Daily Dose: Brawling in Boston

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Junichi Tazawa’s first big-league start turned out to be a wild one Tuesday night, as his plunking Miguel Cabrera in the first inning led to a bench-clearing incident when Kevin Youkilis charged the mound after being hit in the next inning by Rick Porcello. Cabrera left with a hand contusion, Youkilis and Porcello were ejected, and Mike Lowell homered twice after replacing Youkilis as the Red Sox won.
Tazawa got the victory for allowing one earned run and two unearned runs in five innings, totaling six strikeouts compared to just two walks and one extra-base hit on the same day that John Smoltz reportedly cleared waivers. However, his time in the rotation could be limited with Tim Wakefield slated to make a rehab start Saturday at Triple-A, so Tazawa’s value is limited to deeper AL-only leagues.
While everyone awaits their suspensions and the Tigers hope that Cabrera isn’t seriously injured, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Jhoulys Chacin pitched well in four relief outings after a surprise call-up three weeks ago, striking out nine hitters in five innings, but struggled Tuesday night in his first start. He failed to make it out of the third inning, walking six and allowing four runs on just one hit. His control has been fine in the minors, but it’s certainly not shocking that a 21-year-old who skipped Double-A would have some issues.
* Nick Blackburn’s implosion continued Tuesday, as he gave up six runs before being chased in the second inning. Blackburn had a sub-3.00 ERA as recently as mid-July, but his horrendous strikeout rate always predicted a trip back down to earth and sure enough he’s coughed up 29 runs in 30.1 innings since then. He’s still a capable mid-rotation starter, but there just isn’t much long-term upside.
* Scott Rolen went on the disabled list Tuesday with post-concussion symptoms, which stem from being beaned by a Jason Marquis pitch last week. Rolen is due back in a couple weeks and in the meantime Adam Rosales will continue to fill in at third base. Rosales has hit just .219 so far, but put up a decent .299/.353/.490 line with 16 homers, 62 extra-base hits, and 11 steals in 147 games at Triple-A.
* Ervin Santana entered Tuesday having given up at least four runs in all but one of his eight starts since coming off the disabled list in early July. He tossed eight innings of one-run ball against Oakland on July 16, yet still had a 6.98 ERA over 39 innings during that span. That is until hurling a complete-game shutout versus the Rays, allowing just three hits while recording 27 outs on 97 pitches.
AL Quick Hits: Ian Kinsler (hamstring) is slated to begin a rehab stint Wednesday at Double-A … Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder) tossed a 40-pitch bullpen session Tuesday and reported no problems … Jake Westbrook (elbow) will be shut down for six weeks following a visit with Dr. Lewis Yocum … Dallas Braden (foot) was unable to throw a side session Tuesday … Troy Percival said Tuesday that he’s retiring “unless something miraculous happens” … Akinori Iwamura (knee) is set to start a rehab assignment Friday at Triple-A … Koij Uehara (elbow) will start a throwing program Wednesday with an eye toward returning in September … J.P. Ricciardi said Tuesday that Shaun Marcum likely won’t come back from Tommy John surgery this season … Justin Speier is still owed $5.25 million for 2010, but the Angels released him Monday after two disappointing seasons … Cleveland sent Josh Barfield outright to Triple-A after the ex-top prospect cleared waivers.
NL Quick Hits: Adrian Gonzalez had hits in all six of his at-bats Tuesday, raising his batting average 11 points in one night … After missing two weeks with back soreness, Roy Oswalt gave up six runs in five innings Tuesday … Johnny Cueto is expected to make his next start despite leaving Monday’s game with some hip cramping … Jamie Moyer said Tuesday that he’s “disheartened” by Philadelphia moving him to the bullpen … Arizona pitching prospect Jarrod Parker will be shut down for the rest of the year with a strained elbow … Tommy Hanson had nine strikeouts and zero walks in 6.2 frames Tuesday, improving to 7-2 … Corey Hart (appendicitis) quit Tuesday’s workout after just eight minutes, explaining that “my body still hurts” … Rich Harden threw seven innings of two-run ball Tuesday and has allowed just eight runs in his last six starts … Jeff Weaver will get the nod on Wednesday in place of Chad Billingsley (hamstring).

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.