Closing Time: Field of streams - when good things happen to ordinary pitchers

The high-priced lefty was working in Houston, up against the Berkman-free Astros. The journeyman righty was toiling in Oakland, facing perhaps the weakest lineup in the majors today. The pedestrian lefty was at home against Seattle, cushioned by a mammoth park and facing another underwhelming offense. Good work if you can get it.

Barry Zito(notes) wasn't given much fantasy hope entering the season, no matter that he came around nicely in the second half of 2009. Does a six-inning dusting (3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) of the punchless Astros change your mind? Ian Snell(notes) had an up-and-down spring – plenty of strikeouts, but a messy ERA. Does a tidy six innings in Oakland (3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K) put him in your circle of trust? Dallas Braden(notes) entered Tuesday night with a respectable career ERA but nothing else notable to speak of. Will you shift into pickup mode after a 10-strikeout effort against the Mariners?

If I had to pick up one of these three guys, Zito would get the nod. We're talking about a former Cy Young winner, no matter if it happened back in the dark ages (once upon a time, Eric Chavez(notes) and Bobby Crosby(notes) got us excited on draft day). Zito gave us a 2.83 ERA and 7.7 K/9 after the break last year, and if nothing else you can selectively spot him around the National League, waiting for the home starts in a pitcher's yard or the cushy spots on the road. Zito doesn't throw hard enough to wake a napping baby these days, but if he keeps snapping off his curveball like he did Tuesday, I'm not concerned about the radar gun. Assuming the Giants slot him for a home date with Pittsburgh next Monday, I'm on board.

Snell's solid effort was all about picking on the Athletics, something Andy Behrens was begging you to do earlier in the day. Oakland's basically got a roster of No. 1, No. 6 and No. 9 hitters – there isn't a single stick that makes sense in the middle of a batting order. Snell was knocked around for most of camp (7.13 ERA, six homers) but he also had 18 strikeouts against three walks. I'm not going to make him a streaming priority by any means, but I'll at least put him on the list when the matchup looks reasonable. I won't go near him at Texas this weekend.

Braden's start might have been the most surprising of the three; while he had a solid 3.89 ERA over 22 starts last year, he wasn't throwing the ball by anyone (5.33 K/9) and he never went past seven strikeouts in any start until Tuesday night. I suppose you could consider him on the weekend at Anaheim, depending on where you stand in your head-to-head match. In roto groups, I'd prefer to wait for a different spot.

Chris Young is a more intriguing roto option than any of the three names listed above and he's gone in all of my leagues, albeit his current ownership level is right around where Zito trades at. Young cruised through the Diamondbacks on Tuesday (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K) but let's keep his flaws well in mind: he's never gone past 179.1 innings in any season; he's a fly-ball pitcher who will allow his share of homers, especially outside of Petco; he's unwilling or unable to hold runners on base, so speed-laden clubs will get extra bases any time they want them. If Young gets the call at Colorado this weekend, hands off; if the Friars hold him out until Monday's home game with Atlanta, you have a decision to make.

In spring training, Mike Gonzalez's(notes) problem was velocity; Tuesday night, he struggled with location. Either way, the lefty's first outing for his new Baltimore club was a kick in the stomach – a blown save in the season opener at Tampa.

The Orioles probably should have had a bigger cushion when the bottom of the ninth rolled around – Rafael Soriano(notes) was all over the place in the top of the inning, leaving the bases loaded – but when you're a closer, you're supposed to get those three outs, even if it's just a one-run margin. Gonzalez was able to get his fastball in the 93 mph range Tuesday after a month in the 80s, but he couldn't get the ball where he wanted. Sean Rodriguez(notes) roped a single to start the rally, Kelly Shoppach(notes) crushed a double off a belt-high heater and eventually Carl Crawford(notes) ended things with a two-run single, laced off a letter-high fastball.

Gonzalez's job isn't in any danger, of course – his contract (two years, $12 million) guarantees a reasonable leash and at least his velocity returned in the opener – but there was nothing impressive about this debut, either. Clip and save. Jim Johnson(notes) doesn't have an electric repertoire and he was spotty as a temp closer late last year, but we should note that he's the eighth-inning guy in Baltimore and he worked a tidy eighth inning at Tampa (1-2-3, with one strikeout).

Mike Napoli(notes) was on the bench for the second straight game as the Angels once again decided to value defense (Jeff Mathis(notes)) over offense. I suppose that's what happens when your club is run by a former catcher. "If someone plays well, he can take off and run with the position," skipper Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times before the game. "Right now, we're going to give Jeff a look in the early going, but Mike is going to play." Mathis is 2-for-7 with a homer through two games and he's strong defensively but his career average is a skimpy .201; Napoli has impressive power and a career OPS of .850 but he struggles behind the plate. We'll keep this situation under the microscope.

The Yankees tweaked their lineup up against Boston ace Jon Lester(notes); Curtis Granderson(notes) was dropped to the last spot in the order, and Marcus Thames(notes) got the call in left field while Brett Gardner(notes) hit the bench. Gardner eventually replaced Thames and got two at-bats against the Boston bullpen. "It's not necessarily that we envision [Gardner] as a platoon guy," Joe Girardi told The Journal News. "There could be a situation where you give Nick (Johnson) a day off and you DH (Thames)." Thames has a career .516 slugging percentage against lefties, his one bankable skill.

Handshakes: Another smooth save for Brian Wilson(notes) (perfect inning, one strikeout), with three holds in front of him. … Mariano Rivera(notes) retired three of four men to lock up New York's first victory. … Trevor Hoffman(notes) was knocked around a bit (2 H, 1 R) but it's hard to blow a three-run lead. … Heath Bell(notes) got the job done with a double-play ball and a strikeout. Mike Adams(notes) got the four earlier outs, dancing around three baserunners. … Jon Rauch(notes) rolled to an easy save in Amaheim (1-2-3, two strikeouts), with Matt Guerrier(notes) working a perfect eighth inning.

Speed Round: Jose Reyes played nine innings in an extended spring training game (2-for-5) and might be able to play with the Mets this weekend. … The aggressive Padres stole three bases at Arizona (Tony Gwynn(notes), Chase Headley(notes), Everth Cabrera(notes)), while Adrian Gonzalez(notes) and Will Venable(notes) clubbed home runs. … Matt Wieters(notes) hit one of three Baltimore homers off James Shields(notes) in Tampa (the Roto Gods sigh), while Evan Longoria(notes) blasted a titanic shot that hasn't landed yet (the Roto Gods weep). … Ken Macha brought the infield in during the first inning with Colorado, a silly move considering the Brewers were up against ordinary lefty Greg Smith(notes) on the other side. This isn't 1968, Kenny. … A hitless day for Carlos Gomez(notes), but at least he tried to bunt for a hit (retired by a snappy Todd Helton(notes) play). A better approach, even if the result doesn't show it. … Nick Johnson(notes) doesn't have a hit yet for the Yankees but he's already drawn four walks. The man is an OBP machine. … David Ortiz(notes) is already getting a little testy after an 0-for-7 start. Given how he struggles against lefties and on the road, he's not someone I want any part of in 2010. … Houston's bullpen got nine straight outs against San Francisco (courtesy of Jeff Fulchino(notes), Brandon Lyon(notes) and Matt Lindstrom(notes)) but it didn't matter as the Astros offense was in bagel mode. … Ian Stewart(notes) knocked his second homer in two days, this one an opposite-field clout off left-hander Randy Wolf(notes), and he added a double and triple. The Rockies would be foolish to keep Stewart in the No. 7 slot all year.

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