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The Skinny: Back from the grave

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
CHICAGO CUBS RED HOT
1st Chair: Ryan Dempster
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski, Kerry Wood?
Skinny: Though he pitched a perfect ninth inning on Friday in his return to the Cubs, don't look for Borowski to be out there in a save situation any time soon. The Chicago Tribune reported on Saturday that manager Dusty Baker would continue to use his former closer in non-pressure situations for a while. Of primary concern is Borowski's velocity. He regularly hit the low 90s in 2003, but has topped out at 88-89 mph on the gun since returning from arm trouble. Wood rumors won't die, but for now this is Dempster's job. The converted starter nailed down his past two save chances without incident.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt, Mike Wood, Ambiorix Burgos
Skinny: Kansas City's interim manager might have a new interim closer. After Mike MacDougal struck out the side on Thursday to earn his second save of the season, manager Bob Schaefer told MLB.com that MacDougal looked like a guy who "wants his job back." After enjoying some success as a closer in 2003, MacDougal was so bad last year that he found himself demoted twice, the second time to Double-A. Burgos and Wood still factor into the closer mix, and Affeldt is scheduled to begin a minor league rehab assignment on Tuesday. Depending on who you listen to, Affeldt may reclaim the closer job, join the starting rotation or get traded. Truth be told, the first chair in Kansas City is currently vacant.
ATLANTA BRAVES RED HOT
1st Chair: Adam Bernero
2nd Chair: Chris Reitsma
Skinny: Dan Kolb is out. That much we know. The rest is shrouded in mystery right now. Conventional wisdom says Bernero will get the first chance to audition for the job. He's walked only three batters in 25.2 innings and opponents are batting under .235 against him – great numbers for a closer. Manager Bobby Cox used Bernero in the eighth and Reitsma in the ninth on Saturday, but since it was a non-save situation it is difficult to draw any conclusions. Reitsma was terrible, by the way – allowing two earned runs to raise his runs yielded total to nine in his past four outings. Fantasy owners should play it safe and sign Bernero now before Atlanta's next save opportunity.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS HOT
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: Jason Christiansen, Matt Herges
Skinny: Walker got five outs on Saturday to nail down his fifth consecutive save conversion. The most effective option in the post-Benitez bullpen has held opponents hitless with one walk in his past four appearances. Since April 8, Walker has been scored on only once in 16 appearances. Herges has been effective of late and is slowly regaining the trust of manager Felipe Alou. The opposite can be said of Jim Brower, who flirted briefly with the closer job but is now a shaky middle-relief option for the Giants.
COLORADO ROCKIES HOT
1st Chair: Brian Fuentes
2nd Chair: Jay Witasick
Skinny: Chin-hui Tsao has reportedly opted for surgery on his injured shoulder, a procedure that will almost certainly sideline him for the remainder of the 2005 season. That leaves closer duties in the hands of Fuentes, a capable lefty who earned his first save of the season on Thursday. Opponents are batting under .200 against Fuentes in 2005, though he allowed an RBI single on Sunday before closing the door on Pittsburgh for his second save. Another option for manager Clint Hurdle is veteran righty Jay Witasick. After a rough start, Witasick hasn't allowed an earned run in nine consecutive innings, striking out 11 in the process.
CINCINNATI REDS HOT
1st Chair: Danny Graves
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner
Skinny: For the third time this month, three or more baserunners crossed home plate on Danny Graves' watch. He opened the floodgates again on Sunday, allowing five earned runs on four hits while retiring only one batter. To make matters worse, he had words with a Reds fan on his way off the field. The numbers in May speak for themselves: Two blown saves, 11.00 ERA, 2.67 WHIP. Wagner pitched a scoreless inning on Sunday and, based on recent events, has to be on the verge of getting a shot as closer. He has surrendered an earned run in only two of 11 appearances this month.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX WARM
1st Chair: Dustin Hermanson
2nd Chair: Damaso Marte
Skinny: Though he has 10 consecutive save conversions and 20.1 scoreless innings under his belt, Hermanson still can't lay claim to the title of closer. "If I say [it is Hermanson], I will lie because I'm going to use Marte also," manager Ozzie Guillen told the Chicago Sun-Times. If you read between the lines here, it appears Shingo Takatsu is completely out of the picture. Guillen hinted that "Mr. Zero" would be used only if the team led by a few runs and Hermanson was unavailable. Of note: Hermanson has allowed four runners to reach base (three walks and a double) in his past two appearances.
FLORIDA MARLINS WARM
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Jim Mecir
Skinny: The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported on Saturday that Mota was on schedule to begin a two-game rehab assignment at Class-A Jupiter this week. He threw a simulated game without pain on Friday, and could be activated as early as Thursday if the rehab stint goes well. The Marlins won't rush him. Veteran Todd Jones retired Tampa Bay in order on Sunday to earn his fifth save in as many chances this month.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS WARM
1st Chair: Huston Street
2nd Chair: Justin Duchscherer
Skinny: Huston Street will be the A's closer in August. Whether he is relatively new to the role at that time or has a couple of months under his belt depends largely on how Dotel's elbow responds in the next 7-10 days. Dotel was placed on the DL with what the team is calling a strained elbow, and trainers say he won't try to throw again until next Tuesday at the earliest. When he comes back, he expects his job to be waiting for him. Manager Ken Macha, however, left the door open for job-sharing when he told the Contra Costa Times that it would "be nice to have two guys out there closing if they could."
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Jose Valverde
Skinny: Brandon Lyon threw on Sunday and experienced no pain according to manager Bob Melvin. Bruney has two saves since Lyon was placed on the DL, but since the move was retroactive, Arizona's closer could be activated as early as May 28. Valverde has a save and five strikeouts in his past 4.1 innings, allowing only one hit.
MILWAUKEE BREWERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Derrick Turnbow
2nd Chair: Ricky Bottalico
Skinny: Called on to get four outs on Sunday, Turnbow delivered just that for the Brewers and manager Ned Yost. Turns out, four wasn't quite enough. Turnbow struck out the first batter he faced in the eighth inning, but strike three got past catcher Chad Moeller, allowing Justin Morneau to reach base as a run scored. By the time the ninth inning came around, Turnbow had thrown an uncharacteristic 40 pitches. The last of those was hit out of the park by Shannon Stewart. Turnbow will rebound, but his second blown save buys him another week on the Hot Seat.
Greetings from the Pacific Northwest. The Skinny is checking in from Portland this week. While it's always tough managing fantasy teams from the road, the trek north did provide an excuse to take in a game at charming PGE Park, home of the Triple-A Portland Beavers. In addition to a where-are-they-now sighting of Bo Hart, the game provided a glimpse of a couple Major League prospects. We'll discuss those guys later, but first a look at what unfolded on big league diamonds over the weekend.

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

  • Remember Marlon Byrd? Baseball America projected him as a possible 30-30 guy when they named him the top prospect in the Phillies organization in 2002. He drew comparisons to Kirby Puckett, partially because he gained some weight after a college injury, but also because he brought a powerful but compact stroke to the plate. After he hit .303 as a rookie, it looked like a Byrd, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu outfield would be a mainstay in Philly for years to come. That was before a horrible slump in 2004 forced him out of the lineup entirely. Byrd's on-base percentage sagged to .287 as a sophomore, prompting the Phils to pursue free agent Kenny Lofton in the offseason.

Could a change-of-scenery trade have landed Byrd back on the fantasy radar? Maybe. He was dealt to Washington last week in exchange for Endy Chavez. Byrd had three hits in his Nationals debut, a pair of singles two nights later and RBIs in each of Washington's weekend games. Is he worth a roster position in NL-only leagues? Probably not yet. Byrd is currently in a platoon situation with Ryan Church. He's only guaranteed to start against lefties, but he can force manager Frank Robinson's hand with continued production. As for Chavez, he's stuck behind Lofton, who was activated from the DL on Friday.

  • Speaking of signs of life, Jermaine Dye is enjoying a resurgence for a White Sox team desperate for production from the middle of its lineup. Dye homered on Sunday to make it a hat trick against the Cubs. In his past seven games, the former Oakland slugger is 9-for-21 with four homers, three doubles, six runs and six RBIs. Dye basically carried the A's to a division title in 2001, but hit no better than .265 in the three injury-plagued seasons that followed. After a horrible May, most fantasy owners cut him loose. Now would be a good time to add him to your watch list, at the very least. Home run streaks have been popular in 2005, so Dye might just be getting warmed up.
  • Though he is San Diego's top pitching prospect, Tim Stauffer projects as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter according to Baseball America. For fantasy owners, that's not much to get excited about. Still, the 21-year-old was sharp enough in his first two Major League starts to garner some attention in Yahoo! leagues. The knock on Stauffer is that he lacks an out pitch, and that was evident in Seattle as the Mariners battered him for seven hits and four runs in 5.2 innings on Sunday. He'll start again against San Francisco this week, an outing NL-only managers should watch closely while deciding whether to give this rookie a shot.

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

  • Angel Berroa, SS, KC
    After The Skinny predicted a bounce-back season for Berroa in 2005, the former rookie standout set out to prove me wrong. Berroa hit .247 in May, causing all but the most loyal fantasy owners to jump ship. That ship may be back on course. Berroa collected three hits on Sunday to extend his hitting streak to eight games. In 12 games as Kansas City's leadoff hitter, Berroa is 19-for-48 (.396) with 12 runs scored. With three homers in his past 15 games, it appears that the power stroke may be slowly returning. He slumped to eight homers in 2004 after hitting 17 as a rookie.
  • Wes Obermueller, SP, Mil
    This may be the ultimate buy-high pickup, but few National League pitchers are as dialed in as Obermueller right now. On Tuesday, he retired the first 19 Washington batters he faced before allowing a single to Jamey Carroll. He was denied a perfect game, but eight innings of two-hit ball was good enough for his first win of the season. He was nearly as sharp on Sunday, holding Minnesota to one run and three hits in six innings.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Josh Barfield, 2B, SD (ETA – September)
    If you followed the Major League career of slugger Jessie Barfield, it should come as no surprise that his son is a top prospect projected to produce 20-25 home runs annually from the second base position. He wouldn't go deep in Sunday's doubleheader, but he did chase Memphis' center fielder to the warning track in Game 1. He would finish 2-for-6 for the afternoon, raising his average a few ticks to .234. That average is the organization's primary concern. Though he drove in 90 runs and slugged 18 homers in 2004, he hit just .248. He'll have to push that total toward .280 in 2005 to earn a September call-up.
  • Adam Wainwright, SP, StL (ETA – September)
    Truth be told, rain chased The Skinny from PGE Park before Wainwright toed the rubber for Game 2 of the doubleheader. Weathering the storm afforded fans a look at the top pitching prospect acquired from Atlanta in the J.D. Drew trade. He wasn't all that sharp, by all accounts, allowing two solo homers and four total runs in 5.1 innings of work. The loss dropped his record to 4-2, but his ERA remained a solid 2.26.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Damon Hollins, CF, TB – Batting third in manager Lou Piniella's lineup, Hollins went 3-5 on Sunday with a homer and two RBI. It was the third straight start with a homer for Hollins, who hit 20 homers in 109 games for Atlanta's Triple-A Richmond team in 2004.

Casey Fossum, SP, TB – Since joining the starting rotation, Fossum has 12 strikeouts in 10 innings with a respectable WHIP of 1.20.

Jeff Conine, OF/1B, Fla – Conine collected two hits on Sunday and is now 8-for-15 in his past four starts. A consummate utility man, Conine will find his name on the lineup card somewhere as long as the hits keep coming.

Aaron Hill, DH, Tor – He's played two games as DH and one at third base, but many within the Toronto organization feel that Hill is the team's shortstop of the future. Since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse, where he was hitting .301 with five homers, Hill has six hits in 12 at bats.

Jody Gerut, OF, Cle – After batting .438 during a minor league rehab assignment, Gerut was recalled by the Indians and immediately inserted into the starting lineup. He is 5-for-12 since coming back, though the rest of the Cleveland lineup remains dormant.

Felipe Lopez, 3B/SS, Cin – With two hits on Sunday, Lopez has reached safely in 16 of 20 games this month, a stretch that includes three home runs, two steals and eight multi-hit games.

Mark Redman, SP, Pit – In his past two starts, Redman has completed 15.1 innings, allowing only eight hits and two walks while uncharacteristically striking out 11. Each of his nine starts this year classify statistically as quality outings.

David Eckstein, SS, StL – He scored 100 runs in 2002 and might make a run at that figure in 2005 if he maintains his current pace. In his past 14 games, Eckstein is batting .377 with 13 runs scored.

Kris Benson, SP, NYM – In his past 13.2 innings, Benson has allowed only seven hits while striking out 11. Both starts were comfortable Mets wins.

Danys Baez, RP, TB – Though he responded with a solid outing on Thursday, Baez blew back-to-back save chances last week and has converted only four of seven opportunities in 2005.

Dustan Mohr, OF, Col – Though he homered on Tuesday, Mohr is having a hard time finding regular at bats in the crowded Colorado outfield. He sat on Sunday and is 0-for-8 since homering against the Giants.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
.343 The batting average that opponents are hitting against Cincinnati starter Paul Wilson, who is sitting on a 7.77 ERA and is getting skipped a turn in the rotation so he can sort things out. Teammate Eric Milton leads the league with 15 HRs allowed and has allowed a .307 batting average against. If you have players that will face these two in a three game series, make sure to get them in there.

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