Closing Time: Hellickson useful in defeat, Volquez wild in win

That would be Tampa Bay right-hander Jeremy Hellickson pictured over on the right, irritated with himself after allowing a solo homer to Alberto Callaspo.

Despite the fact that Hellickson lost in his 2011 debut, his fantasy owners can't be too disappointed with the numbers: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 10 Ks. Highlights here. (If instead there were two hits and six walks, it would have been the classic Rich Harden line. But no). Hellickson seems to hit every number on the radar gun, 74 to 92. He's a monster.

But right now, if you're a Rays starter, you need to be nearly perfect to get a win. That team has scored just seven runs in five games, all losses. Wednesday's lineup, without the injured Evan Longoria and the struggling Manny Ramirez, wasn't too intimidating. And Manny is off on Thursday as well, reportedly tending to an unspecified personal matter while the remaining Rays face Edwin Jackson in Chicago. (Yes, you're starting Edwin).

Two more notes on Rays-Angels: The lightly owned Mark Trumbo went 3-for-4 with one RBI, one steal and one run scored. Trumbo should get another two weeks of steady playing time, while Kendrys Morales is sidelined. Give him a look. The 25-year-old had a terrific spring (6 HR, .297 AVG) and he dominated the PCL last season (103-36-122-.301). Also, you might have noticed that Brandon Wood got the start at shortstop, replacing the mildly injured Erick Aybar. Wood did his usual thing: 0-fer, 3 Ks, 5 LOB. So he's in mid-season form.

If you've got Edinson Volquez all figured out, please just skip ahead to comments and explain him to the rest of us. Wednesday's home start against Houston seemed perfectly safe, but Volquez opened this way: Walk, single, K, double-steal, walk, K, run-scoring walk, two-run single, run-scoring single, single, K.  The Astros finished the frame with a 4-0 lead. Volquez issued a lead-off walk to begin the second (later balking), but then K'd the next three hitters. So after just two innings, he'd walked four, struck out six, thrown a million pitches, and he'd given up four runs.

Naturally, over the next three innings, he faced just one batter over the minimum, the Reds took the lead, and Volquez was eventually the winner. I own more shares of this guy than I should, I'll never drop him, and there's no trade market. And I don't understand him, not at all. (The fundamental problem seems to be that I expect every start to look like his work in the first-half of '08). He's facing San Diego and Pittsburgh next week, so he can't be benched ... right? Or is it simply a trap? Let's workshop this guy. Your thoughts below, please.

Travis Snider hit a three-run bomb off Dallas Braden on Wednesday — badly misplayed by a first-row fan, you'll note. But I've resisted the temptation to lead this column with Snider, because the CT headline has never served him well in the past. (That's him pictured on the left, behind the awesome mustache). Consider this a favor, Travis owners. It's not disrespect.

CJ Wilson was good enough against Seattle's miserable lineup — seriously, look at this mess — earning a win, allowing six hits over seven frames. Nelson Cruz failed to homer for a second straight day, so he's looking like a bust. Never know what you'll get with that character. Merely a two-run double on Wednesday.

Just in case you're looking to pick on the Mariners' lineup — and they were the lowest-scoring team in baseball last season, so it's not a crazy plan — here's a quick look at the starters scheduled to face Seattle in the days ahead: Carlos Carrasco (4/8), Justin Masterson (4/9), Josh Tomlin (4/10), Jesse Litsch (4/11), Ricky Romero (4/12), Kyle Drabek (4/13). There are a few widely available names on that list. Do whatever feels right.

Matt Thornton and Joakim Soria both managed to blow save opportunities in Chicago's extra-inning win over the Royals. Thornton only yielded one run, driven in by Kila Ka'aihue, and he remained in the game to pitch a clean 10th, so it wasn't a fantasy disaster.  Soria, on the other hand, had his roughest day since ... well, maybe ever. After getting two quick outs in the ninth, Soria allowed the next five batters to reach base — single, walk, single, single, double — ultimately giving up four earned runs. Not only had Soria never allowed four runs in any major league game, he didn't give up four in any month last season. These things just don't happen.

There's nothing to be concerned about with Soria, just for the record. He was pitching for the fifth time in six days, and it's not as if the Sox were launching missiles all over the park. It's like Carlos Quentin said, post-game: "You've got to look at it as the beauty of baseball. Sometimes that happens." Of course it's easy to spit Ken Burns' dialogue when you go 4-for-6 with a homer, two doubles and three RBIs. Quentin is off to a ridiculous start.

This bullet has no fantasy utility at all, but I'd like to point out that Dennys Reyes' Wednesday appearance was the worst effort I've seen this year — and that's saying something, because I've watched Fernando Rodney twice. Reyes faced three batters, hitting the first two and walking the third. He threw 12 pitches, only one of which was a strike. All three base-runners eventually scored. If that performance is going to be topped this year, it's going to take a magnificently bad effort.

Ian Desmond broke an 0-for-2011 slump with a four-hit game against the Marlins. He doubled twice and drove in two runs. Desmond also committed a game-changing error, but in most leagues you won't pay a penalty for that, so no one here cares. Let's just move on...

Huston Street wasn't quite lights-out in the ninth against the Dodgers, as he allowed a pair of singles to Rod Barajas and Jamey Carroll leading off the inning. Rafael Furcal was this close to driving home a run or two on a well-hit drive to left, but Carlos Gonzalez made a nifty catch on a ball he'd initially misjudged. And then Street self-corrected, striking out Hector Gimenez and Andre Ethier to end the threat.

Tim Lincecum embarrassed the Padres over seven innings, striking out 13 while allowing just three hits and no walks. He's a machine, but you knew that already. Did you also know that Orlando Hudson is batting third for San Diego? Well, it's true. And Brad Hawpe is right behind him. That's a lineup to take advantage of, whenever possible.

It wasn't a clean ninth inning for Joel Hanrahan against the Cards (2 H, ER), but he nonetheless converted his fourth save in as many chances, and he's struck out five batters in 4.1 innings. He's looking like one of the great don't-pay-for-saves success stories so far. But of course it's early, and there's still time for him to inflict damage. Hanrahan finished last season awfully well, though, delivering a 3.09 ERA and 48 Ks in 32.0 innings after the break. (Related: Kevin Correia wins again, sure. But for me, he's still in the streamers-only bin).

Everybody hurts (some less than others): Brandon Morrow (forearm) will get the opening day start for the Single-A Dunedin Jays, which seems a little unfair to the Clearwater Threshers. But they just have to be pesky, work the count, get Morrow to 50-55 pitches, because that's reportedly going to be his limit. He's expected to make two minor league rehab appearances before returning from the DL. ... Mike Stanton (hamstring) participated in outfield drills and hit in the cages on Wednesday, and his manager suggested that he could return to the lineup on Friday or Saturday (which would be 3-4 days later than we'd originally expected.

Brian Wilson returned from the DL on Wednesday, and he did what reliable closers often do in non-save situations: He allowed hits, a walk, and ultimately multiple runs. Ramon Ramirez earned a rogue save, cleaning up for Wilson. But the point is, the bearded menace is back. Get him active. ... Yunel Escobar left Wednesday's game due to dizziness, and a concussion test seems likely. ... Michael Bourn exited the Astros' loss with tightness in his left groin, but later indicated he was feeling OK, and didn't rule himself out for Thursday. ... Ubaldo Jimenez hit the DL so that he can recover from a cut on the cuticle of his right thumb. Sounds like nothing, I realize, but the injury is affecting his grip, his motion. So he's sidelined, and thus Greg Reynolds draws a start against the Pirates.

THIS IS THE YEAR!: Or not. This was really a brutal day for the Cubs, and not just because they were butchers in the field while dropping a game to the D-Backs (JJ Putz with the uneventful save). Chicago sent Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, the team's No. 4 and No. 5 starters, to the 15-day DL. It's a forearm strain for Wells and a mild rotator cuff strain for Cashner. These guys aren't expected to even throw for two weeks and likely won't return for a month, but neither injury sounds too frightening long-term. One of the subs in the rotation will be 23-year-old Casey Coleman and the other is likely James Russell; neither pitcher projects as a fantasy asset. Coleman posted a K/9 of 4.5 at Triple-A in 2010, which should be enough to scare you off.

Remaining members of the Wednesday saves club, not mentioned above: Leo Nunez (H, BB, 2 K), John Axford (BB, K), Jon Rauch (0.2 IP, 0 H), Jose Contreras (BB, K). And I'd like to add that Contreras is just a nasty old man. Please, Charlie, let him keep that job. We should also mention that Kevin Gregg and Francisco Cordero each pitched in low-stress situations, harming no one.


Photos via AP Images (Hellickson, Snider) and US Presswire (Stanton)

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