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The Skinny: Happy returns

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
CHICAGO CUBS RED HOT
1st Chair: Ryan Dempster
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski, Mike Remlinger
Skinny: Manager Dusty Baker has a secret plan. He wasn't sharing details over the weekend, but the most plausible scenario involves moving Dempster from the starting rotation to the closer's chair. The Chicago Tribune reported on Sunday that Dempster may start Monday, then assume closer duties while days off (the Cubs have three in the next 11 days) allow the team to skip his scheduled starts. If all goes well, Borowski would be ready to go the next time Dempster is needed in the rotation. In four innings at Triple-A Iowa, Borowski has allowed a solo home run but has been otherwise perfect. As for Dempster, he'll have to adjust to heating up faster if he anchors the bullpen. His stats through six starts when delivering his first 30 pitches: 8.1 innings, nine hits, 10 walks, seven earned runs.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Ambiorix Burgos
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt, Andy Sisco
Skinny: Affeldt reported no pain after a 25-pitch workout prior to Friday's game. The lefty hadn't thrown from the mound since injuring his groin on April 15. Meanwhile, Burgos had his best game as a big leaguer on Sunday, striking out four without allowing a base runner in 2.2 innings to earn his first Major League win. So what happens when Affeldt returns in 2-3 weeks? Team officials aren't saying right now, but they haven't ruled out sticking with Burgos. If the rookie does keep his job, Kansas City might test Affeldt's trade value. The team reportedly has no plans to return him to the starting rotation, and the emergence of Sisco as a southpaw set-up man makes Affeldt expendable.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX RED HOT
1st Chair: Vacant
2nd Chair: Dustin Hermanson, Shingo Takatsu, Damaso Marte
Skinny: You'll know who the Chicago closer is when the bullpen phone rings. ''When the phone rings and we say, 'It's this guy in the ninth,' then it's that guy in the ninth,'' Guillen told the Chicago Sun-Times. ''If you don't like it, come talk to me.'' Apparently, none of his relievers have taken him up on the offer. A few fantasy owners might like to have a few words, however. Chicago's past five saves have come from three different relievers and it's been a while since the same guy recorded back-to-back saves for the Sox. Given their success, Guillen isn't likely to put an end to the guessing game. Hermanson extended his scoreless inning streak to 14.2 on Sunday and is currently the most valuable option for fantasy managers.
CINCINNATI REDS HOT
1st Chair: Danny Graves
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner
Skinny: The Cincinnati Enquirer devoted a column on Sunday to comparing the season stats of Graves and Wagner. The numbers did not add up in Graves' favor. Most startling: Graves is averaging 0.38 strikeouts per walk, compared to a 3.08/1 ratio in 2004. Wagner is punching out 3.67 batters for every free pass issued. Graves' footing is shakier than ever after allowing two homers during Cincinnati's colossal meltdown last Monday against St. Louis.
COLORADO ROCKIES HOT
1st Chair: Chin-Hui Tsao
2nd Chair: Brian Fuentes
Skinny: Not much new to report here. Colorado's win on Sunday, their first since April 23, was secured without utilizing closer Chin-Hui Tsao. Mop-up work hasn't been kind to Tsao, but he is 2-for-2 with saves on the line, so his job is secure for now. Fuentes has made five hitless appearances in May, a streak spanning a mere 3.1 innings.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Jim Brower
2nd Chair: Jeremy Accardo
Skinny: Accardo pitched a scoreless inning in his Major League debut on Wednesday, but was touched for three earned runs in a surprise appearance as the closer on Saturday. Brower had recorded San Francisco's last save and was warming up in the eighth inning on Saturday, but manager Felipe Alou went with the rookie instead. Matt Herges will also factor into the closer mix until Alou settles on a favorite or management delivers him an established closer via trade.
MILWAUKEE BREWERS WARM
1st Chair: Derrick Turnbow
2nd Chair: Mike Adams, Ricky Bottalico
Skinny: An Aramis Ramirez home run on Thursday snapped a streak of 11.1 scoreless innings for Turnbow. The hitless streak was impressive, but perhaps more encouraging is the fact that he has not walked a batter in his past four appearances through Sunday. Control problems forced the Angels to give up on him following the 2004 season. Former 30-save closer Bottalico has taken over primary set-up duties. Adams pitched a scoreless inning on Thursday in his first action since April 27. The deposed closer had been shut down with shoulder pain.
FLORIDA MARLINS WARM
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Jim Mecir
Skinny: Guillermo Mota is throwing again, but is not expected back in the Florida bullpen for another 2-3 weeks. Jones has taken over as closer, successfully converting both of his save chances with Mota on the shelf.
NEW YORK METS WARM
1st Chair: Braden Looper
2nd Chair: Mike DeJean, Roberto Hernandez
Skinny: Looper has spent much of the season escaping from trouble of his own creation. On Friday it was his fellow relievers who got him in hot water. Scheduled for a day off after appearing in two straight games, Looper was called upon to retire Carlos Lee with the bases loaded. He got the job done, his sixth straight successful save opportunity. Manager Willie Randolph didn't want to make it four in a row for Looper, so he called on Hernandez to close out Milwaukee on Saturday. His 321st-career save was his first since 2002.
CLEVELAND INDIANS WARM
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Bob Howry, David Riske
Skinny: Despite recording saves in three straight appearances, it was a far-from-perfect week for Wickman. The highest drama came on Wednesday when he loaded the bases on two singles and a walk before retiring Lew Ford to close out Minnesota. He also allowed the tying run to reach base on Tuesday while protecting a two-run lead. Meanwhile, Riske's string of ho-hum efforts reached 11 on Saturday. He has yet to be scored upon in 2005, allowing just five hits and three walks in 14.1 innings.
ATLANTA BRAVES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Dan Kolb
2nd Chair: Chris Reitsma
Skinny: Control problems continue to keep Kolb's job at risk. He walked two batters on Saturday and loaded the bases before striking out Willy Taveras to close out a 4-1 win over Houston. Kolb has walked a batter in three straight appearances to bring his season total to 12 in 13 innings. Primary set-up man Reitsma prefers to put the ball in play. In 15.1 innings, he has issued only three free passes. Reitsma was touched for an earned run on Saturday, his first since April 9.
The list of fantasy excuses was shortened by a few names over the weekend. Lance Berkman was back in the Houston lineup. Wade Miller toed the rubber for Boston in his first American League start. Anna Benson's husband saw his first on-field action of 2005 on Thursday, the same day that Mike Cameron laced 'em up for his season debut. Heck, even Kevin Brown showed up for work on Sunday. We'll start our look back by breaking down some significant comebacks from injury:

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

  • The New York Mets hosted a second home opener of sorts on Thursday. Kris Benson started and pitched 4.2 innings in his 2005 debut. Also making his first start of the season was Mike Cameron, who patrolled right field and banged out two doubles hitting from the No. 5 position. For general manager Omar Minaya, it was his first look at the lineup he envisioned after re-tooling the roster during the offseason. Initial impressions were positive. Benson struck out Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu to end a scoreless first inning. He would punch out six in 4.2 innings before Aaron Heilman was called on to bail him out of trouble. For Cameron, Thursday's two-hit performance was merely a warm-up. He finished the weekend 8-for-14 with two homers, eight runs scored and four RBIs.

Is Benson worth a gamble? Fantasy skeptics would say no. After all, he owns a sub-.500 career record, a lifetime WHIP of 1.40 and has never won more than 12 games in a season. Why would this year be any different? Well, New York is an improved defensive team and they rank third in the NL in runs scored. Benson never enjoyed that kind of support in Pittsburgh. Right now a wait-and-see approach is a safe bet. He makes his next start at Wrigley Field, where his career ERA sits just below 5.00. As for Cameron, the buying frenzy has already begun. As long as fantasy owners are prepared to endure a dramatic drop in batting average, he should prove to be a valuable commodity. He was a 30/20 guy in 2004 and his run production should increase this year in an improved New York lineup. Give it a look, but he's probably already gone in your league.

  • Lance Berkman sat on Sunday, one day after he doubled off Chris Reitsma for his first RBI of the season. The day off was scheduled. Manager Phil Garner did not want to overwork Berkman, who was activated Friday after missing the season's first month with knee problems. Resting Berkman also gave Garner an excuse to give Mike Lamb another start in left field. Lamb has been Houston's most prolific run producer in May, driving in 12 runs in eight starts while batting .303. On Sunday, while nearly every other Houston bat was quiet, Lamb produced one of only two hits surrendered by Mike Hampton.

Berkman isn't at risk of losing at-bats to Lamb, but fantasy owners should take notice anyway. Lamb is versatile (eligible at 1B, 2B, 3B and OF) and he currently leads Houston in RBIs (17) despite having only one homer on the season. Position eligibility is a big plus. Not too many guys can provide injury insurance at four different positions while maintaining his kind of productivity. The RBI run may seem a bit of a fluke on the surface, but dating back to last season, Lamb now has 33 RBIs in his past 51 games.

  • Wade Miller was very impressive in his Boston debut. The familiar curve was there – even if the righty was very much out of his element in the American League. Miller struck out six and allowed only three hits in five innings of work. He averaged 15 wins per season from 2001-2003, establishing himself as one of the best strikeout pitchers in the National League in the process. He struggled with injuries last year, but looked sharp on Sunday. He'll face Seattle again in his second start of the season. Gun-shy fantasy owners who held out on his debut should be sure to activate him in advance of his next outing.

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

  • Nick Johnson, 1B, Was
    Consistent yet unappreciated all season, Johnson finally grabbed the attention of fantasy owners with a recent spike in power. The former Yankee has hit safely in 27 of his 30 games this season, including eight straight. Since April 25, Johnson has three homers, 11 RBIs and seven runs scored in 10 games. While sluggers like Eric Chavez have struggled with men aboard, Johnson has excelled. Through Sunday, he was batting .474 with runners in scoring position.
  • Ryan Madson, RP, Philadelphia
    With Tim Worrell battling personal problems on the disabled list, Madson has moved into the primary set-up role for Philadelphia. Since allowing a two-run homer to Brad Hawpe on April 20, Madson has pitched nine scoreless innings, striking out 13 and allowing only two hits in the process. Madson provides fantasy insurance on two levels. First, closer Billy Wagner is injury prone. Worrell saved 19 games during Wagner's various DL stints in 2004. There's also the matter of Wagner's expendability. He's in the final year of his contract and probably won't factor into the team's bullpen plans beyond 2005. If things don't turn around soon, the team may shop their closer to a contender.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Jeff Mathis, C, LAA (ETA – June 1)
    The organization's catcher of the future struggled in 2004 after Double-A teammates Dallas McPherson and Casey Kotchman were promoted within the organization, depleting his supporting cast. Now at Triple-A, Mathis is once again looking like a top prospect. Through 18 games, he is batting .348 with five homers, seven doubles and 17 RBIs. The Angels may be hesitant to throw a rookie catcher into the middle of a pennant race, but their current stable of catchers is banged up and under-producing. The Orange County Register has reported that the team is considering calling up a minor league catcher, but Mathis may get passed over due to a minor thigh injury.
  • Ricardo Rodriguez, SP, Tex (ETA – May 15)
    After going 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA for the Rangers in 2004, Rodriguez narrowly missed out on securing the No. 5 spot in the Texas rotation during spring training. On Saturday he took a big step toward retuning to the majors, tossing a five-hit shutout with eight strikeouts for Triple-A Oklahoma. In his past three starts, Rodriguez has allowed only 11 hits and one run in 23 innings. Meanwhile, back in Texas, Pedro Astacio is doing everything he can to pitch his way out of the rotation.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Adam LaRoche, 1B, Atl – In his past four starts, LaRoche is 7-for-17 with a homer and 10 RBIs. He proved himself to be a capable hitter down the stretch in 2004, closing with a .302 average and 10 homers after the All-Star break.

Bruce Chen, SP, Bal – May is normally not kind to Chen. He owns a career 5.11 ERA for the month, but through two starts this year is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 13 innings.

Jamey Carroll, 2B, Was – All Carroll did in a weekend series against the Giants was go 8-for-13 with five runs scored and a stolen base. He'll occupy the No. 2 spot in Washington's order until regular starter Jose Vidro (ankle) returns in 1-2 weeks.

Russ Adams, SS, Tor – Adams was hitless on Sunday, but started May on a tear, collecting nine hits in his first 19 at bats with two homers.

Alex Sanchez, CF, TB – In his first four games as Tampa Bay's leadoff hitter, Sanchez went 6-for-16 with two homers, two steals and seven runs scored. He failed to score on Saturday, snapping a team-record, 10-game streak with a run scored.

Brian Giles, RF, SD – Since snapping out of a 0-for-21 slump, Giles is 8-for-16 with two homers, nine RBIs and six runs scored. Apparently, Anna is out of his system. The hitless streak came after he caught a ceremonial first pitch from Anna Kournikova on April 29.

Daryle Ward, 1B, Pit – Ward hit .375 with six homers and 18 RBIs last May. His home run on Sunday was his fourth already this month and he enjoyed his third straight multi-hit game. With Craig Wilson on the DL, he should see regular starts at first base.

Tino Martinez, 1B, NYY – While Jason Giambi struggles, Tino's bat has come alive. His home run on Sunday was his fourth in six games.

Shannon Stewart, LF, Min – Though he was hitless on Sunday, Stewart scored a run in his fourth consecutive game. He's batting .310 in May with five runs, a homer and two stolen bases.

Ryan Klesko, 1B, SD – Klesko homered on Sunday, giving him four on the young month to complement six runs scored and seven RBIs.

Pedro Astacio, SP, Tex – Ricardo Rodriguez pitched a five-hit shutout for Triple-A Oklahoma on Saturday, fueling speculation that Astacio, loser of his past three starts, might be on his way out of the Texas rotation.

Ryan Howard, 1B, Phi – Howard went hitless on Sunday and is now just 1-for-14 since taking over for the injured Jim Thome at first base.

Victor Zambrano, SP, NYM – The Mets are expected to monitor Zambrano's next starts closely. If he struggles, he may be replaced in the rotation by Aaron Heilman, who pitched 3.2 strong innings of relief on Thursday to improve to 3-2.

Victor Diaz, RF, NYM – Diaz was hitless on Sunday and is just 3-for-15 with seven strikeouts in May. The Mets may opt to return him to Triple-A so he can continue to get regular at-bats.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
.500 Colorado shortstop Clint Barmes' batting average in his first 11 home games at Coors Field in 2005. He is also a career .424 (39-for-92) hitter against left-handed pitching.

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