For the first four weeks of the year the Angels bullpen has been the worst in baseball (7.66 ERA). But Monday night's tidy showing in Oakland gives us reason for optimism – and maybe a buying opportunity or two.
Brian Fuentes entered the night with stats that would make Mitch Williams blush (he didn't even record an out in his messy blown save at New York on Saturday) but he was letter perfect Monday against the A's, closing the game with just his third perfect frame of the year. Not that the assignment was all that daunting, mind you – he entered the game with a three-run lead and faced three pedestrian batters (Bobby Crosby, Travis Buck, Gregorio Petit) – but you take what you can get with the struggling Fuentes. His command has been spotty just about all season and he generally struggles to get to even 90 mph on the gun, though the velocity has been improved of late. Maybe this outing will be a push-off for the slumping closer.
Set-up man Jose Arredondo is the sneaky story from this game. The young fireballer struck out three of the four men he faced, and here's a guy you might want to stash away in a save-speculating league. Forget the 5.68 ERA Arredondo is carrying around, it's a gigantic fluke. He's fanned 18 batters this year, walked only three, and hasn't allowed a homer. His BABIP is an absurd .469. You want a poster child for bad luck, look no further. If anything were to happen to Fuentes down the road, this looks like the best option the Angels would have for the ninth.
The spotless bullpen work supported Joe Saunders, who picked up his third straight win to go along with a surprising seven strikeouts (he entered this turn with just nine all season). Anaheim's rotation could be looking pretty formidable later this month if John Lackey and Ervin Santana return soon, as expected.
Mike Napoli paced the Los Angeles offense with four hits and two RBIs, lifting his average to .364. The surging Napoli even tried to steal a base for his fantasy public, though he was gunned down at second. Mike Scioscia gave the Napoli the ultimate compliment with Monday's lineup card, giving him DH duty on a night where he wasn't catching. So much for Napoli's dreadful spring training; he's been on every pitch since the real games started.
• Make it five straight scoreless outings for Huston Street, who set down the Padres with a 1-2-3 ninth (one strikeout). With Manuel Corpas in the Clint Hurdle doghouse and Jason Grilli a little up and down, there looks to be a pretty long leash with the suddenly sharp Street. Troy Tulowitzki (3-2-1-2) and Chris Iannetta (2-for-4, grand slam) both looked like they've started to turn the corner.
• It's been a funny start to the year for Rickie Weeks; he's not walking much (five free passes), he's just 1-for-3 on the bases and he's striking out a ton (25 whiffs), but the rest of the numbers are just fine, thanks. He clubbed his sixth homer of the year in the top of the ninth Monday, a three-run job against Matt Capps that completed Milwaukee's comeback victory. Weeks now has 18 runs and 18 RBIs for the year, and he's batted third the last two nights while Ryan Braun (back) is resting up. It's hard to get invested in that BB:K ratio, but production is production.
• Speaking of hack-masters at the plate, that's what Lastings Milledge has reverted to since his demotion to Triple-A – and it's definitely by choice. The Washington Post gave Milledge an audit on Monday, and it's must-reading for anyone wondering where this story is headed (hat tip to Dr. Behrens for the lead here).
• Joel Hanrahan worked the seventh inning in Washington and had a very clean frame, throwing 9-of-13 pitches for strikes and putting the side down in order. That's three scoreless appearances in a row since he was demoted, and it's encouraging to see him trusting his stuff here and pounding the strike zone. Keep an eye on him; closer-in-waiting Joe Beimel is certainly no sure thing.
• Alex Rodriguez (hip) went 1-for-6 with a homer in an extended spring training game Monday; I guess it's harder to get pitches tipped when you don't know the opponents. The Yankees say he might be ready to go by Friday.
Handshakes: Trevor Hoffman was around the plate (13-of-17 strikes) and rolled to his fourth save, working around one hit. … Jonathan Broxton got a routine inning of work in a non-save situation and blew the Snakes away (perfect inning, two strikeouts). Cory Wade got the four outs in front of Broxton, lowering his ERA to 2.25. … Frank Francisco got the final four outs in Seattle, though things got interesting in the ninth when two men reached. The suspense died quickly after that when Ichiro Suzuki flied to center on the first pitch. … Kevin Gregg doesn't see a lot of 1-2-3 innings, but he's already got three saves this month, including one in support of Ryan Dempster's strong effort Monday. Carlos Marmol got the eighth inning and struck out two of the four batters he faced. … J.J. Putz continues to work in and out of trouble for the Mets, but Francisco Rodriguez has been worth the dough (six saves, 1.69 ERA, 15 Ks in 10.2 IP). … George Sherrill worked a much-needed clean ninth for the Orioles, albeit it was a four-run game and not a save situation. … Kerry Wood blew his first save of the year and kicked the ERA up to 7.20, but the Tribe rallied for a victory in the 12th inning at Toronto. … Jonathan Papelbon needed 32 pitches to get five outs in New York, working out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth (a long top half of the inning might have come at the expense of Papelbon's sharpness). Look for Pap to probably get Tuesday night off, no matter the game situation. … Alfredo Aceves may have allowed six baserunners and two runs over his 4.1 innings of relief Monday, but he also struck out seven. The Yankees bullpen has been a horror show most of the year, and this outing at least puts Aceves on the radar for AL-only relief hunters.
Not an Injury Blog: Cole Hamels (ankle) is on schedule to return to the mound Friday. … Brandon Morrow (biceps) is optimistic that he'll come off the DL when ready Saturday, and keep in mind he was against the move to begin with. … Kevin Youkilis (back) left Monday's game early and is day-to-day. … Rick Ankiel left Monday's game after crashing into the center field wall, though he gave the thumbs-up sign while he was taken off the field. He'll probably get the routine day off Tuesday – standard when these things happen – and then we'll see what the club says. … Manny Ramirez (hamstring) got back into the swing of things with a homer and single. … Carlos Delgado (hip) was back at it, going 1-for-4 with a couple of strikeouts. … Carlos Zambrano (knee) went on the DL and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks. Like Morrow, Big Z didn't want to go on the shelf in the first place.
Speed Round: So much for the Eric Patterson experiment in Oakland; the Athletics returned him to the minors Monday. Petit has started the last three nights and collected five hits, but he's really nothing more than a utility type. … Oliver Perez is headed to the bullpen, trying to shake off the cobwebs of a terrible start. A demotion to Triple-A or a spell on the disabled list makes more sense to me, but it's not my ballclub. … Another collar and three more strikeouts for Jordan Schafer, who's down to .247 with 33 whiffs and one measly stolen base. That doesn't make him mixed-league worthy in my book. … Mark Teixeira was happy to leave his messy April behind; he drilled a couple of homers in Monday's loss to the Red Sox. He also had a key strikeout in the ninth inning, however, with the tying runs on base. … Ryan Theriot went over 600 at-bats without a homer but now he has three dingers in four games. Perhaps a personal challenge from Lou Piniella was all he needed. … B.J. Upton went 0-for-5 and is down to .152 since his return. Sure looks like he's pressing to me. … Another Javier Vazquez special – strike out eight batters, find a way to lose. The Mets hit three two-run homers against him, with Carlos Beltran going deep twice. … Matt LaPorta clubbed his first career homer Monday, then later left the game for a pinch hitter. Eric Wedge, you're slaying us. … Zack Greinke needed just 104 pitches in his masterpiece over Chicago (9 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 10 K). David DeJesus drilled his third homer of the year to pace the offense, and the surprisingly-useful Alberto Callaspo (.378) reached base a couple of times.