Closing Time: Roy Halladay has a short, strange night, John Axford implodes, and Leyland is burned by committee

If all you knew about Roy Halladay’s night was that he struck out nine batters while reaching 92 mph on the radar gun, then you’d probably say he pitched well. Maybe you’d regret not drafting him in any leagues.

But even with the nine Ks, Halladay’s evening was complicated and often painful. He recorded only 10 outs against the Braves, failing to escape the fourth inning. He allowed three walks, six hits, two bombs and five earned runs. Justin Upton destroyed a poorly placed fastball in the first, accounting for two of the early runs. Four batters later, Juan Francisco hit a missile through the right side of the infield, plating another.

Halladay had a messy spring (6.06 ERA, 1.84 WHIP), as most of you know, and he clearly hasn’t corrected all the issues. He needed 40 pitches to get through the first frame against Atlanta, finishing with 95 after 3.1 innings (55 strikes).

Again, his velocity wasn’t alarmingly low (89-92), but his location was lousy. He relied heavily on his off-speed stuff. Following the loss, he referred to the pitch that Upton clubbed as "halfhearted." There are reasons to be concerned, no doubt.

The Braves’ lineup is going to pile up Ks this season — with two Uptons and an Uggla, it's a given — so I’m hesitant to give Halladay full credit for his strikeout total. Still, he has a friendly two-start week upcoming (vs. NYM, at MIA), plus the track record here is stellar. If you were bullish enough to draft him despite the red flags, then you can’t quit him now. You'll have to at least hold him through next week’s slate; the match-ups are too appealing to pass up. With any luck, Halladay will deliver at least one box score that you can take to the trade market.

With even better luck, perhaps he’ll look something like the 2011 version of himself, at least in the box score.

You guys, we can’t lead every edition of Closing Time with a pitcher who feasted on the Astros’ lineup. Thus, Alexi Ogando is not our headliner tonight, despite striking out 10 batters over 6.1 scoreless innings, issuing just one walk, allowing four hits. He shamed Houston on Wednesday almost as thoroughly as Yu Darvish did on Tuesday. He’s also un-owned in 34 percent of Yahoo! leagues, so a few thousand of you can go get him, for free.

There’s little doubt that Ogando’s stuff if terrific — check the tape — but, well … these Astros are a rough watch. Houston has now struck out 43 times over three games, which is some sort of all-time record. And the team has drawn just four total walks. Yikes. Here’s your abuse-the-Astros streaming schedule for the week ahead. Do what needs doing.

John Axford appeared in a non-save situation against the Rockies on Wednesday night, and … um ... you can probably guess how it went without reading another word.

Yeah, it was bad. This bad. Axford allowed five hits in the ninth, including homers to Michael Cuddyer (pictured) and Dexter Fowler. In his two appearances so far this season, he’s given up three home runs and blown a save chance. Wednesday’s outing should probably be classified as a blown non-save. It was wretched. He’s not right. Jim Henderson is the shaky handcuff.

Tyler Flowers went deep again against the Royals, his second homer in as many games. No one expects a useful average from the White Sox catcher — even .240 might be a stretch — but he’ll easily hit 20-25 bombs in a healthy season. Power has never been a worry. Flowers is just 8 percent owned, but I’d give him decent odds to finish as a top-15 (12?) catcher when all the stats are in.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland has nothing but flawed options in his bullpen at the moment, so we shouldn’t pretend that he can just flip the switch to auto-pilot in the seventh inning and games will close themselves. But he certainly didn’t play the righty/lefty match-up game too well on Wednesday. He also didn’t look like a manager who intends to use a closing committee, no matter what he says publicly.

This was the situation: The Tigers held a one-run lead entering the eighth inning at Minnesota, and the Twins had Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit due up. If you have a guy in the ‘pen who’s tough on lefty hitters — like, for instance, Phil Coke — then you’d love to have him available to face Mauer and Morneau. But instead of deploying Coke in the eighth, Leyland went with his usual set-up specialist, Joaquin Benoit. Coke was saved for the ninth.

Things did not go well. Benoit did his job — well, until he walked the lead-off hitter in the final frame — but Coke allowed hits to a pair of right-handed batters in the ninth, blowing the save opportunity. He really has no business facing RHBs in key situations, based on his history.

So Detroit’s bullpen remains the mess it was entering the season. Coke isn’t the answer, not for a team with postseason plans. If the Tigers really don’t want to bump Benoit from the eighth, then PROVEN CLOSER™ Octavio Dotel may get a look in the final inning. Or perhaps we’ll see either Al Alburquerque or Brayan Villarreal, both of whom have closing-quality stuff. This ‘pen is far from settled. Don't hoard these Tigers relievers; try to limit yourself to just one.

We should note that Anibal Sanchez, coming off a forgettable spring, was effective in his 2013 debut. He pitched five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and three walks, striking out five. Nothing to fret about here, it seems. The final out recorded by Sanchez was a 400-foot flyout from Joe Mauer, caught in front of the 411 sign, but it’s gonna look like a routine play on the scorecard.

It’s not like fantasy owners can go out and add Mets starter Matt Harvey, so he’s not someone we should be spending many words on in this feature, but [expletive] he pitched a great game on Wednesday. Harvey dominated the Pads over seven innings, giving up just one hit and striking out 10. That kid looked exactly like an ace (though I’ll acknowledge the quality-of-opponent issue). Big fastball, killer slider, and a change that no one saw coming. And he picked off Everth Cabrera, the only guy who got a hit against him.

In keeping with Closing Time tradition, Ubaldo Jimenez takes the hill when Behrens is writing. Odd how it works out that way, but that’s the way of things. Also in keeping with Closing Time tradition, Ubaldo was pretty damn good with Behrens writing — better, in fact, than you could have reasonably expected. He struck out six batters over 6.0 innings, yielding just one run on three hits. He was also throwing 92-95. No need to rush out and add him this minute, but please keep an open mind. He’s an interesting reclamation project, with a solid history.

Another day, another Yankees injury. Sure. Of course. Hiroki Kuroda checked out in the second inning against Boston, four batters after taking a liner off his pitching hand. Brutal. For now, the team is saying that Kuroda has a finger contusion; apparently the X-rays were clean. No idea yet if he can make his next start, but his owners have dodged a bullet.

The Yankees got a far-off glimmer of possible good news on Wednesday, as injured first baseman Mark Teixeira (wrist) discussed a potential May 1 return. Here’s the waffly quote, via

"That's my goal, to play for the Yankees, I hope, by May 1," Teixeira told before New York hosted the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium in the second game of the season for both teams. "I hope. That would be great."


"The doctor will look at me in about 10 days. And if there's no pain going through normal every day movements then I could start swinging the bat."

So it’s obviously time to print the playoff tickets.

Kids, if you somehow haven’t seen the fantastic Bob Costas-quotes-Ludacris clip just yet, click it now. This is important stuff. It can’t wait. Must-see.

Placido Polanco is hitting clean-up for the Marlins, just so you know. That's how ugly things have gotten for the Fish. Miami has been shut out twice so far, and they have a murderous April schedule on deck (at NYM, vs. ATL, vs. PHI, vs. WAS, at CIN). Stream where you can.

Broxton in the eighth, to face Aybar-Pujols-Hamilton (then Trumbo, then Kendrick); Chapman in the ninth, to face Callaspo-Iannetta-pinch-hitter. Makes perfect sense. Final outs are always the toughest outs, right? No matter who's hitting?

(The Reds won, so whatever. A triumph of modern bullpen management).

Brian Roberts delivered another 2-for-4 line, his second straight, and he drove in the game-tying run on Wednesday against Fernando Rodney. Roberts is apparently healthy (first time since '09), owned in just 13 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Oakland shortstop Jed Lowrie went 3-for-3 against the M's, with a walk, two doubles and a homer. He hit second for the A's and drove in three runs, scoring another. When healthy, he can hit. Tommy Milone had a rocky first frame for Oakland, allowing a pair of homers (Gutierrez, Morse), but he settled down nicely, allowing just one base-runner after the second.

Tim Lincecum delivered your standard five-inning, seven-walk win, beating the Dodgers in LA. ''I felt like I could have pitched a lot better," he later said. Let's hope. The Carl Crawford revival continues, you'll note, as he went 3-for-4.

I regret that I couldn't hang through the end of the 16-inning slugfest between the Cards and D-Backs. Brandon McCarthy blew up my week in two leagues (5.0 IP, 9 H, 6 ER), so I kinda tried to forget that game was happening. Please note that Gerardo Parra went 3-for-7 with a homer, a triple and a stolen base. He's just 14 percent owned, available to many of you.

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