Closing Time: Nats streaking, Upton hurting, Happ still starting

Yup, we're closing a little earlier tonight. Belt-tightening. Thursday's MLB schedule was light, and it costs serious money to keep a blog like this open late. Scott Pianowski (shoulder inflammation) reported no discomfort following his bullpen session and the MRI looked clean. He'll return to the rotation tomorrow.

http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/Yahoo/ept_sports_fantasy_experts-715411909-1249598656.jpg
http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/Yahoo/ept_sports_fantasy_experts-715411909-1249598656.jpg

The image above has not been doctored. It's legit. If you go to Washington's scores & schedule page, you'll see the same thing. The Nats have won five straight games. Needless to say, that streak is a season high. They completed a series sweep against the Marlins on Thursday despite trailing 6-0 after two innings.

If the Nationals manage to win their next two games, they'll find themselves above the .350 mark for the first time since May 15. While a .350 winning percentage isn't exactly respectable, it's...well, it's something.

http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/Yahoo/ept_sports_fantasy_experts-435343579-1249606605.jpg
http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/Yahoo/ept_sports_fantasy_experts-435343579-1249606605.jpg

Elijah Dukes(notes) went 3-for-4 today with four RBIs and two runs scored. His solo homer in the seventh inning tied the game; his single in the eighth drove in Washington's final run. In postgame comments, he was all sunshine and rainbows when asked about new manager Jim Riggleman. This from MLB.com:

The Nationals are 11-11 under Riggleman, and Dukes can see a big difference in the team since he returned to the big leagues last Saturday.

"Riggleman is more vocal," Dukes said. "You noticed that the first day I met him. He always go around speaking to guys after every game -- loss or win. It doesn't matter. He will make a compliment about what you did." ... "We want to deliver for him."

I have a notorious fondness for Dukes, so perhaps it would mean more if someone else recommended him. But tonight, I'm all you've got. Dukes is owned in just 12 percent of PLUS leagues, and that needs to change. He had 13 homers and 13 steals in 81 games last season, so it would be no surprise if he finished the year as a multi-category fantasy asset. Give him a test drive. Especially if you just lost this guy...

Justin Upton(notes) hit the 15-day disabled list due to a strained right oblique. The injury occurred while he was attempting to steal a base in the ninth inning on Wednesday. Upton pulled up in obvious pain after five or six steps. Video here.

http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/Yahoo/ept_sports_fantasy_experts-311684464-1249598432.jpg
View photos
http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/Yahoo/ept_sports_fantasy_experts-311684464-1249598432.jpg

If you could judge the severity of an injury based solely on a player's on-field grimacing, then you'd have to guess that Upton will be out for several weeks. Last year, a left oblique injury kept him sidelined from July 9 to August 29.

Upton was replaced on the roster by Trent Oeltjen(notes), who hit a sky-high game-tying homer in his debut. Oeltjen also stole two bases against the Bucs. The 26-year-old was hitting .300 at Triple-A Reno with 10 homers, 14 triples and 19 steals prior to the promotion. He wasn't really on the prospect radar entering the season, but the '09 numbers aren't unimpressive. Here's more info than you could ever possibly want, via BR Bullpen.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. settled the JA Happ(notes) debate today, decisively: "Happ deserves to stay in the rotation." This means that one of four things will happen: Pedro Martinez(notes) can go to the 'pen, Jamie Moyer(notes) can go to the 'pen, someone will hit the DL, or the Phillies can go to a six-man rotation. The team has three more off-days in August, so the six-starter alignment is not really necessary -- especially when one of the starters has a 5.55 ERA and a 79 mph fastball. Here's some additional tough talk from Amaro: "We’re in the business of winning and it’s really about making the right decision for the club and not a matter of hurting some feelings."

Ryan Roberts(notes) left the Diamondbacks to be with his wife as she gives birth to their first child (who should really be named after Zach Duke(notes), considering how well the Pirates' lefty treated Roberts on Tuesday).

CJ Wilson(notes) picked up yet another save for Texas, though it was plenty shaky: 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 Ks. Frank Francisco(notes) pitched a perfect eighth. We await the role reversal.

Adrian Beltre(notes) is most definitely back. He went 4-for-4, earning the coveted "Top Batters" honor in the Yahoo! box score. (Huge feather in the cap; many players have "Top Batters" contract incentives). Beltre is only 38 percent owned in PLUS leagues. He's been a solid second-half player over the course of his career: .740 OPS pre-break, .824 OPS post-break.

More usefulness from Clayton Richard(notes) in PETCO Park: W, 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 5 Ks. If he stays on schedule, he'll have two home starts in Week 20 (vs. CHC, vs. STL).

http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/Yahoo/ept_sports_fantasy_experts-575066174-1249623406.jpg
View photos
http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/Yahoo/ept_sports_fantasy_experts-575066174-1249623406.jpg

Cleveland's Trevor Crowe(notes) has impressed since taking over in left-field following the Lee/Francisco trade. His tie-breaking RBI double in the seventh allowed the Tribe to edge Minnesota on Thursday. He's now 9-for-24 with three doubles, one triple and a steal since the call-up. The former first-rounder had been hitting .297/.401/.400 with 14 steals at Triple-A Columbus.

Sure, as soon as I finally drop Taylor Teagarden(notes) in [league name withheld for strategic reasons], Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes) injures his shoulder.

Andre Ethier's(notes) walkoff three-run shot gave the Dodgers an unexpected 5-4 win over the Braves. Rafael Soriano(notes) blew a save opportunity for just the third time this season. Nothing to see there, though. Move along.

"Stay tuned for Dodgers Live..."

---

Photo via Getty Images