It's a very special "Welcome Back" edition of Closing Time; sweathog memorabilia optional. Let's head to the bulletry:
• We've spent a lot of time in this space discussing the danger of trusting AL East pitchers, and you know the obvious caveats that come with young arms. That established, Jeremy Hellickson(notes) is good enough to break the rules; he's been lights out in a dominant Triple-A campaign (2.45 ERA, 123 strikeouts against 35 walks over 117.2 innings) and he passed the eye test during his Tampa Bay debut against Minnesota a week ago.
The Rays had no desire to rush Hellickson into the playoff chase but injuries have forced the team's hand; Jeff Niemann(notes) (shoulder) is now on the DL and Wade Davis(notes) also has an injured wing. Hellickson is certainly recommended for his Tuesday start at Detroit, and I see no reason not to trust him at home against Texas next week. The kid is owned in just 12 percent of Yahoo! leagues, so there's plenty of time to point, click, and get invested here.
• The names have all changed since Buck Showalter's been around, but in Baltimore the dreams have remained and they're turned around. Well, okay, let's not get ridiculous about a 6-1 week for the Sons of Showalter – it's still a small sample, after all – but it's nice to see the Orioles playing winning baseball for a change. Monday's victory over Chicago was a struggle – Alfredo Simon(notes) blew a save in the top of the ninth – but the home folks went home happy when Brian Roberts(notes) clocked a walk-off homer off J.J. Putz(notes) in the bottom of the 10th. Michael Gonzalez(notes) was unscored on for the sixth time in seven appearances, though the strikeouts haven't come all the way back yet (four whiffs in 7.1 innings).
Brian Matusz(notes) is another young and restless arm from the AL East (two solid turns in a row), but I'm not as bullish on him for the balance of 2010 as I am with Hellickson, in part for the obvious reason that Matusz will likely be an underdog in every game he pitches. But Matusz is the type of post-hype sleeper you want to be scouting very closely down the stretch; a lot of fantasy players will be tuning out the final two months of the season as they gear up for football, and sometimes subtle player growth goes unnoticed – and isn't properly accounted for at next year's draft table.
• Carlos Zambrano(notes) worked out of plenty of trouble in his return to the Cubs rotation, but the final line wasn't all that useful for our purposes (5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 7 BB, 3 K). I wouldn't go anywhere near him for Saturday's start at St. Louis. Geovany Soto(notes) landed on the DL (sore shoulder), which means we have to watch Koyie Hill(notes) try to hit major league pitching for the next few weeks. I don't know about you, but I feel sorry for Lou Piniella.
Pat Burrell(notes) had the walk-off hit for the Giants; it was a very Burrell-like result in the box (two doubles, two walks, one strikeout). He's got a zesty .291/.388/.511 line since he landed in San Francisco two months ago.
• The Red Sox needed a win like plasma in their finale with the Yankees, and Jon Lester(notes) was up to the task (6.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K). The Boston bats didn't go a lot (six hits, two runs), but at least the Sox were up to the task on the bases; Jacoby Ellsbury(notes), temporarily demoted to ninth in the order, swiped four bags against Jorge Posada(notes), and Ryan Kalish(notes) and J.D. Drew(notes) stole one apiece.
• It was a messy night for the Milwaukee bullpen, and the fine folks of Wisconsin were subjected to an Arizona upset. John Axford's(notes) mustache couldn't close things in the ninth (two walks did him in), and the Trevor Hoffman(notes) rebound story took a hit in the 10th (three runs, thanks for coming). Aaron Heilman's(notes) save conversion was no box of chocolates either – he allowed three hits to quickly load up the bases – but somehow he got out of the inning unscathed and I guess we have no choice but to take him seriously as the sheriff in the Arizona ghost-town bullpen. Sam Demel(notes) worked a clean inning in front of Heilman and picked up the victory.
• It took a while for Chris Johnson(notes) to get his sea legs with the Astros, but this guy has been a frozen-rope machine over the last 38 games (52-for-138, five homers, 30 RBIs). I know he's long-gone in competitive leagues, but not everyone is giving the kid his due – he's still unowned in 60 percent of Yahoo! groups. The Astros have also been a winning club over the last month, if you wanted to know, and heck, there's fantasy value to be had in all 30 major league dugouts, you just have to look around. Forget about the names, we're all about chasing the numbers. I'll sign off on Brett Wallace(notes) as well, albeit it's a less-enthusiastic endorsement; he's off to a tidy 8-for-24 start (with three walks) over his nine games.
• Brennan Boesch(notes) homered for the second time in a week against Tampa, but there's still a lot of concern here. He's only got one walk against nine strikeouts in August (along with that .156 average), and you saw what happened to Boesch in July, in part because he was unable to lay off pitches above the belt. I'm not ready to put him back in the circle of trust just yet.
Speed Round: Dustin Pedroia(notes) is going to try to run at full throttle on Tuesday, and the Sox are hoping to have him back in a week, specifically Aug. 17. Pedroia's return will push someone in the Boston lineup down to the bottom of the order; Marco Scutaro(notes) will likely be that man, as it's hard to imagine Ellsbury not getting his leadoff spot back eventually (he hit ninth on Monday). … Mike Leake(notes) didn't have it against the Cardinals, and he's basically been unusable in the second half (4.95 ERA, 1.60 WHIP). Scout him, but don't use him, down the stretch. … Jason Heyward's(notes) homer was one of Atlanta's few highlights in a 10-4 beatdown at Houston. Write down Heyward's 2010 slash stats without checking, then go look them up. How close did you come? The Astros did most of their damage against the Atlanta bullpen; Mike Minor(notes) was respectable (if not dominant) in his big-league debut (6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K). … The Mariners don't have Don Wakamatsu to kick around anymore, and for one night the good fans of Seattle had reason to smile. Doug Fister(notes) outpitched Vin Mazzaro(notes) in a nifty matchup of AL surprises, and David Aardsma(notes) continued his fine work of late (one run allowed over 10 appearances, with 12 strikeouts). … The Reds moved for Jim Edmonds(notes) to be their fourth outfielder; it's logical to assume that Edmonds will see less time than he was getting in Milwaukee. … The Chris Carter world domination tour had a slow start; he went 0-for-3 with a pair of whiffs at Seattle. If you're looking for some pro-Carter propaganda, Doc Behrens is ready for you here. … If you want an autograph from Jeremy Hermida(notes), head to Pawtucket, R.I. Heck, go there anyway, McCoy Stadium is a gem of a ballpark. … Andrew Bailey(notes) did some throwing off flat ground Monday, but there's no specific timetable for his return yet. … Ryan Braun's wrist injury is officially considered a sprain; he remains day-to-day. It's a shame that his season has been such a mess since he was plunked with a pitch back in May.