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MLB Skinny: Priest and a Cardinal

Brad Evans
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brian Meadows
2nd Chair: Shawn Camp
Injured: Tyler Walker
Skinny: Predicted in last week's Skinny that the Tampa closer situation was a roulette wheel, my money was on the wrong color. Shutting the door twice this past week, Joe Maddon made Brian Meadows and not Shawn Camp, the official winner of the D-Rays' bullpen-by-committee sweepstakes. The former Pirate has an excellent tailing low-90s fastball that can be deceptive to opposing batters, making him a potentially effective stopper. With Tyler Walker likely out until the All-Star Break, Meadows could yield an additional 3-5 saves. If you have a leaky bullpen, he is the ideal short-term plug.
ATLANTA BRAVES HOT
1st Chair: Unknown
2nd Chair: Jorge Sosa, Kenny Ray
Skinny: Desperate times call for really desperate measures if you're an over-the-hill Atlanta manager. In an attempt to patchwork an ineffective bullpen, Bobby Cox moved starter Jorge Sosa to the pen to work as a committee closer. Sosa delivered in his first attempt, earning his second career save on June 25th. More wild than a Guns n' Roses after-party, Sosa's stuff is an untamed beast in search of a drink. Notching a horrid .301 BAA and a 5.18 ERA, he is only roster material for those with strong stomachs. Although Ken Ray has not saved a game since June 10th, he is more skilled and will get his share of save chances. However, for a team in search of a new identity, neither Ray nor Sosa screams fantasy success. Approach the situation with caution.
DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya
Skinny: Early last week manager Jim Leyland revealed that Jones "had a setback at the World Baseball Classic, and he had a setback early in the year." The setback Leyland referred to was a nagging hamstring injury. Gee, thanks for letting us know three months into the season. Apparently the injury has fully healed, as Jones is a perfect three-for-three in save chances since June 16th and has seen improved velocity on his fastball. His job is safe for now, but a couple of more bad stretches will push Fernando Rodney and stud Joel Zumaya into the mix.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Takashi Saito
2nd Chair: Danys Baez
Injured: Eric Gagne
Skinny: In this week's episode of "Cooked Goose: The Eric Gagne Story," the former All-Star's irritated ulnar nerve has shown no "negligible improvement." With no timetable set for his return, Japanese sensation Takashi Saito continues to be Grady Little's top option, closing out the lowly Pirates on June 25th. Opponent-friendly Danys Baez served up four runs on six hits in 1.1 IP against Seattle on June 21st, making his odds of tallying saves about as good as me landing a date with Jessica Alba. Unbelievably, Saito is still available in roughly 30 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jorge Julio
2nd Chair: Jose Valverde
Skinny: The two-faced Jose Valverde continues to be untrustworthy. Striking out five in two innings of relief on June 20th, the beefy Dominican choked against the Angels three days later giving up three runs, two hits and two walks in an inning. Valverde will remain in a setup role until he can exude consistency. Jorge Julio keeps plugging away, converting on all five save opportunities in June while allowing just one run in the past four weeks. At this point, it will take a freak accident for Julio to vacate the closer's role.
On June 21, the Fourth of July came a couple of weeks early to U.S. Cellular Field. Nine-game winner Jason Marquis became the fourth player since 1961 to allow 13 earned runs or more in a game. For cerebral fans, Marquis' implosion begs the question: What is the worst pitching performance in baseball history? After an hour of fine-tuning my Yahoo! search, an incredible corner of baseball history unfolded right before my eyes.

Prior to the start of the Tigers/Athletics clash in Philadelphia on May 18, 1912, infamous hot-head Ty Cobb was suspended indefinitely for climbing the stands and bloodying a handicapped heckler named Claude Lueker three days previously in New York. In an unlikely scenario, the entire Tigers club formally protested the ruling and refused to play against the Athletics. With a $5,000 fine impending if a team could not be fielded, Tigers owner Frank Navin and manager Hugh Jennings hired a ragtag group of amateurs to play as Detroit's finest for a day. One of the unknowns, Allan Travers – a pitcher for St. Joseph's College – was asked to take the mound. Bludgeoned 24-2, Travers threw the most bizarre complete game in big league history giving up an astonishing 24 runs – 14 earned runs, 26 hits, seven walks, while striking out one. A real-life Moonlight Graham, it was the future priest's one and only game in the majors.

Moral of the story: The next time your team ERA spikes after a lousy performance, remember the remarkable story of the Philadelphia priest that had his day in the sun, err, in a black hole. Here are the news and notes that rounded the bases over the weekend:

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

  • Derrek Lee traveled to Iowa over the weekend for a brief four at-bat rehab stint and returned to the Cubs lineup on Sunday going 1-for-4. Although not quite 100 percent, Lee commented on his wrist, saying, "It's what we expected it to be, just not quite as strong. But in a week or two it will be ready to go full strength." For a bone-dry Cubs offense that has dropped 41 of their past 60 games, Lee's bat is the oasis Wrigleyville rats have been thirsty for.

The second tier-one first basemen to return in less than a week – Albert Pujols was activated last Thursday – it will be interesting to see if Lee's wrist zaps his power potential. Regardless, his return will give Aramis Ramirez and Juan Pierre a much-needed boost in an offense searching for a pulse. The most interesting note about Lee's return is the fate of Phil Nevin. Since joining the Cubs on June 2nd, he has logged an impressive line – .281 BA, 6 HR, 11 RBI in 64 at-bats. Don't be shocked if the former Ranger gets additional time in left or behind the dish against Milwaukee this week with Michael Barrett still on suspension. Nevin has one game behind the plate already and could qualify in several leagues with a couple of more appearances. For those stuck with power punishers like Yadier Molina or Toby Hall as a second catcher in deep two-catcher leagues, snare Nevin as a homer and RBI upgrade in case he qualifies.

  • Trying to spark a Texas Rangers offense in search of a roundhouse Chuck Norris kick, manager Buck Showalter did a Texas Two-Step last Friday and retooled his lineup. The shakeup moved the underrated Mark DeRosa to the table-setting two-spot with struggling star Mark Teixeira bumped from third to clean-up. "With where we are in the season, I just thought this might be a good fit," Showalter added. For Teixeira the move was positive, noting, "We had to switch up something. It's fine with me. It doesn't matter where I hit. What matters is who is around you. As long as you've got Mike (Young) in front of you and Hank (Blalock) behind you, you are in pretty good shape."

Why does this have enormous fantasy implications? It puts a Texas-sized jolt into Mark Teixeira's surprisingly wimpy bat and makes handyman Mark DeRosa a middle-infield staple. Since the move, Big Tex has responded well, going 6-for-13 with two homers, five RBI and three runs. This might finally be the motivating factor he needs to breakout of a season-long power slump. The former G-Tech standout has only homered once every 37.6 at-bats this year compared to a 17.6 career mark. If there was ever a time to offer up a cheap six-pack of beer and a bag of peanuts for his services, this is it.

Multi-hit machine Mark DeRosa will see a rise in run scoring opportunities hitting second. Available in a bewildering 93 percent of Yahoo! leagues, he will continue to be the most flexible source of batting average and runs that no one seemingly wants. Hitting safely in eight of his last nine games and tallying a lofty .366 June batting average, he is a must start in any sized format. If you're an impatient Marcus Giles owner, bench him, and start the Texas sparkplug.

  • Injury News and Updates: After having his wings clipped, allowing an embarrassing nine earned runs in 2.1 innings against the White Sox on June 20th, Mulder's troubles were not limited to his soaring ERA. The Cards vet is out a minimum of a month after an MRI revealed an inflamed rotator cuff and frayed labrum. At this time, surgery is not necessary. With Anthony Reyes' nearly perfect outing on June 22nd, there will be no rush for Mulder to return to the rotation. Dump him in 12-team and smaller leagues … Frustrated by a chronic back ailment, urinating blister healer Moises Alou could head to the 15-Day DL if he can't return to the Giants lineup by Tuesday. Giants' trainer Stan Conte noted that Alou's injury consisted of "a little irritation in one of the joints in his back. He's got a few old war wounds." Steve Finley will continue to see regular at-bats with Alou sidelined … John Smoltz's start on June 23rd was cut short after he suffered a dreaded strained right groin. Rumored to be trade bait, Smoltz doesn't expect to miss his next start … Sidelined since June 9th with a sprained ankle, Reds rookie slugger Edwin Encarnacion has yet to start a rehab assignment. Cincy GM Wayne Krivsky added, "He's still having trouble running the bases. He's getting stronger. Hopefully, a couple more days." With smoke rising off the bat of Ryan Freel, look for the Reds not to rush their cherished prospect anytime soon … Brittle right-hander Tony Armas was placed on the 15-Day DL on Saturday in what Nationals officials call a "precautionary" move. Washington GM Jim Bowden said, "We're not really concerned about it. This is not a major setback. This is just two starts, and with an off-day [Monday] it's really one and a half." The activation of John Patterson means the current rotation will remain intact … Recovering from a bulging disc in his back, fragile Royal Mike Sweeney had his rehab assignment pushed back from June 26th to the 30th. "Mentally I was prepared to play a game (Monday) night in Wichita and my wheels were turning," Sweeney said. "When Buddy let me know, it was a little bit disheartening. After Buddy explained himself, I agreed 100 percent with him. I just want to get back on that field." A .285 hitter after the break, Sweeney is a good player to stash in deep leagues for teams wanting to add power and average depth at corner-infield. Expect him back in about two weeks … Sensational rookie two-bagger Dan Uggla has been sidelined since June 20th with a hamstring injury. On Sunday, he was able to take batting practice, but said, "We're going to be very careful with it." Rumblings have suggested Uggla may not return until July 13th, but he is listed as day-to-day. Keep him benched.

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

  • Anthony Reyes, StL, SP
    Labeled as the most polished rookie pitcher in the NL in last week's "Market Movers," Reyes' dominating return to the Cardinals rotation on June 22nd surely made Ozzie Guillen feel like he was trapped in sensitivity training with all the exit doors locked. Losing a 1-0 heartbreaker to the ChiSox, Reyes threw a complete game one-hitter, striking out six with zero walks. Now with three big league starts under his belt, the Cardinals top prospect has allowed a meager four earned runs and posted an awe-inspiring 14:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 innings. Equipped with a mid-90s fastball, effective slider and sinking change, the 25-year-old sensation relishes in keeping hitters off-balance with his impeccable command. Forget Cole Hamels and Matt Cain, this is the rookie hurler you want on your squad. With Albert Pujols back in the lineup, the high-stripped socks trendsetter will be a strong No. 3 starter over the rest of the season.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Stephen Drew, Ari, SS, (ETA: August)
    Younger brother of Dodgers outfielder J.D. Drew, this Arizona prospect will never have batteries thrown in his general direction. The starting shortstop for the American side of the Minor League Future's All-Star Game, Drew is arguably the best power-hitting infield prospect in baseball. Known for his excellent strike-zone judgment – he has a patient 43:30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 293 Triple-A at-bats – the 23-year-old future mainstay is hitting .290, with nine homers and 40 RBI at Tucson. The D-Backs recent 17-of-20 fade likely points to veteran Craig Counsell being shipped to make way for the talented prospect. Not so much a matter of if, but when, look for Drew to make a significant impact come August. Deep mixed leaguers and NL-only players need to pluck this kid off the wire as a home run and RBI upgrade at middle-infield.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Aubrey Huff, TB, 3B/1B/OF – Notorious slow starter, this D-Ray is no longer stinging his owners. Huff has hit safely in 9 of his past 10 games, adding a stout 50 points to his batting average. In his career, he has hit .297 from July 1st until fall. If a trade to Detroit or Anaheim occurs, his numbers could skyrocket.

Jason Bartlett, Min, SS – Recalled on June 14th, Bartlett has hit a blistering .368 over his first 11 games of the season. With Juan Castro hoofing it in Cincinnati, Bartlett will be the everyday shortstop in the Twin Cities. A contact hitter with wheels, he is a cheap source of batting average and steals in AL-only and deep mixed leagues.

Zach Miner, Det, SP – Striking gold in Detroit, Miner has filled in beautifully for the injured Mike Maroth. The 23-year-old righty has won three straight and is showcasing a diminutive 2.01 ERA. As long as he can stay aggressive and keep his walk totals down, he will be a dependable No. 6 starter in deep mixed and AL-only leagues.

Ryan Freel, Cin, 2B/3B/OF – After hitting a dismal .250 in May, the speedy Freel is red-hot. Slapping 17 hits and swiping four bases in his past seven games, he is an offensive catalyst at leadoff that will continue to see consistent playing time. As long as he stays healthy, 35-40 steals is certainly attainable.

Jon Lester, Bos, SP – Striking out 10 Nationals on June 21st, the loyal BoSox faithful must think they have the next Pedro. One of the most prized pitching prospects in the AL, Lester's 95 mph fastball is overpowering. However, with nine walks in 16.1 innings, he is a bit unrefined. Start him in all formats, but keep expectations conservative.

Joey Gathright, KC, OF – Finally out of Tampa, Gathright will see regular at-bats roaming centerfield in Cow Town. Once clocked from home to first at 3.3 seconds, he could easily swipe 15-20 bags over the remainder of the season. For those sound in batting average and in need of speed, this Royal is the solution. Gathright is hitting .333 over his past five games.

Adrian Beltre, Sea, 3B – Many would rather listen to a nagging wife than give Beltre another chance, but he is turning things around, hitting .379 with two homers, seven RBI and a stolen base over the past week. Give him another look.

Adam Dunn, Cin, OF/1B – Belly-flopping from the top rope, Dunn has gone yard just once since June 14th. A streaky player, he will continue to post a Rob Deer batting average with 40-plus homers. Hopefully you realized on draft day that 2004's .266 average was a pipe dream.

Matt Cain, – Brilliant in a near no-no, Cain's June line – 3 W, 5.47 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 27 K, 26.1 IP – is far from salivating. He has won five of his past seven starts, but his 25 walks since May 27th means the rollercoaster is about to fall off the track. More rough outings like Sunday's 4.1 inning, 6 ER, 6 walk A's beat-down are in the forecast. Take a profit in yearly leagues.

Brett Myers, Phi, SP – The boo birds are out in Philadelphia. Arrested for spousal abuse and sporting a pathetic 7.12 ERA, 2.13 WHIP and one win in his past five starts, Myers' value is headed for the toilet. Pending legal action and fan hatred will be a major distraction. Get a reasonable return for him now before the judge slams the gavel.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
RotoWire_Liss remains as elusive as ever atop the league standings. After the competition moved to within striking distance a few weeks back, RotoWire_liss once again has a healthy lead of 20.5 points on KFFL–Anderson. Y!–Funston and Y!–Romig are tied for third place, 24 points behind the leader. On Monday, Y!–Funston released Sean Casey upon activating Derrek Lee. Recent league pickups include Russell Martin, Jeremy Accardo, Joel Zumaya, Trot Nixon and Mike Lamb. Mr. April, Chris Shelton, was on the wrong side of the transaction ledger recently, as he was cut loose by Y!–Buser.