Julian Tavarez is benefiting from something of a cultural exchange on the Boston Red Sox this season.

The right-hander, who has made an effort to befriend Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, is asking Matsuzaka to show him how to throw a cut fastball.

"There are little things I want to learn," Tavarez told the Boston Globe. "He's going to work with me twice a week on a cutter. That pitch has kept a lot of guys in baseball. Mike Timlin, Doug Jones. He says it's OK with him."

Matsuzaka has left quite an impression on Tavarez this season.

"I told him, 'I think you're one of the greatest pitchers I've ever seen,'" Tavarez said. "'The way you go 88, 89 the first three innings, then 95 later. You walk around the mound, and all of a sudden you come out with so much power.'

"I asked him, 'Do you get sore at all?' He said, 'No, it's all mental.' He has seven pitches and command of all of them. He's at another level, that guy."

Tavarez has also been impressed with what he has seen from Okajima, who has not allowed a run in his last 12 appearances.

"He throws a change, a splitter, a fastball, and a hell of a rainbow breaking ball," said Tavarez. "No doubt, everybody who comes from Japan knows how to pitch. They're all good, they play year-round. So many different pitches, so many different mechanics.

"No doubt, he's good. He's not an overpowering guy, but he knows how to pitch. He's one of the best lefties in baseball right now."

Willingham's roll keeps Marlins going: Josh Willingham continued his hot hitting with a five-RBI night, helping the Marlins to a 5-2 win over the Mets, which evened Florida's record at 13-13 for the season.

"It's a combination of feeling good at the plate, getting into good hitter's counts and getting good pitches to hit," Willingham told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I'm getting them on the barrel."

Willingham had a bases-loaded triple in the first inning, one in which he broke character by jumping on the first pitch.

"Most of the time, I like to see a pitch," Willingham said. "In that situation, I can't let him get ahead of me."

Willingham also homered in the game. He's now 8-for-16 in his last four games, with six of those hits going for extra-bases.

Garciaparra trusts Little to keep him fresh: Dodgers manager Grady Little likes to give his veterans days off to keep them fresh. He did that last season with J.D. Drew and this year he's paying special attention to Nomar Garciaparra.

After the Dodgers' 17-inning game Sunday, Little removed Garciaparra during Monday's game and did not have him in the starting lineup on Tuesday.

"We would have stretched his playing out to the off-day Thursday if it wasn't for (the 17-inning game)," Little told the Los Angeles Times.

Garciaparra felt ready to play, but he puts his trust in his manager.

"The older you get, the less you question what the manager does," Garciaparra said. "You put faith in him because he must have a plan. I never ask why or what.

Garciaparra came on as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning Tuesday night and played the remainder of the game.

"He's been very impressive so far," Little said. "You just do everything in your power to make sure it continues on. His playing time will depend on the schedule.

K-Rod looks much like he did a year ago: Francisco Rodriguez led the American League with nine saves in the month of April. On the first day in May, he added his 10th save, closing the door on the Angels' 7-5 win over the Royals. Rodriguez is ahead of last year's pace, when he set a franchise-record with 47 saves.

"I'm looking to have a better year," Rodriguez told the Los Angeles Times. "I know that it's not going to be easy. But I know if I get enough opportunities, I'll have a great year."

Rodriguez now has saves in four consecutive games.

"He was about as consistent as any relief pitcher I've ever seen, especially a closer," manager Mike Scioscia said of 2006. "You couldn't ask for much more. He certainly has the capability to repeat that. But the focus has to be pitch to pitch and game to game.

Sheets looks back in form: Heading into Tuesday night's game against St. Louis, Ben Sheets knew one thing before he took the mound -- he wasn't going to take it easy on his right leg.

"You can't do that," the Milwaukee right-hander told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "You can't go out there and then later say you're not feeling good."

Sheets had to leave his last start in Chicago after three innings due to a right groin strain. On Monday, he participated in a pitcher's fielding practice, fielding ground ball and bunts.

"He bounced around out there pretty good," manager Ned Yost said.

After the fielding practice, Sheets then had to pass an examination by team physician William Raasch.

"We're taking zero chances with him," Yost said.

It appears Sheets is perfectly fine judging from Tuesday's outing against the Cardinals. Sheets (2-2) allowed only two runs on six hits and one walk in six innings of work as the Brewers won, 12-2.

Cora delivers: Alex Cora had proven himself to be a key member of the Boston Red Sox this season, even if he's not getting regular starts.

Cora has been red-hot over the past 10 days. And while he isn't about to say he deserves to start more, he is like any player in that he would like to start more if given the chance.

"You have to feel that way," he told the Boston Globe. "You feel you're a starter who isn't playing. We've got four of them: Doug [Mirabelli], Eric [Hinske], Wily Mo [Pena], and me. You come to the park thinking you're going to play. You've got to keep that edge."

Cora can play second, shortstop and third base, giving manager Terry Francona the ability to slot him at any of those positions. His play has always impressed Francona as well as his teammates.

"Smart guy," declared designated hitter David Ortiz. "He knows what he's doing all the time. I'm tellin' ya, that's what it takes to have a good team. When you have someone who doesn't play every day come out and play like this. I don't know how they do it. Alex is the smartest player I've seen in a long time -- with the glove and with the bat."

"He's a baseball player," said catcher Jason Varitek. "We've always known that. His wits on the field are phenomenal. Even if he doesn't hit, there isn't a situation that doesn't go by that he's not aware of."

Johnson's splitter gains more use: Randy Johnson has always been known for his fastball and slider. But the Arizona left-hander has been throwing a split-finger fastball since 2002. During his start on Sunday, he threw the pitch 30 times.

"I think it is kind of a progression. He's just trying to get better and have some new tricks in his bag," manager Bob Melvin told the East Valley Tribune. "When 96 (mph) isn't there one day, he has some other weapons to go to."

It's not as if Johnson still can't throw hard. His fastball hit 95 mph Sunday as he pitched six innings before leaving with the game tied 3-3 against San Francisco. Arizona went on to win 5-4.

The split-finger pitch allows Johnson to further mix his pitches and keep hitters a little off balanced at the plate.

"He had a good feel for what was working for him," Melvin said. "He's faced these guys enough to have a good feel for what they are looking for. He adjusted his stuff to what pitch was working for him and with what the reaction of the hitters was."

Tulowitzki benefits from a few days of watching: The Colorado Rockies were counting on Troy Tulowitzki to be an offensive presence in the lineup this year.

The rookie shortstop is starting to live up to those expectations.

Tulowitzki hit his first two home runs of the season this past weekend against Atlanta and collected his second four-hit game of his career Monday night against San Francisco, extending his hitting streak to four games. His batting average has jumped nearly 60 points to .244 during the streak.

"This is huge, not only for myself, but for the team, too," Tulowitzki told the Rocky Mountain News.

Manager Clint Hurdle gave Tulowitzki three games off in late April, telling the young shortstop to just sit back and watch teammates Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins hit and study their approach at the plate. Tulowitzki also was slotted into the second spot in the lineup upon his return, a position he believes is beneficial to his success.

"I feel it's a lot better position," he said. "I don't know if it is because I feel I have a bigger role, but I've done a better job laying off pitches and swinging at pitches I can handle."

"(Tulowitzki) is going very well," Hurdle said. "He has made strides forward. Encouraging things are happening for him on both sides of the baseball."

Ponson looks for big things from himself, Twins: Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Sidney Ponson gave the Twins exactly what they've been hoping to get from him on Tuesday night, working seven innings while allowing just one run in the Twins 9-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

While retiring the last nine hitters he saw -- and 14 of the last 16 -- Ponson picked up the much-needed victory.

"We were excited about his adjustment during the game more than anything else," manager Ron Gardenhire told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "He gave up some long flies and stuff like that, but once he got on top of it, the last couple innings were great."

Ponson, who had thrown just 90 pitches when he left the game, said afterwards that he doesn't mind coming out a little early. "It's still early in the year," he said. "The fresher I stay for August, September, the better."

Meanwhile, Ponson is looking optimistically toward the future. While speaking of the World Series championship ring he will soon be receiving for his contribution to the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals championship, he said that he expects the same thing to happen in Minnesota.

"We're going to get one for this team, too," he said.

-- Red Line Editorial