Hanrahan stepping up for Pittsburgh

Joel Hanrahan took care of business against the Cubs on Friday. Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI

Just moments after Alfonso Soriano drove a ball into the left-field stands at Wrigley Field on Friday to cut the Pittsburgh Pirates' lead in half in the ninth inning, Joel Hanrahan was summoned to the mound.

There was no strutting from Hanrahan between pitches, no preening, no wasted emotion; he went about the business of attacking the strike zone in the way that a postal worker sorts mail. Fastball here, breaking ball there, another fastball. Minimal drama, maximum efficiency.

Hanrahan has pitched this way all season, after spending the offseason focusing on precision. He played catch with LaTroy Hawkins in his offseason workouts and his goal, from day to day, was to hit the same target: Low and away for right-handed hitters. Glove side for a right-handed pitcher like Hanrahan.

He has been told repeatedly, he said on Friday evening, "that I need to control that pitch -- down and away."

Yep. A lot of successful closers have worked that way -- such as Giants reliever Brian Wilson, who became a champion while being devoted to that edge of the strike zone. In Hanrahan's first year in the majors, in 2007, he walked 38 in 51 innings, and year by year, his command has improved. Last year, he walked 26 and struck out 100 in 69&frac23; innings.

As he has improved, Hanrahan has become more intent on pitching to contact and resolving at-bats quickly. The Cubs' Tony Campana was the first to get a taste of that, taking a strike on the first pitch that Hanrahan threw, and three pitches later, he was walking back to the dugout after taking a third strike.

Koyie Hill saw four pitches, and swung at the last two; Hanrahan's fastball was crackling, in the mid-90s, and he just kept pounding the strike zone with it. With two outs and nobody on base, Blake DeWitt was next, and after taking a strike, he swung and missed, twice. Hanrahan calmly walked off the mound, shook hands.

Nine of the 12 pitches he had thrown had been strikes, and he had lowered his ERA to 1.52. Hanrahan has allowed only five walks in 23&frac23; innings this season, while racking up 14 saves. "He's one of the best relievers in baseball right now," said an NL evaluator.

There has been speculation on the Web that the Pirates might look to trade Hanrahan, but some rival executives have a completely different take. Pittsburgh is trying to make progress, trying to get back to .500. And Hanrahan, one GM said this week, "is a big part of that."

Kevin Correia continues to pitch great for the Pirates, and now he has a 3.44 ERA.

• Tony La Russa thinks catchers need more protection in the rules, writes Derrick Goold.

In the days ahead, there will be catchers who will be instructed to avoid collisions at the plate. Some teams already have had internal discussions about the matter, weighed the risk/reward against the aftermath of the Buster Posey injury and decided that asking their catchers to put themselves in harm's way is not worth the risk. Said one high-ranked executive: "I know [our team's catcher] is tough, but it's more important to us to keep him on the field."

It's clear from conversations with club officials that change is coming, one way or another; for them, it's a financial decision. The only question is whether change comes team by team, or whether Major League Baseball gets ahead of this and institutes the protection.

Posey told the beat reporters who cover the Giants that it's highly likely he'll be out all year. He said he'd like Major League Baseball and the Players Association to look at change, Andrew Baggarly writes.

No deal for a catcher is in the works for the Giants, says Brian Sabean.

Coincidentally, Humberto Quintero suffered an injury similar to that of Posey, although in Quintero's situation, he slipped and the runner had nowhere to go.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman is in favor of rule changes in spring training.

Frank McCourt made payroll. The June 15th payroll could be an issue, writes Bill Shaikin.

The sale of a minority share of the Mets should stabilize the team through next year, writes Ken Belson and Richard Sandomir. The Mets' new minority owner was critical of carelessness among Madoff investors.

Jayson Werth and Jim Riggleman met to clear the air.

David Wright was magnanimous in speaking with reporters about Fred Wilpon's comments, before the Mets' loss. Wright didn't speak his mind, writes Joel Sherman.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. It would only make sense for the San Diego Padres to trade All-Star closer Heath Bell, who is 33 years old and would absorb about 20 percent of San Diego's payroll even if he took a major discount to stay. And it would make a lot of sense for the St. Louis Cardinals to work hard on a Bell deal. It would be interesting to see if St. Louis would expand the talks with San Diego in an effort to land a shortstop -- Jason Bartlett, who the Cardinals tried to land in the offseason. Bartlett is in the first year of a two-year, $11 million deal that includes an option for 2013. The Cardinals tried to trade during the winter for the 31-year-old Bartlett, who is hitting .258 with a homer for the Padres.

2. The Tigers swapped Scott Sizemore, and the economy had something to do with it, writes Drew Sharp. Ryan Raburn is moving to second base, writes John Lowe.

The trade for David Purcey was a call for relief for the Tigers, writes Lynn Henning.

3. The Athletics showed some foresight with the trade they made.

4. Grady Sizemore was involved in the changes that Manny Acta made with his lineup.

5. Within this Toni Ginnetti story, there is word that Rodrigo Lopez could join the Cubs' rotation as soon as Monday.

Dings and dents

1. Brandon Webb is making progress, and will soon begin his rehab assignment, writes Jeff Wilson.

2. The Orioles soon have a decision to make with Brian Matusz, writes Jeff Zrebiec.

3. Andrew Bailey will be back by Sunday at the latest.

4. Wandy Rodriguez is going to miss his next scheduled start.

5. Bruce Chen is making progress in his rehab, as mentioned within this notebook.

6. Homer Bailey is the latest Red to go down with an injury, John Fay writes.

7. For Jason Heyward, there is no structural damage in his shoulder.

8. Kendrys Morales had more ankle surgery.

9. The Mariners shut down a reliever.

10. Some Jays are dinged up.

11. Pedro Alvarez will be swinging a bat in the days ahead, but he won't be running.

Friday's games

1. Watched a lot of the Rays-Indians game and plate umpire Larry Vanover was hearing it from both teams because of his inconsistent strike zone. David Price worked through that and had a 12-strikeout game, Marc Topkin writes. From Stats & Info, how Price dominated:

A) Swinging strikes: The Indians swung at and missed 17 pitches against Price (most for Price in 18 starts). Fifteen of those swings and misses were against the fastball, including seven strikeouts (most in past 20 starts).

B) Worked out of the middle: Of Price's 110 pitches, 81 were either inside or outside (74 percent). The Indians went 1-for-13 with eight strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch inside or outside. Cleveland also missed 46 percent and chased 39 percent of bad balls (both season highs for Price).

C) Mixed in slider: Price threw 14 sliders, the lefty's second-highest total this season (16 on April 23). Price averaged 88 mph with the slider, down an average of 7 mph from his fastball. The Indians went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in at-bats ending with the slider.

After striking out 10 of 12 Indians hitters with his fastball, Price is tied for the MLB lead with 47 strikeouts in at-bats ending with the fastball. The man he's tied with also pitched Friday. What may be surprising is that pitcher is not named Lincecum or Jimenez, but Scott Baker.

The difference between the two besides record and name recognition is how they're gaining the strikeouts (see table at right). Both are increasing their velocity from where it is in non-two-strike counts, as Price goes from 94.3 mph to 95.6 and Baker jumps from 90.7 to 92.1.

League's top five:

1. Price, Baker -- 47

3. Cliff Lee -- 39

4. Daniel Hudson -- 38

5. Michael Pineda -- 35

5. C.J. Wilson -- 35

The 12 K's for Price was a career high (previous was 11, done twice).

2. The Giants' Brandon Crawford had a really big day, hitting a grand slam in his debut.

Players who have hit grand slams in their debuts, MLB history (from Elias)

May 27, 2011 -- Brandon Crawford, SF

June 12, 2010 -- Daniel Nava, BOS

Sept. 2, 2006 -- Kevin Kouzmanoff, CLE

Aug. 31, 2005 -- Jeremy Hermida, FLA

June 25, 1968 -- Bobby Bonds, SF

Apr 21, 1898 -- Bill Duggleby, PHI

In three-plus seasons in the minors (20 HR combined), Brandon Crawford never hit a grand slam.

3. Rick Porcello had a tough night.

Friday's longest home runs:

Jhonny Peralta -- 437 feet

Eric Hosmer -- 426 feet

Alex Gordon -- 423 feet

Rickie Weeks -- 422 feet

David Murphy -- 420 feet

Brayan Pena -- 420 feet

4. The Cardinals won in a blowout, with a lot of help from Brandon Belt.

5. For the Twins, everything is going from bad to worse: They blew a lead, and they've got a bunch of injured guys, including Francisco Liriano. Ron Gardenhire was furious, but not for the reasons you think, writes Joe Christensen.

6. Domonic Brown was a catalyst for the Phillies.

7. Eric Hosmer and the Royals mashed a bunch of homers in the 14th inning, Bob Dutton writes.

8. Mike Leake was a stopper for the Reds.

9. The Brewers' home winning streak came to an end, Todd Rosiak writes.

10. You can't stop the D-backs, you can only hope to contain them; they came back from a 6-0 deficit to beat the Astros, Nick Piecoro writes. That's 12 wins in the past 14 games for the D-backs.

11. Ryan Sweeney ignited Oakland.

12. The Braves continue to struggle for runs, writes David O'Brien.

13. Carl Crawford is loving the 6-hole, writes Scott Lauber.

14. Peter Bourjos was The Man for the Angels, Kevin Baxter writes.

15. The Dodgers got a big hit late.

16. Ubaldo Jimenez is winless, writes Jim Armstrong.

17. The Padres got shut down again, Don Norcross writes.

18. The Mariners rallied from three runs down, and they're back to .500, writes Bud Withers.

19. Michael Morse got a pie in the face.

20. The Jays had a grind-it-out victory, Mark Zwolinski writes.

21. Luis Ayala had a really rough inning for the Yankees, Ben Shpigel writes.

22. The Indians were shut down.

23. Neftali Feliz again blew a save.

24. Mark Buehrle's effort was wasted.

25. The Cubs had a really ugly inning.

Patience Index

Other stuff

There is very sad news about Gary Carter.

Chris Carpenter has not been as bad as his numbers look, writes Bernie Miklasz.

• Bob Castellini is still upbeat.

The Brewers are pleased with their attendance. I'll write it again: No team markets momentum better than Milwaukee.

The Rays aren't thrilled with the makeup date for a rainout.

• Kirk Gibson continues to push the Diamondbacks.

And today will be better than yesterday.