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MLB Skinny: Hamels Time

CLOSER HOT SEAT
HOUSTON ASTROS HOT
1st Chair: Dan Wheeler
2nd Chair: Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls
Skinny: Lidge's struggles finally forced manager Phil Garner to demote his once-dominating closer. The reason this situation isn't labeled as "Red-Hot" is because the team doesn't have a backup option that can seriously be considered a viable long-term closer option at the moment. Wheeler and Qualls will fill in while Lidge works on getting his groove back, but neither can compare to the overpowering stuff Lidge offers when he's on his game. Lidge will return to the closer role as soon as he shows signs of turning things around. Said Garner, "He's still my closer. This is not (permanently) taking him out of the closer's role. What I want to try to do is give him a couple of outings here where he can work on some of the things he and (pitching coach) Jim Hickey have been working on and do it without thinking the one pitch may cost him a ballgame if he doesn't get it where he wants to."
LOS ANGELES DODGERS HOT
1st Chair: Danys Baez
Injured: Eric Gagne
Skinny: Gagne threw in the bullpen on Sunday, this time adding breaking balls to his session – the first time he's thrown curves since his elbow surgery in early April. He's expected to head on a minor league rehab assignment soon and, if all goes well, he could be back in early June. Unfortunately, that's not soon enough for the Dodgers, who have been suffering by Baez's right arm. Baez has blown four consecutive save opportunities and has allowed 13 Hits and has an 11.11 ERA in his past six outings covering 5.2 IP. Manager Grady Little plans to stick with Baez for the time being, but you can bet he's counting the days until Gagne's return.
SEATTLE MARINERS WARM
1st Chair: J.J. Putz
2nd Chair: Eddie Guardado, Rafael Soriano
Skinny: If needed, Guardado would likely have been given the call to close on Sunday given the extended work Putz and Soriano received in an extra-inning victory over the Angels on Saturday. Perhaps, had his services been required on Sunday and he closed the game out without incident, we'd have something to talk about here. Guardado hasn't allowed a run in his four innings of work over four outings since being demoted. The lip service from manager Mike Hargrove has been that Guardado will get a chance to work his way back into his closer role. But Putz has been lights out all year, and it's hard to see a change anytime soon.
TEXAS RANGERS WARM
1st Chair: Akinori Otsuka
2nd Chair: Francisco Cordero
Skinny: Lately, Cordero has shown signs of returning to form. Before allowing a run last Wednesday, he had produced five consecutive scoreless outings. But Otsuka has been outstanding in the closer role and he's keeping Cordero's window of opportunity closed. About Cordero's situation, pitching coach Mark Connor said, "Obviously, he's got the track record He's done it before and done it well. If Aki hadn't stepped in and done what he's done, and Coco's throwing the ball the way he is, I think, honestly, we'd be saying it's time for him to go back to his role." But manager Buck Showalter has been pleased with the current roles in the bullpen and even mentioned how impressed he's been with Keith Foulke in reference to Cordero's move from closer to set-up man.
DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Fernando Rodney
Skinny: Jones' sore knee allowed Rodney to get his sixth save of the season on Sunday. Jones' injury isn't considered much more than a tweak, but fantasy owners should still watch to make sure Jones doesn't have any lingering affects. If Jones struggles, or he needs more time off because of injury, the team has a great backup plan in Rodney.
Mother's Day weekend has come and gone, and Babe Ruth still sits No. 2 on the all-time HR list, thanks to a 1-for-18 homestand from Barry Bonds – including 0-for-8 this past weeekend. After playing (poorly) the past six games, Bonds expects to see a little more rest in the near future. Unlike Bonds, however, The Skinny never rests. Here is a look at what's gone down on the diamond this past weekend:

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

  • It's not a slight to say that Cole Hamels debut on Friday didn't match the hype. After all, Hamels allowed just one hit in five shutout innings of Cincinnati in the first outing of his major-league career. But the buzz build-up leading up to this outing had reached mountainous proportions, to the point that anything short of a complete-game, 10-plus K, shutout effort would have left some wanting. But hype is not Hamels worry. And by any barometer, his no-decision against the Reds was very impressive.

Adam Dunn, who was 0-for-1 with a walk versus Hamels, was tired of hearing about Hamels before he faced him. "Geez, you can't help but hear about it," Dunn said. "I hear he's the next Cy Young. What did he have, a minus-7 ERA in the minors? We were scared to death … Why don't they pay him $150 million, tell him thanks for all you've done, send him home and put him in the Hall of Fame right now?" But pressed about what he actually saw from Hamels, Dunn admitted he was impressed. "He was pretty good," Dunn said. "The ball gets on you pretty quickly. He was effectively wild." Hamels walked five, but struck out seven. Cincy manager Jerry Narron also came away with kind words about the Philly phenom: "He threw some good change-ups that guys swung at out of the zone. He has a good fastball, with some late movement. He has the chance to be an outstanding pitcher."

Despite the big build up, not all fantasy owners have clued into Hamels' electric stuff. He became available on waivers in Yahoo! leagues on Friday, but he'd been added in less than 10 percent of leagues by Sunday evening. Consider yourself fortunate if you are in a league where Hamels is still available. But before you reflect on that, make haste to the waiver wire to pick him up.

  • Another highly anticipated debut is on the horizon. While it's not even close to his first major league appearance, Francisco Liriano is scheduled to make his '06 starting debut this Friday. Liriano has been toiling in middle relief while Minnesota's starters have turned the base paths into a merry-go-round for opposing offenses. With 32 Ks to just 4 BBs in 22.1 IP, and a solid change-up in his repertoire, Liriano has often been compared to staff ace Johan Santana. Liriano can still be had in 20 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but his availability is shrinking fast as news of his starting gig gets around
  • Notable injury updates: Debuts being the vogue topic, Kerry Wood will make his '06 Chicago debut on Thursday against the Nationals. He's expected to be on a tight pitch count coming off his shoulder problems … Bartolo Colon has had a couple bullpen sessions and is set to throw a simulated game before going out on a minor league rehab assignment. The Angels still have been hesitant to offer a timetable for his return, however … Ben Sheets' shoulder did land him on the DL, after speculation here last week that it might. He is eligible to return Thursday but hasn't been throwing and it's unclear just when he might be back. "I'm not a mind reader and I'm not a fortune teller," manager Ned Yost said. "When he gets better he'll be better. He's in the training room and they're doing what they're doing to him every day. It's an inflammation, and it takes time to heal, to un-inflame." Un-inflame? … Sean Casey believes he can return sooner than expected from his back injury. Said Casey of a possible early June return: "I don't see why not. If I continue to feel like I do … it's just a matter of pain or no pain. Right now, there's no pain." … Ian Kinsler, who got off to a hot start in Texas before injuring his thumb, is expected to return this week. However, given the hot bat of fill-in Mark DeRosa, there is no guarantee that Kinsler will get his full-time gig back – at least not right away … A.J. Burnett (elbow) has started light throwing and the hope is that his rehab progresses well enough for him to return mid-to-late June … John Patterson hasn't returned from tightness in his forearm nearly as fast as was expected. Instead of returning on his original target date of May 13, it now appears that the new timetable is for June 1.

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

  • Jose Lopez, Sea, 2B
    With a two-run HR on Sunday, Lopez pushed his RBI total to 28, tops among second basemen. He's hitting a ridiculous .410 with runners in scoring position, which probably won't last. But he has a healthy 39 ABs with RISP, and those opportunities could continue to be healthy given that he follows Ichiro in the lineup. Lopez doesn't walk much, but he makes good contact. He has the raw tools that scouts have projected could equate into an above-average hitting middle infielder. He's available in more than 80 percent of Yahoo! leagues despite the fact that he's been a top 10 fantasy second baseman to date.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Dallas McPherson, LAA, 3B (ETA – Now)
    With both Darin Erstad and Casey Kotchman landing on the DL this week, the Angels recalled McPherson's power bat. The third baseman had a team-high eight HRs for the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees, but was hitting just .235. There is no question about McPherson's ability to launch the ball out of the park, but he's also a prolific whiff artist, as evidenced by his 49 Ks in 26 games for the Bees. Since being called back up, he's fanned five times in 11 ABs. While McPherson's power deserves attention, another Salt Lake Bee could be called up soon if McPherson ends flailing – Kendry Morales. The Cuban first basemen is hitting .289 at Triple A and his bat is considered major-league ready.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
Bitter is my mood as my Y!–Funston squad had to look on with the No. 2 waiver spot as FantasyGuru–Pianowski had poll position for claiming Cole Hamels. I remain in the middle of the pack as we all still look up to RotoWire_Liss, who sits 14 points above second-place FantasyGuru–Maltais. Liss and Pianowski executed a trade this week, with Pianowski unloading Randy Johnson and Ryan Dempster for Liss' Jose Contreras and Dave Roberts.