|Thanks to right-hander Ernesto Frieri, the Angels have someone solid coming out of the bullpen. (US Presswire)|
Each Monday, after a week of play and of scouring the major leagues for the best information, Jon Heyman passes along tips on whose stock up and whose is on the decline.
1. Paul Konerko, White Sox 1B: Not that he doesn't deserve the top spot anyway, but anything is warranted to try to make up for Konerko's 15-year career of being under-publicized, under-rated and probably even underpaid. He hit his 400th home run in a White Sox uniform on Sunday, which got him a bit of attention. But not enough, not nearly enough.
Beyond that achievement, Konerko is the one player in the big leagues hovering around the magic .400 mark, as his .399 batting average is the best in baseball now that the Mets' David Wright has had three straight hitless games and is down to .382. (Konerko would actually be over .400 if Adam Dunn wasn't forced at second on a blooper to right field Sunday.)
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Of course, the slow-footed Konerko (though not as slow as Dunn) recognizes he isn't a threat to bat .400 over a full season, as he told the Chicago Tribune. But it's remarkable for the 36-year-old slugger just to be at .399 in late May.
Konerko has 13 RBIs in his last eight games, and he has hit in 13 straight games, raising his average 66 points, from .333. One thing that seems true about Konerko, he's getting better with age; two of his four .300-plus seasons came the past two seasons. This, presumably, will make it three of five.
2. Ernesto Frieri, Angels RP: The Angels' biggest weakness in their horrific start was their bullpen, and new GM Jerry Dipoto appears to have solved that issue with the acquisition of one little-known right-hander who's been all but perfect in Los Angeles of Anaheim. In his first 11 innings as an Angel, Frieri has allowed zero hits while striking out 23 batters. That is not a misprint, by the way.
Since that May 3 trade, which received little attention at the time, the Angels' bullpen has posted a 0.89 ERA, with Frieri, former closer Jordan Walden and lefthander Scott Downs manning the final innings. The other two have been good, but of course no one has been as untouchable as Frieri, who was acquired for tiny middle infielder Alexi Amarista and minor-league pitcher Donn Roach. Dipoto touted Frieri as someone who "misses bats" upon making a trade that received almost no notice at the time.
The last time a pitcher whiffed at least 20 batters in his first 10 innings with a new team came when Tom "Flash" Gordon did it for the 2001 Cubs, Elias reported to MLB.com. But Gordon wasn't hitless over his first 11. In reality, it's one of the more dominant stretches by any pitcher, ever, especially by any previously anonymous pitcher.
3. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals SP: Gonzalez showed his terrific fastball-curveball combo Sunday night in limiting the Braves to one hit while striking out 10 in seven innings in a 7-2 Nats victory that was Atlanta's seventh straight defeat. Gonzalez is on quite a streak himself, but he's headed in the opposite direction.
Gonzalez, who has struck out at least six batters in all nine of his starts in Washington, now has a league-leading 79 strikeouts. Gonzalez belies his slight 6-foot-1 frame with overpowering stuff that's making him an early Cy Young candidate in his first year in the National League. He is allowing opposing hitters to bat a ridiculous .156.
Gonzalez' offseason trade from the A's was one of the bigger deals this winter, and Nationals GM Mike Rizzo showed how much he wanted Gonzalez by unloading four prime players in his farm system to complete the deal which has helped the surprising Nats take the lead in a tough NL East despite an absurd number of injuries to key people. Washington's terrific starting rotation has covered up a lot of bad luck, and no one has been as good as Gonzalez, not even Stephen Strasburg.
1. John Buck, Marlins C: Buck is not supposed to be a high average hitter, but his slide has him in new territory, as he's slipped from .207 to .161. Buck is 0-for-his-last-25 with 11 strikeouts. He's had no hits in a week.
The .238 career hitter hit .227 his first year in Miami. The trend isn't a positive one.
2. Henry Rodriguez , Nationals RP: Rodriguez lost his job as closer when he had what manager Davey Johnson termed a "meltdown" on the mound against the rival Phillies. Johnson called upon Sean Burnett in time to get the save that night. But before Burnett arrived in the game, Rodriguez showed he had completely lost the strike zone.
Burnett and Tyler Clippard will man the closing role for now, as Rodriguez, the third choice to begin with (behind injured Drew Storen and Brad Lidge) is now relegated to lesser spots. Unfortunately, in his first "lesser" spot, he allowed a solo home run to Shane Victorino in his inning.
Rodriguez definitely has closer stuff, with a 100-mph fastball and sick curve, but his inability to throw strikes makes him untenable as a closer option at the moment. He has blown three of 12 save opportunities and has walked 14 in his 19 innings overall.
3. Heath Bell, Marlins RP: In this awful year for closers so far, Bell has been the worst, bar none. It's not even a competition. He becomes the first to repeat here as a Bear Market performer, but it's warranted. His ERA is 8.47 and WHIP 2.24. Oy.
The really remarkable part is that manager Ozzie Guillen continues to stick with him. "It's going to be very hard for us to win if Heath Bell is not our closer," Guillen said. The rejoinder is obvious: Bell is making it hard for the Marlins to win as things are now.