The Week Ahead: Big returns and surprise starts

You know it’s been an eventful season when there’s a no-hitter, a 20-inning marathon, a 20-0 blowout and an Albert Pujols’ slump before there’s a single rainout.

So what’s next? Well, the end of that Pujols’ skid, no surprise. The Cardinals slugger went 3-for-4 with a homer Sunday in the finale of a trip that he started 3 for 20. Slumping or not, Pujols always is worth watching.

Three others to keep a close eye on this week:

Jose Reyes

Jose Reyes has made an immediate impact since rejoining the Mets lineup.
Jose Reyes has made an immediate impact since rejoining the Mets lineup.

Rookie Ike Davis is getting the hype and pitching is reason No. 1 the Mets had won seven of 10 before Sunday night (they allowed two or fewer runs in every win). But the return of Reyes has been big, too.

His numbers have been slow to come but look for them to climb as his at-bats mount. "Physically, I’m good," he said last week, "but this is spring training for me."

Reyes reached base in seven games last week and scored in six. He had two triples and three stolen bases without getting caught and Jerry Manuel deemed him ready for the three-hole. Not coincidentally, the Mets reached .500 for the first time since July as they head into a big week with series against the Dodgers and at first-place Philadelphia.

What Reyes would like next is a return to his normal diet. He has been ordered to stay away from his preferred seafood until doctors deem his thyroid levels at a healthy enough level.

"I have to eat a lot of chicken and pasta, and I don’t like pasta," said Reyes, who is examined by doctors weekly. He can’t wait for the visit when he’s told he stop eating something besides poultry.

"Chicken is not bad but when you eat it every day, you get tired of it," he said. Don’t tell him how many ways it can be prepared, either. "Chicken is chicken no matter what way you cook it," he said.

C.J. Wilson

A look at AL ERA leaders is full of surprises. Of the seven with sub-2.00 ERAs, five are lefties. One of the leaders, Andy Pettitte (1.29), wasn’t sure he wanted to pitch this season. Two others, Francisco Liriano (1.29) and the Mariners’ Doug Fister (1.67), had to secure their jobs during spring training.

At least they were assured of having an opportunity. Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson, the club’s most consistent reliever a year ago, practically had to beg for his shot and didn’t find out he would be given one until he reported to Arizona.

"When I showed up, I spoke with our GM (Jon Daniels) and assistant GM (Thad Levine) and they told me I had to pitch really well to get the spot," Wilson replied in an e-mail. "I took that as my official ‘don’t make any mistakes’ chance."

He hasn’t made many, during camp or since. He was the Rangers’ best pitcher in spring and in two of his three regular-season starts, he hasn’t allowed a run. That included a 6 2/3-inning outing at Fenway Park that stopped Texas’ six-game losing streak. His next start comes Tuesday against another lefty, Mark Buehrle, in Arlington.

Andrew Bailey

The A’s second-year closer takes a major league-best streak of 23 consecutive save conversions into Tampa Bay. That could be trouble for a couple of reasons. One: Across the majors, getting the final three outs has been tougher than usual this season. Only 10 closers have been perfect in all of their save chances, compared with 16 at this time last season.

Second: The Rays are the game’s current comeback kings. They already have won three times this season with rallies after the seventh inning and they lead the majors with nine such comebacks since last year’s All-Star Game.

The way the Rays have been playing, Bailey will be fortunate to get a save opportunity. The Rays have outscored the opposition 113-63 in running out to a 14-5 record.

Oakland also is off to a strong start, sitting atop the A.L. West behind the league’s stingiest pitching staff. Bailey has yet to allow a run in six outings, though only two have been in save situations and he has allowed three of four inherited runners to score.

After Bailey, Angels right-hander Fernando Rodney owns the longest active consecutive-saves streak, at 21, including five with his new team. At 18 straight are Jonathan Papelbon and Houston’s Matt Lindstrom, who saved four games last week.

Astros GM Ed Wade was criticized for spending so much to redo his bullpen but Houston relievers have been huge in helping the club turn around after an 0-8 start. They retired 22 consecutive hitters in one stretch and had allowed only one run in their past 14 innings.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

You know it’s been an eventful season when there’s a no-hitter, a 20-inning marathon, a 20-0 blowout and an Albert Pujols’ slump before there’s a single rainout.

So what’s next? Well, the end of that Pujols’ skid, no surprise. The Cardinals slugger went 3-for-4 with a homer Sunday in the finale of a trip that he started 3 for 20. Slumping or not, Pujols always is worth watching.

Three others to keep a close eye on this week:

Jose Reyes

Jose Reyes has made an immediate impact since rejoining the Mets lineup.
Jose Reyes has made an immediate impact since rejoining the Mets lineup.

Rookie Ike Davis is getting the hype and pitching is reason No. 1 the Mets had won seven of 10 before Sunday night (they allowed two or fewer runs in every win). But the return of Reyes has been big, too.

His numbers have been slow to come but look for them to climb as his at-bats mount. "Physically, I’m good," he said last week, "but this is spring training for me."

Reyes reached base in seven games last week and scored in six. He had two triples and three stolen bases without getting caught and Jerry Manuel deemed him ready for the three-hole. Not coincidentally, the Mets reached .500 for the first time since July as they head into a big week with series against the Dodgers and at first-place Philadelphia.

What Reyes would like next is a return to his normal diet. He has been ordered to stay away from his preferred seafood until doctors deem his thyroid levels at a healthy enough level.

"I have to eat a lot of chicken and pasta, and I don’t like pasta," said Reyes, who is examined by doctors weekly. He can’t wait for the visit when he’s told he stop eating something besides poultry.

"Chicken is not bad but when you eat it every day, you get tired of it," he said. Don’t tell him how many ways it can be prepared, either. "Chicken is chicken no matter what way you cook it," he said.

C.J. Wilson

A look at AL ERA leaders is full of surprises. Of the seven with sub-2.00 ERAs, five are lefties. One of the leaders, Andy Pettitte (1.29), wasn’t sure he wanted to pitch this season. Two others, Francisco Liriano (1.29) and the Mariners’ Doug Fister (1.67), had to secure their jobs during spring training.

At least they were assured of having an opportunity. Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson, the club’s most consistent reliever a year ago, practically had to beg for his shot and didn’t find out he would be given one until he reported to Arizona.

"When I showed up, I spoke with our GM (Jon Daniels) and assistant GM (Thad Levine) and they told me I had to pitch really well to get the spot," Wilson replied in an e-mail. "I took that as my official ‘don’t make any mistakes’ chance."

He hasn’t made many, during camp or since. He was the Rangers’ best pitcher in spring and in two of his three regular-season starts, he hasn’t allowed a run. That included a 6 2/3-inning outing at Fenway Park that stopped Texas’ six-game losing streak. His next start comes Tuesday against another lefty, Mark Buehrle, in Arlington.

Andrew Bailey

The A’s second-year closer takes a major league-best streak of 23 consecutive save conversions into Tampa Bay. That could be trouble for a couple of reasons. One: Across the majors, getting the final three outs has been tougher than usual this season. Only 10 closers have been perfect in all of their save chances, compared with 16 at this time last season.

Second: The Rays are the game’s current comeback kings. They already have won three times this season with rallies after the seventh inning and they lead the majors with nine such comebacks since last year’s All-Star Game.

The way the Rays have been playing, Bailey will be fortunate to get a save opportunity. The Rays have outscored the opposition 113-63 in running out to a 14-5 record.

Oakland also is off to a strong start, sitting atop the A.L. West behind the league’s stingiest pitching staff. Bailey has yet to allow a run in six outings, though only two have been in save situations and he has allowed three of four inherited runners to score.

After Bailey, Angels right-hander Fernando Rodney owns the longest active consecutive-saves streak, at 21, including five with his new team. At 18 straight are Jonathan Papelbon and Houston’s Matt Lindstrom, who saved four games last week.

Astros GM Ed Wade was criticized for spending so much to redo his bullpen but Houston relievers have been huge in helping the club turn around after an 0-8 start. They retired 22 consecutive hitters in one stretch and had allowed only one run in their past 14 innings.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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