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Fantasy Skinny: Griffey, El Duque and more

CLOSER HOT SEAT
CLEVELAND INDIANS RED HOT
1st Chair: David Riske
2nd Chair: Bob Wickman
Skinny: Wickman struck out Alfonso Soriano on his way to pitching a scoreless eighth inning on Tuesday in his first big league appearance since August 2002. He immediately has been inserted as the Tribe's primary setup man. Where things go from here depends on the effectiveness of Riske, who earned his first save since April 22 on Tuesday and added another Sunday. Eric Wedge is the type of manager who keeps the Hot Seat in business, so don't be surprised to see this role change hands again in the near future.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Nate Field
2nd Chair: Ryan Bukvich
Skinny: Jeremy Affeldt may return to health before the next time a Kansas City reliever is called upon in a save situation. The Royals last recorded a save on June 29, and the reliever who shut the door that night, Shawn Camp, is back in Triple-A. Field has not been scored upon in three July appearances, so if you can afford the roster spot, this is the guy to hold for now.
COLORADO ROCKIES HOT
1st Chair: Shawn Chacon
2nd Chair: Tim Harikkala
Skinny: Suddenly, Chacon can do no wrong. He has converted his last seven save chances, allowing only one earned run and four hits in the process. Harikkala is 2-0 in July and continues to amaze at Coors Field, posting a 0.76 WHIP and a .171 opponents' average.
CHICAGO CUBS HOT
1st Chair: LaTroy Hawkins
2nd Chair: Kyle Farnsworth, Francis Beltran
Skinny: The Cubs are rumored to be in the market for a relief pitcher, a move that almost certainly would result in a return to setup duties for Hawkins. He is 8-for-10 in save chances since Joe Borowski hit the DL and his walk on Sunday was the first he has issued since May 28, but he hasn't been his dominant self since taking over as closer. Until a move is made, however, Hawkins almost certainly is secure.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES WARM
1st Chair: Jorge Julio
2nd Chair: B.J. Ryan
Skinny: Julio is 2-for-2 when it matters this month, which means he already has matched his save total from June. His non-save woes continue, however. He allowed two runs Saturday and has yielded nine earned runs in his last 7.1 innings without a save on the line. Take a look at Ryan's numbers over his 19.1-inning scoreless streak: 19.1 IP, 4 hits, 6 walks, 23 strikeouts. Now The Skinny appreciates the need for a good setup man as much as the next guy, but those look like closer numbers from this chair.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX WARM
1st Chair: Shingo Takatsu
2nd Chair: Damaso Marte
Skinny: Takatsu struck out Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez, then retired Raul Ibanez to protect a one-run lead for Mark Buehrle on Saturday. The 1-2-3 inning was a welcome relief for fantasy owners who had seen Mr. Zero allow nine baserunners in his last 4.1 innings. He followed with a similar effort to earn his fifth save Sunday. Marte remains a solid add/hold in all leagues as manager Ozzie Guillen has shown a tendency to allow him to finish the occasional two-inning save.
ANAHEIM ANGELS WARM
1st Chair: Troy Percival
2nd Chair:Francisco Rodriguez
Skinny: Percival closed out Toronto twice over the weekend and has allowed only a solo homer in five appearances since his return from the DL. For now, K-Rod's coup attempt has been thwarted, though he remains the most valuable setup man in fantasy baseball.
MONTREAL EXPOS WARM
1st Chair: Chad Cordero
2nd Chair: Luis Ayala
Skinny: It looks like the rookie is resilient. Cordero was lifted after allowing three earned runs on July 4, but came back with three scoreless appearances and two saves. Better yet, both saves came in 2-1 games after he allowed the tying run to reach base. Ayala set up Cordero's seventh save on Sunday and hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 11 trips to the mound.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS WARM
1st Chair: Mike Koplove
2nd Chair: Randy Choate
Skinny: With the team struggling, save chances are at a premium. Koplove remains the guy for now and there is still no timetable for Jose Valverde's return after he was shut down last week.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jason Frasor
2nd Chair: Vinnie Chulk
Skinny: Frasor retired three straight batters with the tying run on base to convert his fifth consecutive save chance on Tuesday. Of course, the trouble was his own creation as he allowed three straight singles to start the inning. Chulk, apparently, is human roughly once a month. He has allowed six runs on the season, three coming on June 6 and the other three on July 8 courtesy of a Randy Winn homer and a Dave Hansen RBI single.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Matt Herges
2nd Chair: Felix Rodriguez
Skinny: Herges has blown six saves, allowed an opponents' batting average of .322 and yielded more than 1.5 baserunners per inning. Not exactly what you're looking for in a closer. The fact that they haven't turned to Rodriguez at any time over the past three seasons speaks volumes about what the organization thinks of his makeup. If there is a move at this position, and a change is more likely than not, it will come through a pre-deadline deal.
DETROIT TIGERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Ugueth Urbina
2nd Chair: Esteban Yan
Skinny: Urbina's name has surfaced in at least a half dozen trade rumors. If you own him and can address a need elsewhere through a trade, now might be the time. If he's traded, there's about a 50/50 chance he'll become a setup guy at his new home. Franklyn German profiles better than anyone on the Detroit roster as a closer, but he was returned to Triple-A on Sunday.
Before enjoying his favorite drink, Channel 9 weatherman Phil Connors liked to say a short prayer and drink to world peace. It's a tradition The Skinny has embraced. And so today I humbly ask that none of my pitchers pull a Hammaker on Tuesday. Lest I be considered selfish, I'll go for world peace, too. Either way, it's nice to have a three-day break from my personal Groundhog Day – one that ends every night with the scouring of 15 box scores.

WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

  • With the possible exception of hearing the name Kathy Bates in the same breath as the phrase nude scene, nothing sends chills down the spines of fantasy owners quiet like seeing a headline that pairs the name Ken Griffey with the word hamstring. Sure it's easy to say it was a nice run while it lasted and 20 homers and 60 RBIs is acceptable production from a 10th-round draft pick. Let's face it though – after 80 games we were all beginning to believe.

We won't know the full extent of Griffey's injury for at least another 10 days, but given his history with hamstrings it's hard to be anything but bitter and pessimistic over this one. The Cincinnati Inquirer reported Sunday that Ryan Freel would start in center field with Junior on the shelf. He's hitting .467 in July but is sidelined himself with a knee bruise. Enter Wily Mo Pena, who hit two homers Sunday and now has three homers and five RBIs since Thursday. Either is a good short-term add in NL-only leagues.

  • Welcome back, El Duque. In a surprise move, Orlando Hernandez made his first big-league start since 2002 on Sunday for the Yankees. Six years after replacing an injured David Cone to face Tampa Bay in his debut, Hernandez returned against the Devil Rays to bail out an ailing Mike Mussina. It was vintage El Duque. Sure, the fastball is about 10 ticks slower, but his funky delivery and masterful change of pace kept Tampa Bay off balance all day. He was gassed after 88 pitches, but by then he had five innings behind him and a three-run lead.

This is a great story and he's certainly a guy to watch, but don't waste a waiver claim on him when he lands in the available player pool this week. Mussina's injury is not all that serious, and Kevin Brown is scheduled to make a minor-league rehab start Thursday after a positive bullpen session over the weekend. Jose Contreras is 4-1 in his last five starts, but even if he falters the Yankees will address any holes in the rotation via trade rather than leaning on the (allegedly) 38-year-old Hernandez.

  • Looking past the All-Star break, an intriguing start to watch will belong to Cleveland's Kazuhito Tadano. He made his first major-league start on July 2 and beat the Reds, striking out 10 while allowing just two runs on four hits over seven innings. The start came on the heels of a six-inning relief stint that saw him punch out another nine batters. That game aside, his numbers out of the bullpen have been atrocious. If he's effective coming out of the break, he'll keep the spot in the rotation vacated by the demoted Jason Davis.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Laynce Nix, TEX, OF – Nix was back in the Texas lineup Saturday after missing nearly a month with a strained shoulder. It was a DL stint that few fantasy owners were likely to have waited out. Nix was hitless Saturday but had two hits in Sunday's win over Boston. Fantasy owners got a taste of what he's capable of when he cranked five homers and drove in 14 runs in April. He's only one full season removed from Single-A. Steady improvement can be expected as we roll into the second half.

Paul Byrd, ATL, SP – Byrd's return from elbow surgery would merit more fantasy attention if the Atlanta Braves still were the Atlanta Braves. In three of his four starts this year, Byrd has gone at last 6.1 innings and allowed three or fewer earned runs. In 22.1 innings, he's walked only three batters. The Braves won 12 of their final 15 games entering the break and a healthy Byrd can help maintain that pace in the second half.

SPEED-O-METER: Checking the latest movements on the basepaths

  • Luis Terrero, ARI, OF (First major-league steal) – After earning a suspension in the minors for concluding a home-run trot by kissing home plate, it is safe to assume he didn't pucker up when sliding into third base on Sunday. Terrero stole 14 bases in 16 tries at Triple-A Tucson.
  • Randy Winn, SEA, OF (3 steals/last 8 games) – Now batting .405 with four homers, 12 RBI and three steals in July.
  • Omar Vizquel, CLE, SS (4 steals/last 5 games) – Also hitting .425 with 10 runs scored in June and should be available in most Yahoo! leagues.
  • Jeff DaVanon, ANA, OF (Back in the lineup) – With Tim Salmon struggling, DaVanon found himself starting three of Anaheim's last four games. Always a threat when given regular time, Jeff stole seven bases in an eight-game span in mid-June.
  • David Eckstein, ANA, SS (10 runs/last 10 games) – This is what we expected from a guy sitting atop a powder keg. He has mixed in three steals and five multi-hit games over his last 12 contests.
  • Johnny Damon, BOS, OF (Unfrozen on the basepaths) – Damon swiped three bases over the weekend to break a 19-game stolen base drought.
  • Omar Infante, DET, 2B (Leading off) – Now batting .286 with two stolen bases in 10 games as the leadoff hitter with Alex Sanchez on the shelf.
  • Juan Pierre, FLA, OF (Poor success rate) – Stole his third base of the month Sunday, but has been successful on only six of 13 attempts since June 1.
  • Dave Roberts, LA, OF (5 steals/last 7 games) – Done in true Dave Roberts fashion – five stolen bases during a 5-for-26 stretch.
  • Jose Reyes, NYM, SS (2 steals Saturday) – Seems to go 1-for-5 in every game but gave fantasy owners a glimpse of what they've been waiting for with two steals and three hits Saturday.
  • Alexis Rios, TOR, OF (2 steals/last 9 games) – We're still waiting for his first homer, but he is 12-for-40 with 12 runs in 10 July games.

PROSPECT WATCH: Intriguing names down on the farm

  • Garrett Atkins, COL, 3B (Triple-A) – ETA: Aug. 1
    Atkins homered Thursday, added an RBI double on Saturday and then closed the weekend with two hits on Sunday to raise his season average to .340. Through 84 games, Atkins has 66 RBIs, 43 extra-base hits, 40 walks and only 28 strikeouts in 294 at-bats. Atkins' only weakness is his defense. He leads Triple-A Colorado Springs with 15 errors. Vinny Castilla continues to drive in runs at the big-league level, but it shouldn't be too long until the Rockies let Atkins audition for the 2005 job.
  • Wilfredo Ledezma, DET, SP – ETA: Called-up Sunday
    Ledezma allowed two unearned runs in the Futures Game Sunday and then learned he'd been promoted from Double-A to the big leagues. Ledezma was 10-2 at Double-A Erie, leading the Eastern League in ERA (2.42), wins and strikeouts (98). The 23-year-old spent the entire 2003 season with Detroit, primarily because they could not send him to the minors without offering him back to Boston. For now, the Detroit Free Press reports that he will be used exclusively in relief. However, general manager Dave Dombrowski indicated that the team would not hesitate to use him as a starter if the need arises.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
2.05 – ERA posted by opposing starters against Kansas City in the 16 games since Carlos Beltran was traded. In 13 of the 16 games, starters have allowed two earned runs of fewer.