Casual Friday rules apply as we move into the weekend and collect as many roto-relevant stories (and blown saves) as we can scare up.
• Oliver Perez(notes) has been teetering on the brink of usefulness for a while and his best turn in this stretch came Friday at San Diego (6.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K). With a biting slider and better command it looked like the Perez of old (video evidence), and I'm tempted to look him up for spot-start duty when he's working in the friendly confines of Citi Field. That said, there's no way I'm trusting Perez at Arizona next week.
It's a shame Perez didn't get a win at Petco but the Mets bullpen couldn't hold his lead. High-priced closer Francisco Rodriguez(notes) didn't have a thing in the ninth, allowing a hit and three walks (one intentional) before Everth Cabrera(notes) ended the game with the most unlikely homer of the night (give the kid credit, he left the yard on a tough pitch). Cabrera quietly has turned into an acceptable specialty play for mixed leaguers; he's at .282 in the second half with two homers, eight steals and 11 runs. He still strikes out more than you'd like to see, but he's not adverse to taking a pitch (19 walks in 179 at-bats).
• A lot of fantasy scribes will tell you that Ricky Nolasco(notes) is a good buy-low target for the balance of this year or possibly next season but to me that's hogwash – he's pitching far too well right now for the roto public not to notice (they have the internet too). Nolasco took his three outstanding pitchers to the Philadelphia mound Friday and kept the NL's best offense in check for most of the night (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K). You can make the argument that Nolasco is one of the 10 best pitchers in fantasy baseball right now; the season numbers won't support your case of course, but he's been lights out since the Marlins recalled him two months ago. Baseball Monster ranks him as the No. 4 pitcher over the last two months; that's what a 2.58 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 88 Ks will do for you.
Joe Blanton(notes) was passable on the other side of this tilt (6.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K), but he was hurt by a couple of gopher balls (Nick Johnson(notes), Cody Ross(notes)). Leo Nunez(notes) closed up shop with a tidy five-pitch ninth, albeit he wasn't asked to retire the meat of the Philadelphia order (Ben Francisco(notes), Greg Dobbs(notes), Matt Stairs(notes)). Good work if you can get it, but Matt Lindstrom(notes) figures to get his chance soon.
• The Red Sox finally decided to cut the cord on the 42-year-old John Smoltz(notes) after watching eight rocky starts (8.32 ERA, 1.70 WHIP). Smoltz got a long look due to his reputation and K/BB rate (33 whiffs, nine walks), but while his slider still showed some bite in most of his appearances, teams were just hammering his fastball. It's not clear if Smoltz will try to hook on with another club (someone might have use for the breakdancing moves you see to the right); either way, let's doff the cap to one of the best pitchers of our generation. It will be interesting to see if Smoltz can get into the Hall of Fame on 212 wins, 154 saves and a strong post-season resume; I'd give him the nod.
• The wins keep coming for the plucky Nationals – the underrated lineup rapped out 11 hits and seven runs against Arizona (everyone in the Top 6 was productive, Elijah Dukes(notes) included), and Mike MacDougal(notes) dodged five base runners while recording the last five outs. I'm not going to talk much about Arizona because I refuse to admit that this Mark Reynolds(notes) season (homer No. 34) is really happening.
• Jim Johnson(notes) finally got his first save chance as the new Baltimore closer Friday and he didn't disappoint, working around a ninth-inning single and picking up his third save of the year. Baltimore's schedule down the stretch is a cruel joke but Johnson nonetheless has a decent shot at picking up 8-10 saves the rest of the way. Chris Ray(notes) did the set-up work, retiring two of three men in the eighth, and let‘s also mention roto savior Matt Wieters(notes), who posted a 3-1-2-1 line with a walk and is up to .275 on the year.
• Will Venable(notes) does his share of swinging and missing (39 strikeouts in 127 at-bats) but that hasn't kept him from being a fantasy asset over the last three weeks (five homers, two steals, .284 average). Don't hold San Diego's dire situation against him; we always have to keep mining the small markets and unglamorous teams for fantasy value. The one caveat on Venable is Brian Giles's(notes) pending return (he's going to start a minor-league rehab assignment next week), but let's hope the Friars stick with the youth movement and don't waste too much time on Giles.
Injury Blog: Roy Oswalt(notes) (back) had a solid bullpen session Friday and if he's strong again on Sunday, the Astros will throw him against Florida Tuesday. His teammate Wandy Rodriguez(notes) (hamstring) is fine; he also did some work Friday and has been cleared to start Sunday against Milwaukee . . . A wonky back kept Carlos Zambrano(notes) off the mound Friday, the same problem that prematurely took him out of his last turn . . . While the Mariners haven't said anything definitive about Erik Bedard's(notes) MRI yet, GM Jack Zduriencik conceded to the Seattle Times that "it's probably a longshot" for Bedard to throw another pitch in 2009. Surgery may eventually be needed here. Bedard is a free agent after the year and probably is headed out of Seattle . . . Jason Bay's(notes) hamstring will probably keep him on the shelf for the balance of the weekend . . . Chipper Jones(notes) was taking his best swings of the year the last few days but put that on ice for now. He strained his oblique during Friday's batting practice and had to be scratched . . . Chad Billingsley(notes) worked six strong innings Friday then had to leave when his hamstring started barking again . . . Dallas Braden(notes) (ankle) won't be able to make his scheduled turn on Monday . . . Look into a low-salt lineup for the weekend as Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes) (shoulder) isn't right yet. Nelson Cruz(notes) (ankle) is doing some light hitting but he won't do anything past pinch hitting the next two days.
Speed Round: Homering off Junichi Tazawa(notes) in August isn't the same as doing it in October, but nonetheless we have to salute Alex Rodriguez(notes) after his Saturday AM walkoff ended one of the best games of the year (your Gordon Edes wrap is here). Rodriguez also swiped his eighth base of the season . . . The Athletics gave Jason Giambi(notes) a long look but Friday's release comes as no surprise – the aging slugger is carrying a .193/.332/.364 line around . . . Maybe the pixie dust is wearing off with J.P. Howell(notes); he allowed a homer to Ryan Langerhans(notes) Friday and Yuniesky Betancourt(notes) took him deep earlier this week . . . Another blown save for Jonathan Broxton(notes) Friday; while his velocity hasn't deserted him, he's had command problems for a few weeks and you have to wonder if that toe issue continues to bother him . . . Brian Wilson(notes) seemed to lose his release point in a messy appearance Friday, but keep in mind he was asked to get five outs and the Giants defense took the night off (five errors) . . . Carlos Gonzalez(notes) would like your attention; he went 5-2-2-0 out of the No. 2 slot Friday and has a ridiculous .424/.487/.727 line since the All-Star break.