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MLB Skinny: Blasts from the Past

CLOSER HOT SEAT
SEATTLE MARINERS RED HOT
1st Chair: J.J. Putz
2nd Chair: Eddie Guardado, Rafael Soriano
Skinny: After Guardado blew his third save at Chicago on May 3rd, manager Mike Hargrove demoted the veteran and declared the closer role a community position. But Saturday Putz, who has been an injury fill-in for Guardado in the past, handled the first save chance since Guardado was unseated and he closed out Cleveland without incident. Afterwards, Hargrove said, "Right now, we'll go with Putz as much as we can." He did hint that it may not always be Putz getting the call, but that he'd likely get the majority of looks. Soriano may have a brighter long-term future as a closer, but Putz is clearly the man of the moment.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS HOT
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: Dan Miceli, Shawn Camp
Skinny: Judging from manager Joe Maddon's recent use of Walker and the comments he's made about the team's recently acquired reliever, Walker has to be considered the closer of the moment for Tampa Bay. Walker has successfully converted three of four save chances since joining the D-Rays, and he closed out both opportunities against Oakland over the weekend. Walker's experience in the closer role last year for San Francisco is not lost on Maddon. "That's something to hang your hat on a little bit," Maddon said. "So he's done it, he's comfortable with it, he wants to do it. I could tell just by the look on his face. He has plenty of confidence." Save vultures take note: As of Sunday, Walker was still available in 94 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
TEXAS RANGERS WARM
1st Chair: Akinori Otsuka
2nd Chair: Francisco Cordero
Skinny: After being demoted from the closer role last week, Cordero has immediately gotten back on track. He is unscored upon in five May outings covering four innings (1 H,0 BB, 4 K). Manager Buck Showalter has been non-committal on the subject of whether Cordero can soon factor back into save situations, but given the way Otsuka has been pitching – 9 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 3-for-3 Saves in past nine outings – don't expect Showalter to mess with the good thing he's got going right now.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES WARM
1st Chair: Mike Gonzalez
2nd Chair: Roberto Hernandez
Skinny: The Pirates are just 2-6 in its past eight games, and they haven't had a save in that span. Gonzalez did get one of the team's wins by throwing the final two (scoreless) innings of an extra-inning 5-4 victory at Washington on Saturday. Last Wednesday, Gonzo took the loss when he allowed a 12th-inning HR to Carlos Delgado of the Mets. Hernandez is still likely to steal some save situations from Gonzalez, but the Pirates have the second fewest save opportunities in the league, so neither pitcher is likely to make much of a dent in fantasy owners' bottom line.
DETROIT TIGERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Fernando Rodney
Skinny: Jones blew his first save on Saturday. While he's not in any immediate danger, the Detroit News speculated that, given the capabilities of Rodney and Joel Zumaya, Jones will not be afforded a very long leash as the closer. Keep an eye on Jones for the time being.
I participated in my first two fantasy football experts drafts this past week. Given the current state of a few of my baseball squads, the arrival of football was a welcome diversion. But have no fear, the Skinny is not planning on dropping the baseball just yet. With the heart of football draft season still a few months away, Dave Bush still has more relevance than Reggie Bush. With the cliché , "It's a marathon, not a sprint" echoing in my brain, let's take a look at the latest developments from the diamond:

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

  • It was a good weekend for injury-maligned former stars. Magglio Ordonez homered in each game of the weekend series at Minnesota, and his nine total home runs in 30 games is already one more than he hit last year in 82 games. Mags is now on pace for a .311, 48-HR, 123-RBI season. Perhaps, even more encouraging is the fact that he's sat just two games. Injuries knocked him out of 190 games combined the previous two seasons, but he's once again showing that electric bat that helped him to five consecutive seasons with a .300-plus BA, 29-plus HRs and 99-plus RBIs.

Meanwhile, Nomar Garciaparra's return from a strained oblique muscle has been all good. He went 6-for-15 with 5 RBIs against Milwaukee over the weekend, giving him 14 RBIs in 14 games. Nomar is starting to see more time at the No. 3 spot in the lineup, and if he stays healthy, he looks like a solid run producer. He has yet to make an error in 11 games at first base, a position he's likely to settle in at for a while at this stage in his career. Fantasy owners should enjoy the last go-round of his 3B- and SS-eligibility.

  • Ben Sheets was scratched from his scheduled start Sunday because of shoulder stiffness, and his next start is now targeted for Thursday. But it's looking like an iffy proposition that he'll actually be good to go by Thursday. About his shoulder, Sheets said, "It seems like I'm in a rut right now. It's frustrating. If I can get on a roll, I'll be all right. I throw but there's nothing really on the ball." In his last outing (May 2nd), Sheets could muster very little zip to his fastball and was rocked by Houston for nine hits and seven runs in 2.1 IP, his second shortest outing of his career.

Manager Ned Yost has been adamant with the media that this is not a serious issue. "This isn't the same thing (as an injury)," he said. "This is a tad bit of tendonitis and stiffness in the front of his shoulder that all pitchers get. This isn't something that's a major concern. It's not a thing that can develop into something serious."

Added GM Doug Melvin, "If the guy was hurt, why wouldn't we put him on the DL today? We may end up having to do that. This has nothing to do with his old injury. His shoulder is stiff and he just doesn't feel right. There's a gray area when a guy can pitch and he can't pitch." As Melvin said, a DL stint may ultimately be the direction they have to go with Sheets' shoulder. In the meantime, fantasy owners will want to find Sheets some room on the pine until they see some life out of Sheets' right arm.

  • Notable injury updates: Kerry Wood dominated the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts in his first rehab start. He struck out 12 of 18 batters and was clocked regularly between 94-97 mph. The plan is to give him a start with Triple-A Iowa on Friday in the hopes of getting him to an 85-pitch count. If all goes well, he could be back in the rotation on May 17 against the Washington NationalsGary Sheffield may be headed to the DL because of a sore wrist. Sheffield has complained that he is at the point in his career that he is no longer willing to play with injuries. "It's too late in my career to be getting cortisone," he said. "Seeing the effects for later on, I don't want to deal with that. I'm not going to do it anymore … I'm going to take the extra time to make sure it's right. When it's right, then I'll play. Until then, I'm not playing." … John Patterson was set to come off the DL this past weekend, but that has now been moved back 1-2 weeks after a setback during a throwing session … The Giants will likely get Noah Lowry and Ray Durham back from the DL on Monday. Manager Felipe Alou is already making plans to return Durham to the leadoff spot in the lineup … Rich Harden will begin the throwing this week in his attempt to return from his lower back problems. … The latest hope is that Ken Griffey Jr. will return Tuesday from his knee problems, but Griffey's health has killed the best laid plans before.

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

  • Joe Crede, ChW, 3B
    In the previous three seasons combined, Crede has hit nearly 40 points better after the All-Star break, making his current .324 BA all the more noteworthy – that mark is third-best among third basemen. Also of note is that while Crede isn't especially patient at the plate, only Placido Polanco has fewer Ks (4) than Crede (5) among players with at least 100 ABs. Crede, despite his hot start, is available in more than 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Those needing corner infield help could do a lot worse than a guy currently on pace for a .324, 32-HR, 123-RBI campaign.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Cole Hamels, Phi, SP (ETA – June)
    Felix Hernandez better get things turned around in a hurry, because he's soon to have some serious competition in the phenom pitching department. Since being promoted to Triple A, Hamels has the Phillies organization buzzing with three jaw-dropping outings. In his three starts with the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons, Hamels is 2-0 with just 10 hits and one run allowed. Oh, and how about this: 36 Ks to 1 BB in 23 IP. Hamels gets it done with a low-90s fastball and his "out" pitch, a devastating changeup. Injuries have plagued him a bit in his short minor league career, but there is little doubt he's now ready for the next step. Fantasy owners should get their trigger fingers ready for the day in the not-so-distant future that this guy arrives in Philly.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Dan Uggla, Fla, 2B – The Marlins rookie 2B went 11-for-32 (.344) this past week with a HR, a SB and a league-high nine runs scored.

Chase Utley, Phi, 2B – "Big-Game" Utley had multiple hits in six of seven games this past week. His two-HR game on Friday was his third of the season, accounting for six of his seven HRs.

Aaron Rowand, Phi, OF – So far, Philly hasn't made out too bad in the Jim Thome trade. Rowand has four home runs in his past nine games, and he's hitting .343 over his past 10 contests.

Shawn Green, Ari, OF – still available in 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues, the notoriously streaky Green hit .462 this past week with two home runs and two steals.

Alex Rios, Tor, OF – Rios is playing himself into regular playing time thanks to a sizzling bat. He hit .462 for the week, pushing his season average to .389.

Michael Cuddyer, Min, OF – In his past eight games, Cuddyer is 13-for-31 (.419) with a HR and two SBs. Cuddyer's solid play of late has pushed him past Lew Ford on the Twins' right field depth chart.

Torii Hunter, Min, OF – Hunter raised his batting average 53 points this past week, moving him out from under the Mendoza Line.

Travis Hafner, Cle, 1B – With a league-high four home runs and 13 RBIs this past week, Hafner is now on pace for 59 HRs and 155 RBIs.

Scott Podsednik, ChW, OF – Pods stole four bases against Victor Martinez last Monday and finished the week hitting .381.

Joel Pineiro, Sea, SP – The AL Player of the Week pitched 17 innings over two outings, going 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA. He struck out six and did not walk a batter.

C.C. Sabathia, Cle, SP – In his first week since coming off the DL, Sabathia went 2-0 with just 1 ER in 13 IP (0.69 ERA).

Johan Santana, Min, SP – Santana's filthy stuff is starting to emerge once again. He finished the week 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA and 20 Ks to just 1 BB in 14 IP.

Dontrelle Willis, Fla, SP – Willis is pitching like the trade rumors are affecting him. In two outings this past week, he allowed 10 ER and 20 H in a combined 12 IP, dropping both decisions.

Orlando Hernandez, Ari, SP – The base paths were like a merry-go-round in Hernandez's two starts this past week. El Duque allowed 14 ER, 18 hits and six walks in a combined 9.1 IP, going 0-1 in the process.

Ryan Freel, Cin, 2/3/OF – Freel has gone 16 games without a SB and his batting average has dropped to .237. His slump helped land him on the bench twice this past week.

Brandon Phillips, Cin, 2B – The free-swinging is riding the rollercoaster that is his approach at the plate. after an extremely hot start, Phillips has cooled down this past week, going 3-for-24 (.125)

Richie Sexson, Sea, 1B – Sexson went just 3-for-24 (.125) this past week to fall below the Mendoza Line for the season (.195). With just three home runs this season, Sexson has called this current dry spell the worst of his career.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
Y! – Funston remains an injury-riddled mess, and is firmly entrenched in the lower division of the standings. RotoWire_Liss continues to run unopposed in first place, followed not-so-closely by RotoWire – Erickson. Tyler Walker, Johnny Estrada, Toby Hall and Jorge Posada are the most recent players to find employment this past week.