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MLB Skinny: Boston Aces

CLOSER HOT SEAT
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS HOT
1st Chair: Tim Worrell
2nd Chair: Armando Benitez
Skinny: Worrell is tied for the NL lead with five saves while filling in for the injured Benitez (knee bursitis). Benitez is expected to soon be activated from the DL – he'll first pitch in an extended spring training game to prove he's ready – but manager Felipe Alou has said that he may ease Benitez back into action, leaving Worrell in the closer spot. Benitez struggled in the spring and there seems to be some concern that he won't hit the ground running upon his return.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS HOT
1st Chair: Dan Miceli
2nd Chair: Shawn Camp
Skinny: Camp picked up a two-inning save on Friday, not long after manager Joe Maddon had given Miceli a vote of confidence in the closer role. "Danny's had the most experience (as a closer). I could always change just based on certain situations, but right now he's going to get the most chances to close." After successful conversions of his first three save chances, Miceli blew an opportunity on Wednesday against Baltimore (1.1 IP, 3 ER) and allowed a run in one inning pitched in a non-save situation on Saturday. Despite his recent rough spell, figure Miceli is still the one to own in fantasy leagues. But keep an eye out to see if Camp steals any more chances.
DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Fernando Rodney
2nd Chair: Todd Jones
Skinny: Jones is expected to return soon from a stint on the DL for a knee injury. While Jones is hoping to return this Friday, he cautioned that his return may not be all smooth sailing. "I'll tell you this, though, I'm not going to pitch until I don't have to think about my leg. I'm not going out there until I'm ready. I'm trying to get back as quickly as I can without it being weak enough to where if I pop it again, I'll tear it." This doesn't sound like someone who is going to quickly become a threat to take over a closer role that Rodney has been handling like an old pro. Rodney has converted three save chances and has yet to allow a run in 5.2 IP. Rodney owners need to follow Jones' progress, but they should expect that Jones is going to have to work his way back in a set-up role. And there is still a decent chance that Rodney doesn't relinquish his hold any time soon.
CINCINNATI REDS WARM
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Kent Mercker, Todd Coffey
Skinny: Despite a 1.35 ERA in seven outings (6.2 IP) and a fastball that hits the upper 90s, Coffey is not going to get much closing consideration at the moment. While Weathers blew his first save on Sunday, he converted his three chances before that. And Mercker picked up the team's other save on April 7. As it stands, manager Jerry Narron is most comfortable with Weathers and Mercker, when the need for a lefty is dire, in the closer role. Talking about Coffey's late-inning chances, Narron said, "Because with the way our bullpen is, Weathers is our guy but Coffey will be the guy picking up Weathers and Kent Mercker when necessary, not the other way around."
CHICAGO WHITE SOX WARM
1st Chair: Bobby Jenks
2nd Chair: Brandon McCarthy, Neal Cotts
Skinny: Jenks has made good on four save chances in the past week, but he allowed three runs in four innings in those outings. To his credit, he has walked just one batter this season and has yet to blow a save. His volatility led many to mark him as a leading candidate to be ousted from the closer role early in the season, but Jenks is safe for the moment. Still, manager Carlos Guillen was willing to reveal his plan in the event that Jenks is unavailable to him or looses his job. Said Guillen, "You might see McCarthy or Neal Cotts there. The way McCarthy is throwing, if somebody needs to fill that role, it will be him." McCarthy, who can also start, has allowed just two runs in nine innings. He fanned seven batters and has yet to issue a walk.
BOSTON RED SOX LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jonathan Papelbon
2nd Chair: Keith Foulke
Skinny: Papelbon is a perfect, and dominating, 6-for-6 in save opportunities, but Boston still sees him as a valuable piece of the rotation in the future. Said GM Theo Epstein: "We still think his future is as a starter and a very good one, but certainly it would be foolish to mess with success now." If Foulke can convince the team's staff that he's all the way back – he's allowed three runs in six innings, thus far – a move could be made down the road to return Foulke to the closer's role. But it is unlikely that we'll see a change anytime soon.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Mike Gonzalez
2nd Chair: Roberto Hernandez
Skinny: Last week, manager Jim Tracy used Gonzalez in the eighth inning of a tight game against Cincinnati because the Reds had lefties Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. due up. Hernandez closed the game out in the ninth after Gonzalez, although allowing a run, passed the lead on. We have yet to see this situation arise since, but since Tracy opened that can of worms, Gonzalez owners need to be aware that a repeat of this scenario is possible.
Ichiro currently sits below the Mendoza Line (.190), while Ramon Hernandez continues to get a hit more often than he gets out (.526 BA). Oscar Villarreal leads the league in Wins (4), while Johan Santana has yet to record one (and he has a 5.71 ERA, to boot). OK, so not all the silliness has been purged with the second week of the MLB season in the books, but we're getting there. Here's a look at what's been going on, nonsense or otherwise:

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

  • Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett picked up victories over the weekend, placing them among the very few with at least three victories on the season – Atlanta's Villarreal and Baltimore's Erik Bedard being the other two. Given their upside, both Schilling and Beckett came at a relative discount on draft day – Schilling because of his health-induced implosion last season and Beckett because of the perceived adjustment period of going from the NL to the AL and the fact that he's failed to reach lofty expectations in the past. The fast starts – both have sub-2.00 ERAs – have come without the benefit of much offensive support – both are getting 4.5 runs or less. With Coco Crisp injured and Manny Ramirez still struggling, the BoSox pitching staff has had to pick up the slack for an offense ranked just 20th in the league (No. 1 offense in '05). Schilling and Beckett have done their part, while closer Jonathan Papelbon has been lights out when handed a ninth-inning lead – 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 6 SV. Boston's aces could be in for Cy-worthy seasons if the team's offensive support raises its level to that of expectations, and Papelbon continues to finish what they've started.
  • Back to Bedard – he was strong on Saturday in allowing just two runs to the Angels over eight innings to pick up his third win. It should be mentioned that Bedard was 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA last season before suffering a sprained knee that forced him to the DL in early June. He was just 1-7 with a 5.44 ERA after his return. The hard-throwing lefty had problems with his control early in his career (71 BBs in 137.1 IP in '04) but he improved upon his control last season and wildness hasn't been a problem this April. With his stuff, he is capable of improving upon his current K rate (11 Ks in 20 IP). He could wind up being one of the top breakout pitchers of '06 if he can stay healthy and keep the strike zone dialed in.
  • Notable injuries: Barry Bonds says that he is playing with several bone chips in his elbow. He plans to play through the problem, but there is speculation that he'll retire if this issue (or any other injury) forces him into season-ending surgery … Eric Gagne had successful surgery last week to remove a nerve from his arm. "It feels like your mouth after you go to the dentist," he said. "It's totally numb." The numbness runs from the middle of his forearm to his elbow. It's likely to be at least eight weeks before we see Gagne in action again … Ken Griffey Jr. has missed four consecutive games with a knee injury. Although some feel Cincinnati is downplaying an injury that is actually more serious, the Reds are adamant that they are just being extra cautious. They maintain that he's still day-to-day … Edgar Renteria strained his rib cage swinging a bat on Saturday. A timetable for the injury is not yet known, but it's likely that it could keep him out 1-2 weeks … Brandon Backe sprained his elbow and he could be out up to two months or longer. Said GM Tim Purpura, "There's a chance. If we get through an extended period of rehab and he still has pain and all that, certainly there's a chance he could miss the season. That's the unknown right now. We'll see where we're at."

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

  • Craig Wilson, Pit, OF/1B
    As of Monday, Wilson was still available in roughly half of Yahoo! leagues despite sitting third in the NL with six home runs. He's also hitting .333 and has knocked in 12 runs. Wilson doesn't have a full-time gig just yet, as he's blocked at first base by Sean Casey and in right field by Jeromy Burnitz. Casey's recent problems with his ribs and back have afforded Wilson the opportunity for regular playing time, but something will have to be worked out once he fully recovers. The Pirates have the worst ERA in the NL, so they'll need all the offensive support they can get. You can bet they'll find a way to keep Wilson, who hit 29 HRs in '04, and his hot bat in the lineup.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Howie Kendrick, LAA, 2B (ETA – June 1)
    Adam Kennedy is off to a nice start, hitting .324 through his first 10 games of the season. But Kendrick possesses a ceiling that easily trumps Kennedy's. And Kendrick is sizzling for the Salt Lake Bees of the Triple-A PCL, hitting .449 with two home runs, 11 RBIs and two steals through 11 games. Kendrick, who has a minor league batting average above .350 in more than 300 career games, is the Angels No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America and is widely regarded as a can't-miss hitting talent. Kennedy is probably going to have to play slump-free baseball to hold this guy back.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Todd Walker, ChC, 2B – While he's often on the pine when a lefty is on the hill, Walker is making the most of his battles against righties. Walker is hitting .522 against right-handed pitching.

Jeff Francoeur, Atl, OF – Francoeur, who has yet to draw a walk, actually claims that he was listening too much to people saying that he needed to exercise more patience at the plate. He credits his renewed aggressiveness with turning around his horrific start (2-for-33). He is 8-for-16 with 3 HRs and 5 RBIs in his past four games.

Miguel Tejada, Bal, SS – He's made a habit of getting out to a strong start in Baltimore, and this year is no exception. With 11 hits in the past week, Tejada is now hitting .365.

Aaron Rowand, Phi, OF – With 11 hits in the past week, Rowand raised his batting average to .326 for the year. He has two home runs in his past five games.

Vernon Wells, Tor, OF – Wells typically has struggled out of the gate, but not so in '06. Wells clubbed three more home runs this past week, giving him five total to go with a .420 BA, 2 SBs and 12 RBIs.

Nick Swisher, Oak, OF – Swisher has 3 HRs, 9 RBIs and 8 Runs during his current eight-game hitting streak. He is hitting .364 during that span.

Jason Giambi, NYY, 1B – In his past five games, Giambi is 8-for-14 with 4 HRs, 10 RBIs and 8 Runs. Giambi's 12 walks have pushed him to second in the AL with a .543 OBP.

Ty Wigginton, TB, 3B – Wigginton has stepped up big-time with Aubrey Huff on the DL. The former Met has homered in four of his past six games and his 13 RBIs on the season are second on the team to Jonny Gomes' 14.

Morgan Ensberg, Hou, 3B – Ensberg has been battling a staph infection, but it hasn't hurt him at the plate. In his past eight games, he's 14-for-30 (.467) with 3 HRs and 8 RBIs. Of his 14 hits, nine went for extra bases.

Chris Shelton, Det, 1B – His hot start goes without saying at this point, but it's fun to point out that he's off to the fastest HR pace through the first 13 games (9) in AL history.

Austin Kearns, Cin, OF – Kearns, rumored to be on the trading block, is giving the Reds plenty of ammunition in any discussions about a deal. Kearns has two hits in four straight games and is hitting .340 for the season.

John Lackey, LAA, SP – After getting knocked around by Seattle in his first start, Lackey has rebounded with 2 Wins, 13 Ks, only 1 BB and a 2.40 ERA in his past two outings.

John Patterson, Was, SP – The major league strikeout leader has 24 Ks and just 5 BBs in 18 IP.

Ted Lilly, Tor, SP – Lilly dominated the Red Sox on Wednesday, fanning 10 and allowing just one run in 7 IP.

John Thomson, Atl, SP – Thomson has not allowed an earned run in his past two outings (11 IP). He recorded 10 Ks and just one walk in those appearances.

Jeff Kent, LAD, 2B – Kent concluded a 5-for-28 week (.179) by taking a fastball off the helmet on Sunday. He suffered a mild concussion and the subsequent blurry vision was going to be checked out on Monday.

Laynce Nix, Tex, OF – Nix is hitting .070 and has struck out in half of his at bats (14 times in 28 ABs). He's lost his starting gig to Gary Matthews Jr., who will now man the team's leadoff spot.

Jason Kubel, Min, OF – A highly-regarded prospect, Kubel was sent to the minors despite the struggles of outfielder Rondell White, who was 2-for-25 (.080) for Minnesota this past week.

Jon Garland, ChW, SP – Last year's breakout star has allowed 16 runs in his two starts. He managed to pick up a victory in his last outing despite allowing 13 hits and seven runs in five innings against Detroit on Friday.

David Wells, Bos, SP – Wells allowed 10 hits and seven runs in four innings in his season debut on Thursday. Afterwards he was given a shot of lubricant in his ailing right knee. Wells is talking like a man that is going to call it quits when the season is over.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
My Y!– Funston squad has slowly moved to middle-of-the-pack territory while RotoWire_Liss (93 pts) and RotoWire–Erickson (82) continue to pace the field. In an intriguing move, FantasyGuru–Pianowski recently cut Cincinnati closer David Weathers in favor of Arizona's Juan Cruz. Nick Swisher, Kenny Rogers, Craig Wilson and Shannon Stewart were also recently additions to various league rosters.