According to the Bible, the meek are supposed to inherit the earth. But it doesn't say anything in there about the ninth inning of a close ballgame.
Embattled Pirates closer Octavio Dotel(notes) got a vote of confidence Thursday from manager John Russell, and Dotel also got the night off at Los Angeles. Dotel could use the rest: he's allowed 14 hits and 13 runs over his last six appearances, pushing his ERA up to 10.61. Some of the damage occurred in non-critical spots and Dotel only has two blown saves on the year, but that's no just excuse – despite a zesty 12 strikeouts on his resume, he's been a mess over the last two weeks.
Of course if you ask Dotel, those non-save appearances shouldn't be held against him. "I understand that I have to get my work done, but I'll be honest, I hate that," Dotel said. "I don't have the same intensity. I don't have the same adrenaline. I don't have the same feeling for the game. I shouldn't be that way because it is my job. I've got to come and do my job."
If and when Russell decides he wants to do something about the struggling Dotel, Evan Meek(notes) is ready in waiting. The unheralded Meek has been superb in 11 appearances this year (one run allowed over 15 innings), and Meek retired the Dodgers in order Thursday for his first save of the year. Casey Blake(notes) popped up, James Loney(notes) grounded out, Ronnie Belliard(notes) struck out, and no one made solid contact. Nice closing debut from someone who had six career saves entering the night – all in the minors.
At 6-0 and 225 pounds Meek doesn't look imposing on the mound, but he's got the other things you look for in a closer. He's striking out a batter per inning – 15 whiffs in 15 frames. His average fastball this year checks in at 94.5 miles per hour. Meek's control was an issue earlier in his career but he's only walked four men this season. Home runs, no worries – he's given up just five in 75 career innings (Dotel has already yielded three this year).
If you're hedging against Dotel or just looking for another quality reliever and possible saver down the line, Meek is someone you want to audit immediately. Yes, Russell reiterated after the game that he's not making a permanent change in the ninth inning, but closers don't come with infinite leashes, especially closers on one-year contracts. Losing leads in the ninth inning has an emotional effect on a team. And it's been three weeks since Dotel had a scoreless inning. Be proactive, gamers.
• Two more hits for Austin Jackson(notes) Thursday, plus his fourth stolen base. It's virtually impossible for him to hit .300 or better all season so long as he's striking out a third of the time, but he has gone three games without a whiff, for whatever that may mean. This looks like a sell-high to me, but it depends on what your opponents think of him.
And then there's Dontrelle Willis(notes), who somehow has a 3.75 ERA despite a bloated 1.54 WHIP (he shut out the Mauer-less Twins for six innings Thursday). Does 12 walks against 15 strikeouts impress anyone? I'll leave him on the waiver wire, go grab him if you like.
• We should mention John Buck's(notes) three homers, because it's a nice story. And here, have a look at the tape. But Buck's career path ruins the pickup buzz – do you really want to buy into a line of .234/.296/.409? He's batting .194 for the year, even after the hat trick.
Okay, Buck's resume isn't that much different than Miguel Olivo's,(notes) and Olivo was recommended in this space recently. That said, Olivo now has the thin air of Colorado working to his advantage (albeit in the humidor era), and he slugged .490 and .444 the last two years in Kansas City. Bottom line, I'm not spending a Loonie on Buck.
• The White Sox broke through for seven runs in Texas – led by Paul Konerko's(notes) two homers – but Juan Pierre(notes) wasn't part of the party. The veteran outfielder went 0-for-5, dropping his paltry line to .200/.261/.200 – and Ozzie Guillen has seen enough. Pierre will be benched for Friday's game, and starting on Saturday, Pierre will bat ninth in the order, at least temporarily.
"We have a couple of righties [pitching Saturday and Sunday], move him down to the No. 9 spot to make him relax a little bit," Guillen told the team's official site. "I don't know if he's putting a lot of pressure on himself or trying to do too much, but I'll try and give him a breather, [maybe] bat him second, I don't know. Try and figure out who my leadoff hitter will be. Maybe it will let him relax a little bit."
• Wade LeBlanc(notes) is trying to get our attention. The San Diego lefty held Milwaukee scoreless into the seventh inning and check these eye-popping stats for the year: 17.1 IP, 18 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 16 K. Two of his turns have come at Petco Park but so what – when you're posting numbers like this, you're dealing. That said, here are two buzzkill stats to dull the excitement: LeBlanc's somehow got that tidy ERA despite allowing a 26.9 percent line drive rate, and his fastball tops out in the mid-80s, which makes you wonder what will happen when teams start seeing him for a second and third time. He's got a home date against Colorado next week.
• There's some fun at the bottom of the Tampa Bay order these days. Catcher John Jaso(notes) is 10-for-22 with the big club, and check the batting eye: nine walks, one strikeout. He's got a pedestrian minor-league form, but in deeper groups where you need two catchers, he might be worth a tryout just in case. Even with Dioner Navarro(notes) back from his suspension, the Rays need to give Jaso some extended run.
• Some big names might have skipped out on the party (Upton, Reynolds, Young), but otherwise it was a fun day for the Arizona offense as the Snakes rolled up 13 runs and 14 hits at Wrigley Field. Kelly Johnson(notes) homered again and looks like this year's Aaron Hill(notes), and Adam LaRoche(notes) hit a pair of round-trippers, giving him four for April (not bad by his standards).
• David Freese(notes) had a .295 average but not much else of interest working for him into Thursday's matinee with Atlanta. A .328 slugging percentage? Meh. But maybe Freese will get something rolling after a 3-for-3 day, which included a homer and six RBIs. You know he'l get run-producing opportunities hitting behind Albert Pujols(notes), Matt Holliday(notes) and Colby Rasmus(notes) (who looks fantastic, by the way).
Injury Blog: Poor Justin Duchscherer(notes) can't catch a break. A hip problem forced him out of Thursday's start and he's had hip problems in the past. … Jair Jurrjens(notes) went one inning at St. Louis then left with a hamstring injury. … Brad Lidge(notes) is expected to rejoin the Phillies Friday. Ryan Madson(notes) hasn't been sharp of late, so the club has every reason to get Lidge ready for closing work as soon as possible. … Did a heavy workload over two-plus years catch up to Kurt Suzuki(notes) (intercostal strain)? He's missed five straight games and might need a DL trip, no matter that the club refers to him as day-to-day. … Ian Kinsler(notes) (ankle) is expected to come off the disabled list Friday, though he's not considered 100 percent yet. … The Royals will have a logjam to negotiate when Chris Getz(notes) (oblique) returns this weekend. … The Mets aren't expecting Carlos Beltran(notes) back anytime soon according to the New York Daily News, and he's recently been fitted for a knee brace to help with his rehab. … Jorge Posada(notes) has a sore knee and took Thursday off as a precaution.
Speed Round: The Royals currently lead the majors in batting average, and they're tied for 19th in runs scored. You can fill in the blanks. … A.J. Burnett(notes) toyed with the Orioles (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K) as the Yankees took the rubber game of the series. There was no save to be had but Mariano Rivera(notes) picked up an inning of work anyway. … Nick Blackburn(notes) will be away from the Twins Friday, so push Kevin Slowey(notes) up a day. … Jerry Hairston's off to a slow start and his approach at the plate has been a mess so far, but I still like him as a short-term utility man now that Everth Cabrera(notes) is on the disabled list. Hairston qualifies at second, third, short and the outfield, he'll get some time at the leadoff spot, and he'll run too. … Two more homers for Robinson Cano(notes), who's been absolutely ridiculous so far in 2010 (.407 average, eight homers, 21 runs). … Kevin Gregg(notes) struck out the side for his sixth save, but you'll see the Oakland batters gave him plenty of help. Good work if you can get it.
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