Closing Time: Stephen Strasburg still undefeated, still unfair

The Washington Nationals have officially launched their mid-season revenue sharing program.

With Stephen Strasburg(notes) taking the hill against the Indians on Sunday afternoon, the Tribe drew the largest baseball crowd Cleveland has seen since … well, maybe since 10 Cent Beer Night. Not sure.

The announced attendance was 32,876, and a healthy percentage of those folks were obviously walk-ups who wanted to see the visiting team's starter.

Strasburg was filthy again, even if he couldn't quite duplicate the ridiculous numbers that he posted in his major league debut. His first pitch of the day was a blistering 99 mph fastball to Trevor Crowe(notes) (strike one), and his second was basically the Platonic ideal of a curveball (strike two). After that, Strasburg put a breaking pitch in the dirt to see if Crowe would chase (he didn't), and eventually punched him out with a letters-high 100 mph fastball. Totally overpowering.

Strasburg then struck out Cleveland's No. 2 hitter, Shin-Soo Choo(notes) — unveiling a 92 mph changeup in the process — and he retired Carlos Santana(notes) on a liner to left. In the second inning, Strasburg allowed a solo homer to Travis Hafner(notes) before recording two more Ks. He was perfect in the third (three groundouts) and he fanned three hitters in the fourth, successfully pitching around the first two walks of his MLB career (Santana, Hafner). He whiffed one batter in a scoreless fifth before finally encountering trouble in the sixth.

Choo began the inning with a harmless flyout, but Santana reached on a single to right. (He's not the lead story here, yet it's worth noting that Santana doesn't look overmatched against anyone). Strasburg then fell behind Hafner 2-0, eventually walking him on five pitches. Then, for the second time in the game, the phenom requested assistance from the Cleveland grounds crew. Apparently there were issues with the landing area on the pitching mound…

…because Strasburg does not malfunction, ever. If he's walking batters, it's because the environment is inadequate, not him. He's a machine and thus not susceptible to human weaknesses.

Despite the best efforts of Progressive Field's landscapers, Strasburg never quite seemed satisfied with the mound. He followed the Hafner walk by giving a free pass to Austin Kearns(notes), kicking the dirt in disgust after ball four. Washington manager Jim Riggleman then lifted the 21-year-old ace after 5.1 innings. Strasburg walked off the field to a chorus of boos. Cleveland fans might feel indifferent toward their 2010 baseball team, but you DO NOT go into their house and insult the grounds crew.

With the bases full, Drew Storen(notes) entered in relief and saved Strasburg's ERA. He coaxed a pop-out from Russell Branyan(notes), then K'd Jhonny Peralta(notes) on a 96 mph fastball. The threat had passed and Strasburg was in line for his second victory.

The final stat line looked like this: 5.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 8 Ks. He threw 95 total pitches, 52 of which were strikes. Walks aren't likely to be an ongoing issue for Strasburg; he issued only 13 in 55.1 minor league innings prior to the call-up. If he claims that a faulty mound was the source of Sunday's wildness, then we're prepared to believe him.

You'll recall that the upcoming schedule is fantastic, with the White Sox due next. Mr. Pianowski pegged Strasburg's rest-of-season value at $27 in the most recent Shuffle Up, and nothing that happened on Sunday should reduce that price. There's an unspecified innings-cap to fret about, so head-to-head managers may not have Strasburg's services in September. But the rest of us should have 90-100 brilliant frames ahead.

Cleveland's local broadcast production team tried to jinx Strasburg by forcing a David Clyde comparison (pictured above), but of course that's absolutely preposterous. Clyde debuted in the majors at age 18, just three weeks after his final high school appearance. Strasburg is older, infinitely more refined, and almost impossibly skilled. The buzz might remind you of Clyde, but nothing else should.

This year, asking Chad Qualls(notes) to protect a three-run lead is like asking your dog to guard the bacon. That scenario won't end well. Why would you keep going back to it? Qualls can't possibly retain the closing gig in Arizona after Sunday's mauling. He entered in the ninth with a 5-2 lead, and he needed only 16 pitches to turn it into a tie game. Just two of the three runs were earned, because Qualls himself committed a fielding error.

We've already covered the Arizona bullpen situation this week, here and here. As scary as it sounds, Aaron Heilman(notes) is the add (2.83 ERA, 1.26 WHIP). Chris Young may have bailed out the Diamondbacks with a ninth inning walk-off on Sunday, but that doesn't erase Qualls' performance. If Arizona can't find a reason to send their closer to the DL, then he simply needs to be reassigned to less-significant situations. This misery can't continue. A.J. Hinch's postgame thoughts can be found here, via the Arizona Republic:

Hinch said the Cardinals were hitting Qualls hard, and coupled with the extra pressure he is putting on himself, led to the decision to pull the beleaguered reliever, whose ERA jumped to 8.46 after allowing the three runs, two of them earned, and three hits in one-third of an inning.

"I'd seen enough," he said. "Obviously, it's difficult to do that. I felt for us to have the best chance to win it was gonna have to be with someone else."

Esmerling Vasquez(notes) was charged with the blown save on Sunday (and later credited with the win), but Qualls owned the mess. Hinch will have to make a change, even though his options are less than ideal.

If you bought low on Zack Greinke(notes) following his 1-8 start, congrats. He pitched a complete game five-hitter against the Reds, striking out 12. If it weren't for the presence of Joey Votto(notes) (2-for-4, 2 HR), Greinke would have limited Cincinnati to just one run. Here's the bad news for those who own Zack: He's already used up all of this month's run support. Kansas City exploded for seven today, thanks mostly to David DeJesus(notes) and Billy Butler(notes) (combined 7-for-8, 5 R, 2 HR, 5 RBIs, SB).

Octavio Dotel(notes) has entered yet another not-so-good period, having allowed runs in three straight appearances. He gave up a three-run no-doubt opposite field bomb to Miguel Cabrera(notes) on Sunday afternoon. That's blown save No. 3 and home run No. 4 for Dotel.

The Bucs have now lost eight consecutive games, and their problems are obviously institutional — it's not like the bullpen is their one weak spot. But if they were to make a change, Joel Hanrahan(notes) looks like he's next in the hierarchy. He's been tolerable (though certainly not dominant) since late-April. Yes, Evan Meek(notes) has been better, but the fantasy community doesn't get to vote on closer changes. This decision belongs to John Russell.

Corey Patterson(notes) stole his eighth base of the season. That's not an official fantasy recommendation, though. It's just a simple statement. Do whatever you feel you must. We'd prefer anyone else Jose Tabata(notes) if you're looking for a speed power-up.

Kris Medlen(notes) didn't allow a hit to the Twins until the fifth inning, and he finished with another useful fantasy line: 8.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, BB, 5 Ks. He'll get the Royals next. We won't see Jair Jurrjens (hamstring) until late-June, and that's if everything goes well in his rehab starts. The under-owned Troy Glaus(notes) went deep twice for the Braves in a 4-for-5 performance

If Florida's Mike Stanton can keep up this pace for just a little while longer, he'll force his way into a more favorable lineup position. The 20-year-old went 2-for-2 on Sunday with two walks, one run scored, and a pair of RBIs. He stole a base, too, but that isn't really a skill he demonstrated in the minors. In five games for the Fish, he's been the anti-Stanton: .368 average, no homers, two steals. All we're hoping for is power.

Colby Lewis(notes) was brilliant against the Brewers on Sunday, striking out 10 batters over eight innings. He limited Milwaukee to three hits, one walk and two runs (both on Prince Fielder(notes) solo shots). Yovani Gallardo(notes) matched Lewis' strikeouts, but not his efficiency. It was a nice combined effort for those of us who started both pitchers.

And there's no way you'll believe this, but Julio Borbon(notes) is now hitting .285. He was batting second for the Rangers on Sunday, and he extended his hitting streak to 11 games.

Jose Bautista(notes) singled to lead-off the third inning in Colorado, snapping a string of 23 consecutive at-bats without a hit. The extended hitless stretch has lowered his season average to .232, which is pretty much what you should expect from a career .238-hitter. It was a nice run while it lasted, Jose.

If you're a David Aardsma(notes) owner, be grateful for one-out saves. Aardsma had allowed five runs over his prior 1.1 innings before today's successful conversion.

Hitting third for the Giants, the 25 percent-owned Aubrey Huff(notes) hit a pair of homers on Sunday. He's now batting .303 with 10 bombs. (OK, most are quasi-bombs, but they all count). Huff is eligible at first base and outfield; he's prepared to serve.

Santiago Casilla(notes) picked up a rogue save against Oakland, because Brian Wilson(notes) had pitched on consecutive days (and Saturday's save was of the five-out variety). No need to jump on Casilla.

Five days after he struck out 10 batters over seven scoreless Triple-A innings, Daniel Hudson(notes) racked up another nine Ks for Charlotte. Keep him on the watch list, as the White Sox are threatening to deal vets.

Baltimore activated Alfredo Simon(notes) (hamstring) from the disabled list following Sunday's loss, so this is your last chance to add him and quickly stash him on your fantasy DL. He's not out of the closing picture for the O's. Here's Juan Samuel: "We do expect [Simon] to close some, and [David] Hernandez is still going to get his shot."

Strains, tweaks, spasms: Troy Tulowitzki(notes) (swine groin) was sidelined on Sunday, but that wasn't entirely unexpected. There's still hope that he'll return on Tuesday. … Austin Jackson(notes) is officially day-to-day due to back spasms. We mention the injury because we can link to video of Jackson looking uncomfortable. … The Reds are hoping that Monday's off day will help Brandon Phillips'(notes) hamstring issue, but he's scheduled to have an MRI. Uh-oh. … Jason Bartlett(notes) is ready for some rehab, and he could rejoin the Rays as early as Wednesday. … Kevin Youkilis(notes) received the day off after getting drilled on the arm on Saturday, but the issue is not believed to be serious. … Rich Harden(notes) landed on the DL due to a left gluteus muscle strain. He was a mess in his most recent start, allowing three walks and four homers to the Brewers, and throwing 120 pitches over six innings.


Photos via Getty Images

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