Closing Time: Ninth-inning openings, inquire within

The original aim of the Closing Time blog was to focus on the chase for saves, and that's where we'll begin our lap around the majors tonight.

The Mets probably have a ninth-inning vacancy to fill, because Billy Wagner is headed for an MRI and some downtime seems inevitable. He's been pitching through a stiff forearm, and he told the team's official site that he's not going to take any more risks by pitching through pain. The save chase is wide-open if Wagner needs rest; Duaner Sanchez and Aaron Heilman haven't been very reliable this summer. Weekend callup Eddie Kunz has been closing for Double-A Binghamton and Jerry Manuel has mentioned him as an option, but is it too much responsibility to thrust upon a 22-year-old rookie? The next few days in New York should be very interesting. By default Sanchez would be my first add out of this group, though I'm curious to see what Kunz can do on the big stage.

So what's the story in the Oakland bullpen these days? Huston Street warmed up in the seventh inning Friday then pitched in the seventh Sunday (with his team down three runs), and Bob Geren concedes that he's opening up the closing role. Sizzling Jerry Blevins (a lefty) and Brad Ziegler (submarining righty) are the impetus to Geren's decision; in a nutshell this probably means the A's will let matchups determine who protects the ninth inning for the next few weeks.

You have to feel a little sorry for Jim Leyland because his bullpen has completely crapped out on him. Kyle Farnsworth was lit for three runs in the eighth inning Sunday at Tampa Bay, and Fernando Rodney's blown save in the tenth was a horror show (two runs, one hit, three walks, one hit batter). Joel Zumaya (shoulder, day-to-day) and Todd Jones (shoulder, DL) obviously can't help right now. By default you might see lefty Bobby Seay get a shot in the chair; he's prone to wildness at times, but he's been excellent over his last 10 appearances (13.2 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 6 BB, 17 K).

Carlos Marmol worked his eighth-straight scoreless appearance Sunday, picking up his sixth save along the way. He's allowed just two hits over those nine innings, along with seven walks and 15 strikeouts. I can't think of anyone more fun to watch when he's clicking. As for Kerry Wood, the best-case scenario for a return is Friday. He worked a simulated game Sunday (about 25 pitches) and didn't have any setbacks with his blister. Lou Piniella might use Wood in non-closing situations when the stopper first comes back, a decision probably encouraged by Marmol's recent success.

Frank Francisco and Eddie Guardado both worked a scoreless inning to finish off the Blue Jays Sunday, and Guardado was going to get the final inning no matter what the lead stood at. Everyday Eddie warmed up while Texas held a one-run lead; by the time the eighth inning ended, the Rangers were ahead 8-4. Ron Washington downplayed decision to pass over C.J. Wilson, but let's keep a keen eye on this situation - Wilson has been a carnival ride of late, in all situations.

Matt Capps (shoulder) might be a fantasy factor again this year. He threw a simulated game Saturday and a rehab assignment could begin as soon as Tuesday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Another homer and four hits for Mike Aviles Sunday; he's now up to .340. What do we have to do to get you on board? Write an Aviles rap? Aviles haiku? The ownership level remains very low here, and shortstop has been a tricky position to fill in 2008, even in mixed leagues (I've been using driftwood there for most of the Friends & Family season, not happily.)

Scott Olsen's best outing of the year (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K) got wasted when the Florida bullpen couldn't hold a two-run lead against the Rockies. Matt Holliday raked on the Colorado road trip, going 15-for-40 with four homers, but he won't say no to a full week at Coors, starting Monday (four with Washington, three with San Diego).

It was a fun day for many of the new arrivals on Sunday: Manny Ramirez homered and finished his first LA weekend 8-for-13 with two long balls . . . Mark Teixeira hit a grand-slam for the Angels, but was upstaged by Xavier Nady (homer, four hits, six RBIs) and the Yanks. Pudge Rodriguez also homered for New York . . . Andy LaRoche and Brandon Moss both went deep for the Pirates . . . Jason Bay went 2-for-4 with two runs as the Red Sox finished off a sweep of Oakland.

Adam Jones has been outstanding over the last few weeks, but the breakthrough might be on hold for a bit. He fouled a pitch off his foot Saturday and an X-ray proved inconclusive; it looks like he'll have an MRI Monday. "I don't know what's wrong," Jones said. "It's not comfortable. I'd be able to play if it was comfortable."

Jorge Campillo continues to be one of the stories of the year, mowing down Milwaukee Sunday (7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K) and lowering his ERA to 2.58. He's been fantasy-useful in 11 of 14 turns this year, which means it's off with the training wheels and use him anywhere you can, I suppose, even next week at Arizona.

Maybe this is an injury blog: Back spasms kept Mariano Rivera out Sunday, but it's not thought to be a major concern . . . Robinson Cano (hand) didn't start Sunday but played the last two innings, a good sign that he's ready to go . . . Brian McCann (concussion) pinch hit on Sunday and is expected to start Monday . . . Jason Bartlett suffered a minor finger injury Sunday, which means Evan Longoria might slide over to shortstop Monday . . . Brad Penny (shoulder) didn't have any problems in his final rehab turn, so he's set to start Friday at San Francisco . . . Adam Wainwright (finger) was encouraged by his bullpen session Saturday and might be back in mid-August. He'll throw again Tuesday, then focus on rehab work in the minors . . . Todd Helton (back) suffered a setback this week and is no sure thing to play again in 2008, according to the Denver Post. Ian Stewart is the player most affected by Helton's status . . . Joe Crede hit a setback this weekend and didn't start the last two games for Triple-A Charlotte. He's dealing with a back injury . . . John Maine (rotator cuff) went on the DL, expected. We might see him back in mid-August . . . Chris Duncan needs back surgery and is done for the season . . . Jonathan Broxton was considered available Sunday after resting his arm the previous night. No worries.

The Nady trade makes it easy for the Yankees to bid Bobby Abreu adieu at the end of the year, but Abreu isn't going without a fight. He's on a .394 binge over his last 17 games, with 20 runs, five homers and 17 RBIs, and batting third in the New York lineup is definitely the catbird seat.

Speed Round: I'm fine with a fantasy world that doesn't include Corey Patterson in it, but the Redleg did show up and play well Sunday (homer, steal, sliding catch in center) and Jerry Hairston is nicked up again, so maybe we should pay attention in very deep leagues . . . Emilio Bonifacio went 5-for-13 in his first weekend as Washington's leadoff man, albeit with no walks. He also stole a base Friday . . . Billy Butler rapped out eight hits this weekend, three of them Sunday, and is up to .271 on the year. The light switch has definitely come on . . . Francisco Liriano blankled Cleveland despite spotty command (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K), and so far as I can tell, no one in the stadium missed Livan Hernandez. There's not much more to say on this story - if you stashed Liriano, sit back enjoy the ride. And if the Twins miss the playoffs by a game or two, they have no one to blame but themselves . . . Denard Span homered and singled, hiking up his line to .315/.403/.462. He should keep the leadoff spot for a while . . . Craig Hansen took the loss in his Pittsburgh debut, allowing a hit and a run over 1.2 innings. He didn't record a strikeout . . . Ichiro Suzuki's steal Sunday was just his second over the last five weeks . . . It doesn't seem right that Edwar Ramirez can get a win despite his terrible inning Sunday (2 H, 4 R, 2 BB), while Dan Giese gets nothing for his three scoreless innings (1 H, 2 BB, 3 K) in front of Ramirez . . . Gerald Laird batted second Sunday and knocked out a couple of homers. You could do a lot worse at catcher in a deeper group.

I'm not the biggest Tom Petty fan out there (his Super Bowl set left me cold), but you won't find many live records better than Pack Up the Plantation.

Reggie Willits hasn't been fantasy-worthy this year, but I have to mention his Sunday line: 0-3-0-0, with four walks. Don't see that one every day. Willits was named after Reggie Jackson, if you didn't know, though his game plays a little differently (Jackson hit 563 balls into the seats; Willits is still looking for his first).

Handshakes: Brian Fuentes (20, despite three baserunners); Jonathan Papelbon (31); Joel Hanrahan (1, though Patterson took him deep); Brad Lidge (23, but messy; Troy Glaus homered and the Cardinals loaded the bases); Trevor Hoffman (23; a clean inning in support of Greg Maddux). And with that, the 18th week of the year is in the books, and the bullpen is closed.

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