Closing Time: Pocket aces hold up

April wasn't a very friendly month for high-end pitching in the fantasy world; it seemed like a different brand-name hurler was getting fricasseed on a nightly basis. Fear not, amigos; a lot of the good arms gone bad have started to turn it around, and several redemption songs were playing on this full Friday evening.

Justin Verlander(notes) and Cliff Lee(notes) battled in a 3-1 game last weekend and Friday's match was even better, a 1-0 beauty won by the visiting Tigers. If you had a long dinner you missed this one, completed in a tidy 2:12. So much for the buy-low chance on Verlander – he's been unhittable over his last three turns, all victories (25 IP, 11 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 31 K). Lee's 1-5 record stings a bit, but he's trimmed his ERA down to 3.45 after a rocky opening to the year, and he's had a quality start in five consecutive turns. No one was expecting a Cy Young duplication, but he should be able to keep the ERA under 4 and give you a chance to win every time he takes the ball.

CC Sabathia(notes) had everything working at Baltimore – fastball, slider, change, curve – and you almost had to feel sorry for the Orioles, who took a lot of weak swings over the balance of the night. Sabathia wound up with a four-hit shutout, walking one and striking out eight. "That's the Sabathia you saw last year in the National League, working both sides of the plate," Aubrey Huff(notes) said. "We couldn't pick up his curveball. That's why he got paid the big bucks."

It's been a spring of mishaps for Philadelphia's Cole Hamels(notes), ducking from elbow, ankle and shoulder issues, but he looked to be in form in Friday's snappy win over the Braves (6 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K). Hamels left the game after throwing 95 pitches; he should be ready to cross the 100-pitch mark next week when he faces the Dodgers. "He looked back to normal to me," said an impressed Bobby Cox.

You had to look in the nooks and crannies to see Scott Baker's(notes) improvement over his last two starts, but Friday against Seattle it was obvious for anyone to take note; he held the Mariners scoreless over seven innings, walking no one and striking out five. Baker's biggest problem tends to be with the home run ball, but he's only allowed one round-tripper over the last three turns (to go with 16 strikeouts and two walks). He might be free for the taking in a few very shallow mixed leagues.

It's hard to put a definitive value on Barry Zito's(notes) win at Los Angeles; he only allowed one run over six innings and an effective change and curve led to five strikeouts, but the Dodgers seemed to have him in trouble in just about every inning (eight hits, two walks), and Zito needed a whopping 126 pitches to get through the assignment. I won't blame you if you decide to take a ride with Zito next week, when he gets a home start against Washington, but this still looks like a tread-carefully, work-the-matchups pitcher to me, not someone we should be starting in all assignments. There's only so much a starter can do trying to get by with a mid-80s fastball.

Ricky Nolasco(notes) didn't have his best command in the early part of Friday's turn at Colorado, and as a result the Rockies hit some absolute rockets off him (including a homer and a double from the rebounding Troy Tulowitzki(notes)). Nolasco settled down in the second part of his start and was able to escape with a respectable line and his second victory (6 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K), a line most fantasy owners would gladly take when it's a thin-air assignment. Nolasco's peripherals still suggest a tasty buy-low; I'm optimistic we might see him take another step forward next week against the free-swinging Brewers.

You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, and you don't get much of anything done against Wandy Rodriguez(notes) these days – that is, when the game's played in Houston. The crafty left-hander spun another juice-box gem Friday, striking out seven and scattering five San Diego hits over eight scoreless innings. Rodriguez has stepped up his game on the road thus far this year (3.50 ERA, 1.33 WHIP), but given how he's become dominant at home, you have to wonder why the Astros don't alter the rotation here and there to give him some extra starts in Houston. Next week he'll pack it up and try to beat the Rockies in Coors Field.

Joe Beimel(notes) needed a day off after two days of work off the disabled list so journeyman Kip Wells(notes) got the rogue save in Arizona, spoiling the debut of Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch. I spent a solid 5-10 minutes trying to talk myself into a Wells acquire in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League and just couldn't do it; although he struck out two in the ninth Friday, there's nothing in his body of work that gives you reason to be optimistic (seven walks over 11 innings will come back to haunt anyone).

There are 1,000 reasons to love Vin Scully, and here's another for the checklist. He pulled off this line with perfect aplomb, just spinning a tale as a ballgame unfolds in front of you: Brian Wilson(notes) … 1 and 0, an ERA of three, six walks, 16 strikeouts … heavily tattooed.

Handshakes: Hard rock and soft changeups keep working for Trevor Hoffman(notes); he struck out two in a perfect ninth against Chicago. … Jose Arredondo(notes) and Brian Fuentes(notes) were perfect as the Angels closed out Kansas City. As spotty as Fuentes has looked at times this year, he got to eight saves pretty quickly. … Francisco Cordero(notes) worked a scoreless ninth behind another strong outing from Johnny Cueto(notes). … The A's let Andrew Bailey(notes) put in two innings of work, a smart move given how he toyed with the Blue Jays (two perfect innings, two strikeouts, just 20 pitches). I'm all for the Brad Ziegler(notes) story (and he'll go back to closing when this flu bug runs its course), but the dynamic Bailey certainly has "future closer" written all over him. … LaTroy Hawkins(notes) needed just 11 pitches to cruise through the middle of San Diego's lineup, picking up his fourth save in the process. … Wilson got the final four outs in LA, including an eighth-inning strikeout of Casey Blake(notes) that took 13 pitches to complete. Blake spent most of the night spoiling pitches, so it seemed; he fouled off 17 different offerings over his four at-bats.

Speed Round: Alex Rodriguez(notes) welcomed himself back to the American League by homering on the first pitch he saw from Jeremy Guthrie(notes), a three-run shot. Nice going, A-Rod, but Jeter would have hit a grand slam in the same spot. … Aramis Ramirez(notes) can't get a break this season; he was back on the field long enough Friday to separate his left shoulder. It's possible he'll be down 4-6 weeks. … Howie Kendrick's(notes) two-run homer in the OC was more charity than clout; Jose Guillen(notes) misplayed Kendrick's ordinary fly ball to right field, and the forever-generous scoring chaps from Anaheim don't like to use that sharp and demeaning "error" word. … Alexei Ramirez(notes) watched from the bench for another night, but it looks like he'll be let out of the doghouse Saturday. … Two more hits for Khalil Greene(notes), who may have finally turned the corner over the last three days. He's never going to be a superstar, but this is someone who can help you in a mixed league, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. … Luis Castillo(notes) had a couple of hits and a steal for the Mets, getting a start in the No. 2 slot. … A stiff lower back forced Michael Young(notes) out of Friday's game prematurely. He was 0-for-3 before hitting the showers. … Brian McCann(notes) (eye) was back in action Friday, wearing glasses. He went 1-for-3 at Philadelphia. … Matt Capps(notes) (elbow) is now aiming at a Tuesday return. … Josh Hamilton(notes) (ribs) took batting practice and did some outfield work Friday. Look for him back on Tuesday as well.


Images via Associated Press

What to Read Next