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MLB Skinny: Harden Luck

Brad Evans
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
ATLANTA BRAVES RED HOT
1st Chair: Kenny Ray
2nd Chair: Mike Remlinger
Skinny: After a week of relative uncertainty, the Braves bullpen has found a Ray of hope. Shutting the door on Washington and on the road at Houston, Ray was nearly untouchable racking up two saves and three strikeouts, while giving up one hit. With Chris Reitsma continuing his downward spiral, allowing 11 earned in his last 2.2 innings, Ray is the go-to-guy. Still available in roughly 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues, he will easily total 15-plus saves from here on out. Play him with confidence.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Takashi Saito
2nd Chair: Danys Baez, Jonathan Broxton
Injured: Eric Gagne
Skinny: The all too familiar discomfort in Gagne's elbow has returned, making him a potential season casualty. Saito has been brilliant this season in middle-relief and as a closer, tallying a 1.99 ERA, minuscule 0.88 WHIP and .182 BAA. With Baez erratic – he has a 10.80 June ERA – and Jonathan Broxton still wet behind the ears, the Japanese juggernaut will be Grady Little's default option.
DETROIT TIGERS HOT
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya
Skinny: The ancient Jones' job is hanging by a thread after getting torched for 11 earned runs and three loses since May 30th. Luckily for TJ, Fernando Rodney has not faired much better allowing six earned in his past three appearances. Tigers manager Jim Leyland still has faith in his vet, giving Jones the nod in the ninth against Toronto on June 10th. With saves always a commodity, try and shop Jones while he still has value. Inevitably, Rodney, or darkhorse Joel Zumaya, will wrestle away the job permanently. Zumaya earned a long-distance three-inning save on Sunday, striking out four batters, while registering 102 mph on the gun. He has the most long-term upside of anyone in the D-Town pen.
CINCINNATI REDS HOT
1st Chair: Todd Coffey
2nd Chair: David Weathers
Skinny: Coffey continues to percolate in the Queen City, lowering his ERA to a tiny 1.85, while converting two saves on the road against division rival St. Louis this past week. Weathers six earned runs in his past ten appearances clearly indicate that Coffey is the man for the Big Red Machine. He is also listed as day-to-day with shoulder tendonitis and was primarily used in middle relief with the Reds playing from behind over the weekend.
FLORIDA MARLINS HOT
1st Chair: Joe Borowski
2nd Chair: Taylor Tankersley, Logan Kensing
Skinny: Recently recalled rookie Taylor Tankersley has thrown a monkey wrench in the Florida Marlins closing situation after grabbing his first save on Sunday in San Diego. A former first-round draft choice out of Alabama and son of a nuclear physicist, Tankersley was lights out at Double-A Carolina totaling a line that would foster inappropriate thoughts for any fantasy owner: 6 S, 0.95 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 40:14 K:BB, 28.1 IP. Borowski has converted his last three chances, but the Tank could steamroll his way into more opportunities. Take a look NL-only owners.
CHICAGO CUBS WARM
1st Chair: Ryan Dempster
2nd Chair: Bobby Howry, Will Ohman
Skinny: Just call Dempster the Indiana Jones of adventurous saves. Last Friday in Cincinnati, the former starter walked the bases loaded and walked in a run, but somehow worked his way out the quandary getting Ken Griffey Jr. to ground out to end the game. The next night, he again made things interesting allowing an earned run on two hits in the ninth. Dusty Baker is a faithful manager that typically sticks to his guns, but if Dempster continues to struggle – he has a 5.59 ERA since May 1st – look for Bobby Howry, or southpaw Will Ohman to vulture save opportunities.
ST LOUIS CARDINALS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jason Isringhausen
2nd Chair: Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper
Skinny: Tagged for two blown saves since June 2nd, the once dominating Izzy is no longer an elite closer. His biggest issue this season has been walks, totaling 23 free passes in 25.1 IP. With Izzy landing on the "do-not-pitch" list twice last week, sparkling middle-reliever Adam Wainwright could get additional looks in the ninth – he sports a sick 27:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, he blew his first save situation against Milwaukee on June 10th. Braden Looper could also be in contention given his 103 career saves, but opponents are hitting a reasonable .278 against him. For now, Izzy is still the man after St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan described his troubles as an overly "magnified" case. After a strong performance on Sunday, Duncan's assessment is accurate.
Nicknamed the "Grim Reaper," Jason Grimsley's gut-spilling affidavit last week is juicier than Beyonce's backside. Playing for seven different teams over his 17-year big league career and an investor in the pharmaceutical industry, Grimsley could connect hundreds of players to illegal performance-enhancing substances. This is the smoking gun baseball needs to clean up its act. And the ripple effects could be felt for years to come. The plot thickens. Stay tuned. Here is the inside scoop on what has transpired on the diamond over the last few days:

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

  • Rich Harden is beginning to draw comparisons to Chicago Cubs glass vase Kerry Wood. In his first start in over a month on June 8th, Harden sprained a ligament in his right elbow, landing him back on the 15-day DL, with no timetable set for his return. Adding insult to injury, Harden said he felt the twinge in his elbow in the third inning, but continued to pitch, amazingly recording three strikeouts in the fourth. Oakland manager Ken Macha added, "Its mind boggling he was still throwing 97 mph after the injury." Similar to A.J. Burnett's elbow woes that have sidelined him for nearly a month and a half, the worst-case scenario has Harden out 2-3 months. Thankfully, A's trainer Larry Davis called the injury "non-surgical."

For Mr. Disappointment, this is his second trip to the infirmary this season. Sporting a dynamite 8.74 K/9 mark and .197 BAA in 35 IP, Harden is a frustrating super talent to own. Send him to the dugout in deeper leagues and consider other alternatives in 10-team or smaller formats. In his place, look for Kirk Sarloos to continue to get ample starts in the A's rotation, making him a reasonable SP6 for AL-only owners.

  • Forget the Rocket, just call Roger Clemens Senor Taco. In his second rehab start with the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks, the future Hall of Famer struck out 11 and scattered a measly two hits in six scoreless innings. The double-digit strikeout performance scored free tacos for the 9,000-plus capacity crowd. "I felt fatigued, basically, after my warm-ups, when I went out for my very first inning," Clemens said. "I got what would amount to a second wind and I was on my way." Can you imagine what he will do once he regains full stamina? His next start will be this Friday at Triple-A Round Rock, before facing the Minnesota Twins June 21st. Expect the 43-year-old to be a Top-10 fantasy starter over the rest of the season.
  • The Canadian goose, Eric Gagne, appears to be cooked. Last Tuesday, he again irritated the ulnar nerve in his right elbow after nailing down a save against the Mets. Over the past few days, Gagne has complained of significant discomfort when raising his arms in the throwing motion. "As long as I can feel anything, I can't throw," he said. "When the nerve is irritated, it has to go away completely. Its just time, but we don't know how long it will take." The three-time All-Star is expected to hit the 15-day DL on Tuesday.

Just when you thought things were heading in the right direction, Gagne kicks your bullpen right in the shorts. With a vague timetable, the prognosis of Gagne making a major impact on your fantasy team this season seems minimal. If Takashi Saito was dropped in your league, pick him up immediately. His 41:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and four saves in 31.2 IP this season points to continued success as a stopper. As of Sunday night, he was still available in nearly 69 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Danys Baez has a slight shot at save opportunities, but his .277 BAA is very unattractive. Saito is another reminder why you should never, ever, pay heavily for saves in your draft.

  • Other notable injury updates: Another week, another Kerry Wood turn on the DL. Riding the pine due to stiffness in his shoulder, the Cubs vet bizarrely claims that he is "not injured," adding, "I didn't hurt anything. It's just something that comes along with having shoulder surgery." Absentmindedly, Wood forgot to mention "and having a manager named Dusty Baker" … The Batman of the underachieving Cubs injury-laden duo, Mark Prior is expected to make one more rehab start for Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, returning to the rotation on June 19th. In his last start on June 8th, his fastball peaked at 91 MPH, as he worked five scoreless innings for Double-A West Tennessee. Consider this your last chance to buy low … Yankee powerhouse Gary Sheffield will be out until at least September after surgery to repair his wrist. George Steinbrenner will surely chase a marquee name very soon. Could Alfonso Soriano return to Gotham … Los Angeles Angels buffet closer Bartolo Colon is expected to return a week later than originally diagnosed from shoulder inflammation. Halos pitching coach Bud Black mentioned that Colon's fastball velocity during his rehab stint was "in the low 90s, topping out at 94, and his changeup and breaking pitches have been good." Owners in weekly leagues might want to keep him benched for one more week … Marlins rookie sensation Josh Willingham missed the entire weekend slate against the San Diego Padres due to a strained left hand. Florida manager Joe Girardi stated, "We're just making sure that it's nothing more than what you think it is. If everything comes out all right, which I think it will, we'll give him a few days off here and play him when we get back to Florida." The Marlins return home to face Atlanta on Tuesday, but Willingham isn't likely to be penciled in until Wednesday … Astros ace Roy Oswalt is confident he will start on Wednesday after two weeks off due to back spasms. Oswalt assuredly noted, "I have five more starts before the All-Star break, so I need to win all those." Now that's drool inspiring stuff for any Oswalt owner. If his bullpen session on Monday is flawless, expect the big O to return to the mound as planned.

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

  • Jeremy Hermida, Fla, OF
    Finally, this fish has jumped out of a pool fit for an elderly water aerobics class. The 23-year-old phenom – seemingly going on 90 – was activated on May 22nd after missing 36 games with a hip injury. Hermida, who could still easily contend for NL Rookie of the Year, is the most talented player you likely forgot about. Blessed with a watchful eye that collected 111 walks at Double-A Carolina last year, he is batting .321 in June. Hitting sixth in Joe Girardi's young lineup, he should finish with double-digits in homers and steals, while driving in ample runs batting behind table-setters Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and slugger Miguel Cabrera. Rostered on a mere 13 percent of Yahoo! leagues, hit the add button without haste in mixed-format leagues of 12 teams or larger.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Enrique Gonzalez, Ari, SP, (ETA: Now)
    The D-Backs Minor League Pitcher of the Year in '04, E-Gon has an arsenal that can vaporize opposing offenses, and little green ghosts. Showcasing a 16:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 IP this year, he is a command freak with a fastball that peaks in the mid-90s. In 10 starts at Triple-A Tucson, he totaled an impressive 2.24 ERA and a respectable 1.24 WHIP. With Juan Cruz out with a shoulder injury, Gonzalez will slide into the Arizona rotation once again, starting on Tuesday against San Francisco. A must add in all NL-only and deep mixed leagues, the talented hurler will be a quality-start machine with adequate strikeouts in Cruz's absence. Consider him a terrific short-term option that should remain in the rotation with a series of strong performances.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Brad Penny, LAD, SP – Forged from gold over the last 30 days, Penny has totaled a spotless 5-0 record, 1.56 ERA and a microscopic 1.08 WHIP. He has not allowed a run in his last 14.1 IP. Outside of Brandon Webb, he is the best pitcher in the NL.

Gary Matthews Jr., Tex, OF – Owned in only 5 percent of Yahoo! leagues, Matthews is the Rodney Dangerfield of fantasy baseball. Collecting five hits and two RBI in Sunday's double-header showdown with the BoSox, mini-Sarge is now hitting .417 in June. He is a terrific No. 4 OF in 12-team mixed leagues.

Rocco Baldelli, TB, OF – Rocco's bat has sizzled since his activation, slapping seven hits in his first four games. If you need a batting average upgrade with double-digit speed, fish for this D-Ray.

David Ross, Cin, C – This former Padre has usurped Jason LaRue as the everyday catcher, hitting a homer every 10.14 at-bats. Driving in 11 runs in his past 11 games, Ross has raised his batting average to a lofty .338 and is a must own in two-catcher leagues. He is this year's version of Javier Valentin.

Matt Kemp, LAD, OF – Kemp might be the most pure power-hitter in Dodger blue. He has slammed six homers and driven in 15 runs in his first 41 at bats. Throw in three steals, a regular spot at clean up and a .400 BA over his last ten, and you are looking at a star on the rise. Pick him up in all formats 12-teams and deeper.

Alay Soler, NYM , SP – Out-dueling reigning NL ERA leader Brandon Webb on Saturday – a complete game two-hit shutout – Soler has allowed just one run in his past 16 innings. More impressively, he has only given up eight hits and four free passes since June 5th. He is a must-add in NL-only and 14-team or larger mixed leagues.

Mark DeRosa, TEX, 2B/SS/3B/OF – They say everything is big in Texas, and right now, there is nothing larger than DeRosa's batting average. A H-2-H monster, DeRosa is now hitting a ridiculous .357 on the season and has seven multi-hit performances in his past 10 contests. The position flexibility alone makes him man-crush worthy. What are you waiting for?

Oliver Perez, Pit, SP – After tantalizing us with three straight quality starts in late May, the one-year anomaly has regressed, giving up 14 earned runs in his past five innings. He is completely dead to me.

Jhonny Peralta, Cle, SS – His batting average has plummeted nearly 25 points in June. With a 13:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 June ABs and mired in a 0-for-16 slump, he is undoubtedly pressing at the plate. Despite the downturn, recall that Peralta's power surge came after the break last year when he rocketed 13 homers and posted 45 RBI. Get him at a clearance price.

Eric Byrnes, Ari, OF – Only 1 for his past 16 and batting .185 in June, the imminent slowdown is finally beginning to rear its ugly head. In his career after the break, Byrnes has seen a 48 percent reduction in homers, a 31 percent decline in RBIs and has hit a pathetic .230. Maximize your profit while his numbers still look gaudy.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
Yahoo! is representing with three of the top five teams – Roming in third (74.5), Funston in fourth (74) and Buser in fifth (68) – but RotoWire_Liss continues to have a stranglehold on the F&F League, with a 7.5-point lead over KFFL–Anderson. The league's most active – FantasyGuru–Pianowski – was quick to nab Takashi Saito this past weekend. Other recent pickups include Ian Snell, Casey Janssen, Reed Johnson, Francisco Cordero and Jeremy Accardo.

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