BREAKING:

MLB Skinny: Ever-Lastings

CLOSER HOT SEAT
ATLANTA BRAVES RED HOT
1st Chair: Kenny Ray
2nd Chair: Mike Remlinger, Chris Reitsma
Skinny: Atlanta has blown 12 of 25 save chances this season, and Reitsma has accounted for four of the failed attempts, including a blown save at Chicago on Sunday. Ray ended up earning a save in the same game after the team pulled ahead in extra innings, and he also closed the door on the Cubs in a 1-2-3 ninth inning on Friday, giving him two saves over the weekend. Ray leads the team with a 1.44 ERA, but it's hard to get excited about a 31-year old reliever who hadn't pitched in the majors prior to this season since '99, when he posted an 8.74 ERA in a short stint with Kansas City. He's the man for now, but stay tuned. Said GM John Schuerholz, "I would be less than honest if I said we haven't talked to people [about potential trades], because we have. Calls have been made."
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jose Valverde
2nd Chair: Jorge Julio, Brandon Lyon
Skinny: In his past five outings, Valverde has been a human fireworks display, allowing nine runs in 3.2 IP. He blew back-to-back save chances on Sunday and Monday. Seemingly, what was looking like an All-Star caliber season has been derailed in the span of a week. Manager Bob Melvin didn't completely deny that a change could be made, saying, "We've got a lot of options down there (bullpen)." One of those options is the newly acquired Julio, who averaged 28 saves a season from '02-'04 for Baltimore. He has 36 Ks in 23.1 IP between New York (Mets) and Arizona, but has a 4.63 ERA. Lyon, and Greg Aquino, also have closing experience and could be called upon if a move is made.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS HOT
1st Chair: Vacant
2nd Chair: Ambiorix Burgos, Andrew Sisco, Mike MacDougal
Skinny: When a team is on pace for one of the worst seasons in major league baseball history, I simply can't justify labeling its closer situation as "Red Hot" no matter how dire it may be. In this case, it's as bad as it can get. Burgos, who was temporarily replaced by Elmer Dessens as closer, picked up the team's most recent save on Monday, but he gave up a home run in his inning of work, marking the eighth time in his past 10 appearances that he has allowed at least one run. He had blown four straight chances before closing the deal Monday. Sisco picked up a save on Friday, but his ERA (6.53) is only marginally better than Burgos' 7.30 mark. In other words, this role could remain in flux until MacDougal returns from the DL (shoulder). He recently threw a bullpen session and will be re-evaluated. He's probably still a few weeks away.
CINCINNATI REDS HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Todd Coffey
Skinny: The Weathers forecast remains cloudy, but he's still hanging on to the closer's role, if only by a thread. It didn't hurt his cause on Friday when Coffey entered the ninth inning against Arizona trying to keep his team close down 1-0. Coffey wound up giving up a two-run homer. Weathers picked up a win Sunday by pitching a scoreless eighth and ninth inning against the Diamondbacks.
HOUSTON ASTROS WARM
1st Chair: Brad Lidge
2nd Chair: Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls
Skinny: Lidge earned the team's most recent save on Saturday as he closed out Pittsburgh with one uneventful inning. He's now put together scoreless outings in seven of his past eight appearances. Given the recent erratic outings of Wheeler and Qualls, it seems safe to assume that Lidge is likely to settle back in as the team's clear-cut closer relatively soon.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Eric Gagne
Injured: Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton
Skinny: Saito earned his second save on Saturday with a scoreless ninth against Washington. And if Gagne wasn't coming back from the DL this week, Saito would be the card to hold in this situation. But odds are high that Gagne quickly moves back into his old role and Saito moves back to the set-up role that he has excelled in. If Gagne has further injury woes down the road, Saito or Broxton, who is establishing himself as the team's post-Gagne era closer frontrunner, will likely handle the job. Danys Baez, who has five blown saves, has likely pitched himself out of consideration.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Mike Gonzalez
2nd Chair: Roberto Hernandez
Skinny: Hernandez doesn't have a save in May, and Gonzalez, despite a couple rough outings recently, finally received verbal validation from his manager Jim Tracy that he is the team's unquestioned closer. Said Tracy, "He's our closer. He's our guy." Ok, that makes it pretty clear. Hernandez might still vulture a save here and there, but Gonzo's fantasy owners can breath a little easier.
A week after claiming (in this space right here) that the Skinny never rests, I made a liar of myself by taking a vacation to Hawaii – which is the explanation for the Skinny's absence last week. Six days worth of Mai Tai's, pineapple and BBQ Pork did wonders for recharging the batteries, and now it really is time to settle in for the dog days of summer. For those that were left wanting last week, my apologies, or E Kala Mai, as they might say in Hawaii. Let's take a look at what went down this past Memorial Day weekend:

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

  • We celebrated Memorial Day this past weekend, but it was also veterans day for the New York Yankees. The 42-year old Randy Johnson pitched six shutout innings against Detroit to earn his second straight victory. However, this outing marked the first time in the past seven trips to the hill that he pitched at least five innings and allowed three runs or less. Johnson now has allowed just two hits against the last 33 batters he has faced. Against the Tigers, he was able to keep hitters off-balance by relying more on his off-speed stuff than usual. However, he was still able to uncork a mid-90s fastball when he needed to lean on his power.

"It's one game," Johnson said. "My career wasn't over after a few bad ones. It doesn't mean anything because I threw a good one. It just means I'm back on track to where I should be. That's all." If he truly is back on track, that's sweet music to the ears of his fantasy owners.

Chicago Cubs ace Kerry Wood also had a memorable outing on Memorial Day. He held Cincinnati to one earned run in six innings for his first win of the season. Wood, who recently returned from a DL stint for shoulder surgery, afterwards said, "I mixed in just about everything. I threw a lot of changeups, some sinkers, four-seamers, curveballs and sliders. We threw everything at them today … I threw more changeups than I normally do. I was trying to get them to put the ball in play and keep the pitch count down the best I could."

For a guy that has had trouble staying healthy the past few years, it was heartening to hear him wax on about pitch counts, off-speed pitches and letting hitters put the ball in play. Could it be that we are seeing a more mature Wood this time around? If he actually continues to try and master the fine art of pitching, as opposed to just throwing an endless amount of power fastballs and curves, we might see a bit of a dip in Wood's K totals, but there's a good chance he'll improve his longevity. And, heck, Wood does have 13 Ks in 16 IP, and fantasy owners can certainly live with a ratio like that.

  • While Wood seems to be back on the right track, Mark Prior had a forgettable Memorial Day outing for Class-A Peoria, allowing four hits and three runs in two innings. Prior said he was more focused on mechanics than results. "I gave up eight (runs) last year in Albuquerque and in the next six starts I had about a 1.90 (ERA)," Prior said. "Early on when you're working on things, it doesn't matter." Prior's return is still likely a couple weeks away.

Even less encouraging is the timetable for the return of Milwaukee's Ben Sheets (shoulder tendonitis). On Sunday, Sheets revealed that he's still not close to coming back. "My arm is better but it still doesn't feel that good," said Sheets. He's looking at having to clear three hurdles – bullpen sessions, simulated games and minor league rehab work – before he returns, which probably puts him another 3-4 weeks out, perhaps even as late as the All-Star break.

  • Notable injury updates: Continuing on the subject of recovering aces, Rich Harden (strained back muscle) threw a bullpen session on Monday and is set to embark on a minor league rehab assignment this week. Manager Ken Macha said he'll either pitch a short stint for Triple-A Sacramento and then join the rotation on Sunday, or he'll pitch a longer outing for Sacramento and join the A's rotation mid-next week … Chris Carpenter landed on the DL with shoulder bursitis, but the plan is for him to miss just one start. He was already in the bullpen throwing on Tuesday, as his injury is not considered serious. Anthony Reyes, the team's top prospect according to Baseball America, will take Carpenter's spot in the rotation until his return … Manny Ramirez, who is starting to get in a power groove, missed a couple of games over the weekend because of tendonitis in his knee. "Between his back and his knee, he's just a little beat up," said manager Terry Francona … Oakland OF Milton Bradley (oblique) is expected to start a minor league rehab stint this week … Bartolo Colon (shoulder) is set to start his minor league rehab assignment this week. He's expected to make two starts and, if all goes well, he'd join the team shortly thereafter. … Nothing has been for sure on the injury front with either of these guys this year, but the latest updates have Jorge Cantu (broken foot) returning to Tampa Bay June 5th, with OF Rocco Baldelli (hamstring) following within the week.

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

  • Michael Cuddyer, Min, 1B, 2B, 3B, OF
    Owned in less than 20 percent of Yahoo! leagues, Cuddyer is on pace for a .305, 89, 27, 89, 12 fantasy line. Is he capable of maintaining that pace? Definitely. Cuddyer is a former ninth overall pick in the '97 amateur draft who hit 30 home runs in Double-A in '01. He's been a little slow to take off on the major league level, but he's finally getting a real opportunity to play everyday, and he's making it count. His fantasy-friendly four-position eligibility makes it that much easier to take a leap of faith on him.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Lastings Milledge, NYM, OF (ETA – Now)
    Milledge, a top 10 major-league prospect into the '06 season, according to Baseball America, was called up by the Mets on Tuesday when OF Xavier Nady was placed on the DL. He was immediately plugged into right field and eighth in the batting order against Arizona. Milledge is a five-tool talent blessed with exceptional bat speed. He's hit over .300 for his minor league career and was hitting .291 at Triple-A Norfolk before getting his call to the Mets. He's projected to have good power, but it hasn't really blossomed yet. Given Milledge's talent, and the team he'll be playing for, there is likely to be a lot of hype surrounding him. But only NL-only leagues and the very deep mixed leagues should buy in on him now. Hitting down in the order, and given that's he's not likely to hit for much power yet, he's not expected to make a splash in shallower leagues.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Roger Clemens, FA, SP – Clemens is in the middle of a tough three-week workout process that will help him gauge if he's ready to come back this season. Everyone seems to think he's coming back, and Houston seems to be the foregone conclusion for where he'll soon end up.

Josh Johnson, Fla, SP – Johnson is 3-2 with a 1.99 ERA since joining the Marlins starting rotation. He out-dueled Pedro Martinez this past week to hand the Mets star his first loss of the season.

Sean Casey, Pit, 1B – Casey went 3-for-4 in his Memorial Day return from a back injury that kept him out for more than a month. He hit a HR in his final rehab start before his return.

Kenny Lofton, LAD, OF – Lofton comes off a week in which he hit in the upper .300s and now gets to face four pitchers this week in which he has a combined .378 lifetime batting average against. His .300-plus BA and 10 SBs has brought value to owners in deeper leagues.

Corey Koskie, Mil, 3B – Koskie's May OPS is .956 and he has six home runs in his past 93 ABs. He's not a bad pickup this week as he'll face the softer parts of the Pittsburgh and Washington rotations.

Rickie Weeks, Mil, 2B – In the 27 games in which he's hit leadoff, Weeks is hitting .311 with five home runs and nine RBIs. He hit .458 this past week.

Carl Crawford, TB, OF – Crawford made up for a slow start to the season last week, hitting three home runs, stealing seven bases and batting .481.

Cliff Floyd, NYM, OF – Another slow starter, Floyd hit .400 this past week with two home runs and a stolen base. He's now 15-for-45 (.333) in his past 14 games.

Michael Young, Tex, SS – The perennial hit machine had just four hits in 30 ABs this past week.

Mike Piazza, SD, C – Not only did Piazza go just 3-for-16 this past week, but he's had to look on as backup Josh Bard has hit five home runs in his past 10 games. He's also heard the rumors that the Padres pitchers prefer the more defensively adept Bard behind the plate.

Matt Clement, Bos, SP – Clement allowed a league-high 14 runs this past week in just 7.2 IP covering two outings.

Cliff Lee, Cle, SP – Lee didn't fare much better than Clement, allowing 12 runs in 7.2 IP over two outings this past week.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
Things have started to come together for my Y! – Funston squad, which has found a home in second place for the better part of two weeks now. RotoWire_Liss is still the runaway leader – up 16 points on me, 92-76. I added Sean Casey this week, dropping John Thomson. Other recent pickups across the league include Aaron Sele, Anthony Reyes, Kenny Ray and Ryan Madson.

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