Closing Time: Kelly Johnson states his case, homers twice

Mr. Pianowski is unavailable to close tonight because he's still having visa problems. I'll be your guide through a full Wednesday schedule. As always, you should just assume that Garrett Jones(notes) homered unless we tell you otherwise. Let's bullet…

Arizona second baseman Kelly Johnson(notes) entered the day as a small-sample disappointment, having gone 0-for-7 in his first two games. But after a visit from Kevin Correia(notes), Johnson is suddenly a .300 hitter. He went 3-for-3 against the Padres on Wednesday with two home runs and three RBIs. He's available basically everywhere (five percent-owned), he'll hit in a friendly home park (Chase Field), and the 28-year-old already has a pair of useful seasons on the resume (2007 and '08).

Johnson was buried in the Yahoo! pre-season ranks, but he clearly needs to be more heavily owned than the auto-pick all-stars at his position (Izturis, Sanchez, Uribe, et al).

Is it too soon to have the Triple Crown discussion regarding Vernon Wells(notes)? Perhaps it is. But for the record, he's currently hitting .714 with three homers and six RBIs. When asked about his ridiculous pace, Wells offered a perfect anti-Papi spin: "The great thing is there's only 160 [games] left."

Ryan Franklin(notes) looked a lot like the pre-2009 version of himself while earning a save against the Reds. He recorded no strikeouts and gave up plenty of hard contact, retiring the last two batters he faced on liners. But a save is a save in our game. There are no style points.

Jason Frasor(notes) was mass-dropped after blowing a save on opening day, but he had another opportunity in the ninth on Wednesday and he successfully converted. Frasor worked around a lead-off double by Chris Davis(notes), striking out two.

In his Texas debut, Rich Harden(notes) delivered the usual 90-pitch no-decision. He went 3.2 innings, allowing one hit, three runs (one earned) and five walks while striking out eight. Expect a few more stat lines just like that.

On Monday, Jason Heyward's(notes) first swing against Carlos Zambrano(notes) resulted in a three-run homer. On Wednesday, his first swing against Ryan Dempster(notes) merely resulted in an RBI double, so the Cubs are clearly beginning to figure him out.

Aside from the pitch that Heyward smoked to right field, Dempster was terrific. He struck out nine Braves and allowed just three hits over six frames. Sean Marshall(notes) was excellent in relief, too, but John Grabow(notes) was not. He gave up a late two-run homer to Chipper Jones(notes), and the Cubs couldn't recover. They'd lucked into two runs earlier in the ball game, and that was all they could manage. Billy Wagner(notes) owned 'em in the ninth; he looked unhittable. That game-ending slider to Geovany Soto(notes) was unholy.

Mike Napoli(notes) sat in favor of Jeff Mathis(notes) in the Angels' first two games, but he finally cracked the lineup on Wednesday — it was the bottom of the lineup (eighth), but he cracked it. He only went 1-for-4, but at least the one hit drove in a run and extended the ninth inning, albeit in a losing effort. Napoli's power potential is obvious enough — he's hit 40 homers over the prior two seasons in 609 at-bats — but defense is the issue.

Here's a nice snapshot of White Sox baseball in 2010…

The concept is simple: Try to manufacture a run before Mark Kotsay(notes) can kill the inning. Konerko drove in all three runs for the Sox in their loss to the Tribe, and he also had one of his team's two hits. Cleveland starter Fausto Carmona(notes) had a very odd night. He allowed six walks and struck out only one batter, but also limited Chicago to one hit over six innings.

Colorado's junior varsity challenged the first-string Brewers today, as Clint Barmes(notes), Todd Helton(notes), Brad Hawpe(notes) and Chris Iannetta(notes) were all out of the lineup. Milwaukee managed to edge the Rockies, thanks to a bullpen that pitched five scoreless innings and recorded four holds (Hawkins, Villanueva, Stetter, Narveson), a save (Hoffman) and a win (Coffey). Corey Hart(notes) watched as Jim Edmonds(notes) went 2-for-4.

Milton Bradley(notes) had his usual complicated night. The good: He homered in the first inning off Justin Duchscherer(notes) to give Seattle an early lead. The bad: He whiffed on Kurt Suzuki's(notes) drive to the warning track in the ninth, allowing the A's to win 6-5. That's back-to-back walk-offs for Oakland. And yes, I'd still stream pitchers who get to face that lineup. (Related: This turkey called me a turkey).

Carl Pavano(notes) held the Angels to six hits and one run over seven innings, striking out six. Pavano was a bit unlucky last season and he had an encouraging spring. Still, he's a spot-starter for fantasy purposes; roto owners won't like the K-rate. Don't get too excited.

Here's an amusing thing that Hawk Harrelson accidentally said: "That's the vulbuernability of [Luis] Valbuena."

Please offer congratulations to Fernando Valenzuela in comments. (He'll see it. He's a huge fan of fantasy blogs). He's about to be officially recognized as a Treasure of Los Angeles, as if that issue was ever in any doubt. Wish I could have owned him in the -mania years, not the San Diego years. Alas.

Two uninteresting vets happened to have nice afternoons for the Giants: Aaron Rowand(notes) went 4-for-6 and Edgar Renteria(notes) went 5-for-5. Those two are batting first and second for San Francisco. What you choose to do with this information is your business. We'll look away.

No handshake for you: Jose Valverde(notes) took the loss in Kansas City, giving up a game-tying 11th inning homer to Alberto Callaspo(notes), then an infield single to Billy Butler(notes) — REPEAT: BILLY BUTLER BEAT OUT AN INFIELD SINGLE — and then a game-ending double to Rick Ankiel(notes).Leo Nunez(notes) blew a save opportunity in New York via walk and balk, but he still backed into a win. Tim Wood(notes) ultimately earned a rogue save, one that you don't need to react to. … Shockingly, the two-Ortiz approach (Russ and Ramon) doesn't seem to be working for the Dodgers.

Everybody hurts: The Mariners are hoping that Cliff Lee(notes) (abdominal strain) will be able to pitch a simulated game on April 14. He reportedly threw a proof-of-concept bullpen session on Wednesday (eight pitches only), and he'll throw again on Friday. He's getting closer to pitching in game conditions, but he'll likely need a rehab start or two before joining Seattle. Erik Bedard(notes) (labrum) also threw a bullpen on Wednesday, prompting manager Don Wakamatsu to say, "He feels great and may be ahead [of Lee] in a sense."Lance Berkman(notes) (knee) is targeting next week's Monday-Thursday series at St. Louis for his return. He received a cortisone injection on Monday, and he's had his giant knee drained of fluid five times this year. … Russell Branyan(notes) (herniated disc) will begin a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday, so his return may not be far off. He'll likely bump Matt LaPorta(notes) to the outfield. … Jose Reyes engaged in more extended spring training work on Wednesday afternoon. He's eligible to return from the DL on Saturday, and we've been given no reason to think that he won't immediately displace Alex Cora(notes) as the Mets' leadoff hitter. … Rangers manager Ron Washington says that "it'd be take a miracle" if Ian Kinsler(notes) could play during the team's current home-stand. He's no lock to play during the upcoming nine-game road trip either, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. … Sammy Gervacio(notes) struck out nearly everyone he saw during spring training, and it appeared that he was going to be a sneaky-good RP option this year. Unfortunately, he's now headed to the DL with a rotator cuff strain. Adding insult, Gervacio also took the loss against the Giants on Wednesday.

Bonus reading: Earlier this week, Kat O'Brien of the Cincinnati Enquirer reviewed the price of defection for Cuban ballplayers. Quoting: "Those who do choose to leave then are talked about only in secret. It's as if, according to one taxi driver, 'Chapman doesn't exist. He never existed.'"

"Francisco! That's fun to say!": Please run a quick spell-check on Eugenio Velez's(notes) jersey, pictured below. Whoops. It's still very early in the season, though, and we're all working on fundamentals.


Photos via AP Images

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