryan pitch into the seats (he's a different hitter when he's not catching, honest), but the Jays pushed a run across against the beleaguered Lyon and won the game in the bottom of the inning. Toronto fans can't toast to the fact, at least in the stadium, but their team is a snappy 2-0.
• Tim Lincecum wasn't sharp (3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 5 K) and the Brewers did as they pleased on the bases (Mike Cameron had two bags in addition to four walks), but the Giants got the last laugh, collecting 12 hits, five walks and 10 runs against four ineffective Milwaukee pitchers (when Jeff Suppan is your opening-day starter, no one's afraid of you). Aaron Rowand, Bengie Molina and Randy Winn all clubbed homers and don't forget about first-sacker Travis Ishikawa, who had two hits including a based-loaded triple. I'd like the San Francisco offense better if Molina weren't holding things down in the cleanup spot - he's one of the slowest players in the majors - but nonetheless this looks like a vastly improved lineup.
• Josh Beckett had mixed results against Tampa Bay in the playoffs (one win, one ugly loss), but that was long forgotten during his opening-day gem over the Rays Tuesday (7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 10 K, just 93 pitches). Hub favorites Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek supported the effort with home runs, though it's going to take a lot more of that before I let Varitek get anywhere close to my roster (his playoff performance isn't going to be dismissed easily). Akinori Iwamura kept the leadoff spot for Tampa and came through with a solid day (1-for-2, two walks, run, stolen base).
• Jair Jurrjens and four relievers combined to shut out the Phillies on six hits; Jurrjens wasn't exactly dominant (5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 2 K) but you'll take the win. It was encouraging to see Charlie Manuel break up his lefty-lefty-lefty run in the middle of his order; Jayson Werth (0-for-4) slid into the fifth spot and Raul Ibanez (1-for-4) dropped to sixth.
• Get me the paperwork and show me where I sign, I'm ready to be fan No. 53 for the Florida Marlins. It's hard to say how good the Fish really are as they're hammering a spotty Washington club, but 20 runs in two nights makes a statement, and a lot of teams would like to have a 1-2 punch in the rotation similar to Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson (6.2 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K). Emilio Bonifacio kept the good vibes going with a couple of hits and two RBIs, Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla went deep, and Cameron Maybin had a run scored and a steal out of the No. 2 slot, where he'll be against left-handed starters.
A couple of underrated Nats (Cristian Guzman, Nick Johnson) combined for six hits and Austin Kearns, everyone's favorite whipping boy, hit a two-run homer. There's nothing good to say about Scott Olsen and his flat slider; the Marlins knocked him around for eight runs over three innings.
• It's never been about stuff with Ubaldo Jimenez, it's about consistency. You gotta tip your cap at the way he mowed down the D-Backs (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K), showcasing an impressive array of pitches. Manny Corpas worked a perfect eighth inning and Huston Street closed the door with a scoreless ninth, stranding one runner. Troy Tulowitzki, slotted sixth in the order, homered for the second straight day.
• Brad Ziegler probably pitched better than his line suggests; the Angels pushed one run across on a couple of cheap singles, and he ended the game by striking out Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter. Trevor Cahill walked the tightrope in his major-league debut but didn't get hurt too badly (5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 1 K). He's not ready for a mixed-league audition, but we'll see where he's at later in the summer.
• A host of Y! Fantasy Experts had glowing things to say about Ian Snell last month (including yours truly), but he didn't justify the love with his opener at St. Louis (4 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 2 K). The sneaky-valuable Kyle Lohse got the win on the other side (7 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K), and the Cardinals didn't have to worry about a ninth-inning save situation (Jason Motte was getting the day off either way).
Speed Round: Heath Bell passed the eyeball test, striking out three Dodgers in support of Chris Young (6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K). Orlando Hudson stole his second base for LA . . . Make it five strikeouts in eight at-bats for Pudge Rodriguez, though he did have a hit and a run scored Tuesday. I don't think he's much of a fit for the No. 2 slot in the order; perhaps Michael Bourn (and his shortened swing) will get another chance there soon . . . Geovany Soto left Tuesday's game in the sixth inning with a sore shoulder and might be out a couple of days . . . Another couple of runs for Nyjer Morgan, though he didn't get any running opportunities. It's also encouraging to see Freddy Sanchez get two hits (and a homer), considering the terrible start he got off to in the first half of 2008 . . . Kevin Gregg was on the mound as Chicago lost to the Astros, but it was Neal Cotts who made the mess in the bottom of the tenth . . . Felix Hernandez (ankle) is expected to be fine for his next turn . . . Matt Holliday (illness) was held out of the Oakland lineup and is day-to-day . . . I don't know what's wrong with Justin Verlander, either. According to Jim Leyland, the ace righty is putting too much pressure on himself . . . Get some rest and be ready early on Wednesday; the Marlins go for the sweep behind Chris Volstad at 12:10 EST.