April 21, 2009
There's been plenty of speculation (and new faces) in the Washington bullpen over the last 24 hours, but when push came to shove against the Braves on Monday, Manny Acta stood by his man. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Closer Joel Hanrahan was the main culprit in Washington's blown-save bonanza against Florida last weekend (the Nats coughed up a ninth-inning lead in each game – Hanrahan blew the first two), but Acta gave him a vote of confidence prior to Monday's opener with Atlanta and Hanrahan justified the call on the field. While Hanrahan had trouble locating his fastball against the Braves (just seven of his 15 pitches were strikes), he nonetheless pitched around a walk and got through the inning without any damage. Handshakes all around, and with the win the Nats became the final team to record a save this season.
That doesn't mean we're going to stop speculating for saves in Washington if and when Hanrahan blows up again (show me a closer who can't throw strikes and I'll show you a closer worth betting against). Please note that lefty Joe Beimel has been sharp as a set-up man (1.23 ERA, two outs Monday), and Garrett Mock is back in the majors and tabbed as a future closing option (he relieved Beimel after a rain delay, retiring one batter). Julian Tavarez was loosening in the bullpen during the ninth as well; the Nats can say Hanrahan is their man all they like, but he's not going to have a Mariano Rivera-type leash, that's for sure.
If you're in a deeper group and need to make your speculation plays now, I'd suggest trying Beimel first (despite being a lefty), Mock second and Tavarez third. And heck, we can't really discount Jason Bergmann either; he worked 4.2 scoreless innings in the minors before getting the recall along with Mock and Kip Wells.
Monday's clean relief work made a winner out of Jordan Zimmermann in his big-league debut. He didn't jump off the screen in his first start (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 K), but he was poised and consistently around the plate. I'm not eager to start him Sunday against the Mets, but he's certainly a person of interest in mixed leagues. Two other Nationals that I'd suggest you grab if you still can: on-base machine Nick Johnson (he's surging in the No. 2 slot), and the multi-talented Elijah Dukes (hopefully his stolen base and two hits allow the Nats to forget that he loafed in the field after Matt Diaz's second-inning hit, handing away an extra base).
• Ah, Patriots' Day, a regional excuse for New England to play hooky, watch a ballgame and a marathon, and maybe tip an adult beverage or two. The Red Sox generally win the morning-start game, and Monday was no exception as Boston kicked the Orioles around for 15 hits and 12 runs.
David Ortiz was the most encouraging part of the onslaught (4-1-2-2, working The Monster for a double and triple), and it didn't hurt that the table-setters in front of him did their thing (Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia combined for six runs, seven hits and four RBIs). Mike Lowell chipped in two hits and is now on an 11-for-24 streak. Justin Masterson was capable as a fill-in starter (5.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 3 K), but over the long haul he's more of an asset in the bullpen.
• What do we make of Pittsburgh right-hander Ross Ohlendorf? We know he's smart (Princeton), we know he's well-traveled (on his third club), we know he's stingy with the walks (counting spring training, five free passes in 42 innings), and he sure was impressive against the Marlins on Monday (seven scoreless, three baserunners, five strikeouts). But can he consistently miss enough bats to be something more than an NL-only flier? And don't we have to be mindful of last year's nightmare trial with the Yanks and Bucs (6.46 ERA, 1.87 WHIP over 62.2 IP)? Let's get more data when he pitches at San Diego this weekend, but I'm not taking the plunge yet.
• The Diamondbacks kicked Jason Marquis around (5 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 2 HR) despite another collar from No. 3 hitter Conor Jackson (0-for-4, .182). It's time to switch this guy's nickname from Co-Jack to Lo-Jack – he's got just one homer over his last 244 at-bats. Jon Garland allowed just one earned run over 6.1 innings (he also struck out five), but that doesn't mean you want to risk it with him against the Giants on Sunday. Chad Qualls enjoyed a rocking-chair ninth, needing just seven pitches to close out the game.
• Wouldn't it be nice if Clint Hurdle would play his young talent every day, give his kids a chance to develop? Dexter Fowler (hit, walk, steal) and Ian Stewart (homer No. 3) made an impact at the top of the order, but no one knows if Hurdle will start them consistently the rest of the week (it is encouraging to see Stewart getting time in left field). The sneaky story for the Rockies on Monday was reliever Jason Grilli, who continues to throw pellets as a potential bullpen sleeper; he struck out the side in the eighth.
• Bronson Arroyo pitched to contact at Houston (no walks, two strikeouts) and got away with it, scattering nine hits and three runs over seven innings. He also allowed a couple of homers, the recurring problem with him. He's worth considering as a mixer play, but I'm not giving him automatic-start status by any means. Arroyo gets a home date against Javier Vazquez and the Braves on Saturday.
Not an Injury Blog: Jose Valverde (back) returned for an inning of work, throwing nine crisp pitches and setting the side down in order. … Ryan Doumit (wrist) is scheduled to get a CT scan after Monday's MRI came back inconclusive. . … Brian McCann (blurred vision) missed his second straight game and will see an eye specialist Tuesday. … Stephen Drew (hamstring) rested again, as expected. He's still day-to-day. … Jay Bruce (hand) sat out Monday, the plan all along, but the Reds don't sound too worried about him. … Joe Mauer (back) went through a simulated game Monday and it looks like he'll be back with the Twins on May 1. … Alex Rodriguez (hip) continues to increase his rehab pace and I'll be surprised if he returns any later than May 15. … Julio Lugo says his knee feels pretty good and he's hoping he won't need a long rehab assignment at Triple-A. Meanwhile, Jed Lowrie is probably headed for wrist surgery. … Mark Reynolds (quad) returned in style with a homer and double. … Hiroki Kuroda (oblique) is playing catch again and will head on the road with the Dodgers. … Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder) will start playing catch on Tuesday. …The struggling Hideki Matsui (.194, three RBIs) had his knee drained last week, and Joe Girardi concedes that Matsui has taken "a little step back" in his return from surgery.
Speed Round: Another hitless day for Felix Pie (0-for-3), dropping his average to .147. He doesn't look comfortable at all, pitch to pitch. … If you can name Cincinnati's starting lineup from memory Monday night, you must work for the Reds. … Kaz Matsui returned to the lineup and the leadoff slot, pushing Michael Bourn to the bottom of the order. Matsui went 1-for-3, Bourn 1-for-4. … Nyjer Morgan's third walk might be more important than his fourth stolen base. He also scored a couple of runs in Pittsburgh's rout. … Nate McLouth dunked his fourth homer into the Allegheny River, and he also stole a base and knocked in four. … Andrew Miller couldn't get past 87 mph at Pittsburgh (4.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 1 K), perhaps because of a strained oblique. He went on the DL right after the game. … Francisco Cordero retired three of four at Houston en route to his fifth save. Spring training, bah. … That pesky April rain washed out the games slated for Philadelphia and The Bronx. It will be interesting if a pair of lefties (Dana Eveland, Andy Pettitte) can keep the ball from flying out of Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. … Chien-Ming Wang will have his next turn skipped as the Yanks attempt to figure out what's wrong with the struggling right-hander.