Closing Time: Boogie with Stew

The Rockies were dead team walking just a few weeks ago, but things look a whole lot brighter as we hit the middle of June. The Clint Hurdle era is behind us, the lineup seems to have stabilized a bit under Jim Tracy, the club has strung together an eight-game winning streak, and now we get to sit back and enjoy one of the best things in fantasy baseball – a lengthy Coors Field homestand.

The biggest fantasy knock on Hurdle was his crazy lineup juggling; changes often came with no rhyme or reason to them. Some managers just like filling out a different lineup card every day, and Hurdle didn't stop in-game, either; as my friend Gene McCaffrey would often say, "Hurdle can't wait to get his second-best team on the field."

Ian Stewart(notes) was a player stuck in limbo during the old regime – Hurdle never seemed willing to commit a position or a lineup spot to Stewart, and that no doubt had a lot to do with Stewart's struggles over the opening two months. The slugging infielder has been a new man since Tracy took over, settling in as an everyday player and swatting five homers over the last nine games. Stewart's hack-first mentality hasn't changed much over this span (10 whiffs, just two walks), but at least explosive things have been happening when he does connect, and he's even starting to look more comfortable in the field (he made a pair of dazzling plays in Wednesday's win). Never underestimate how much a young player is potentially helped just from knowing that he's got a spot in the lineup waiting for him every day.

Troy Tulowitzki(notes) also found his batting stroke at the end of the road trip, going 8-for-17 over the last few days with a couple of homers. He got a clean bill of health with on his sore hand at the beginning of the month, and I wouldn't be surprised if he shifts back to being one of the better middle-infield options in our game from here on out.

Huston Street's(notes) rebound has been a big part of the Colorado story as well. He's only been scored upon in two of his last 20 appearances (albeit he was less than stellar Thursday in his fourth straight day of work), collecting a win and 11 saves over that span. His slider is biting again (better than a strikeout per inning) and his hold on the ninth inning appears safe for now, though it won't be a shock if the Rockies dangle the name reliever in trade talks later this summer if they're not close enough to the Wild Card. If and when that comes to pass with Street, do a quick status check on the rehabbing Taylor Buchholz(notes), who could sneak back into the picture for saves.

David Price(notes) landed in the Tampa Bay rotation when Scott Kazmir(notes) went on the disabled list and to this point the young lefty has done a very believable Kazmir imitation – command struggles, brief outings. Price had plenty of stuff against the Angels Thursday but he couldn't harness it, ultimately heading to the showers after a messy 105 pitches (4.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 6 BB, 6 K). It's a sin Price couldn't hang around for five innings because his mates didn't have any problems scoring on the Angels (everyone not named B.J. Upton(notes) had a hand in the 11-run, 15-hit attack), but Joe Maddon didn't have any choice the way Price was laboring and rolling up pitches. The next Price check comes next week at Colorado, assuming the Rays don't decide to skip him a turn and let him clean out his mechanics.

Chien-Ming Wang(notes) is going to get one more chance to make good before the Yankees make a move, Newsday reports. "This is not the developmental league," Joe Girardi said Thursday. Washington comes calling for Wang next week, a neutral matchup (the Nats offense isn't as bad as you think). In medium and deep mixed leagues, you'll want to keep a spot warm for Phil Hughes(notes), he's going to be needed on this team, sooner or later.

The redemption song continues to play for David Ortiz(notes) – he hit his third homer in five games Thursday night, a shot into the Monster Seats off CC Sabathia(notes). Unfortunately for Papi and his investors, it's not the best time for a hot streak – the Red Sox have road games in NL parks for 9-of-15 games to come (no DH), starting with a weekend visit to Philadelphia. The six home games in that stretch all come next week (Florida, Atlanta), so let's put Ortiz on the back-burner for three games, then revisit him on Tuesday.

Fill in your own Flock of Seagulls joke for Shin-Soo Choo's(notes) walk-off hit against the Royals. Poor Kyle Farnsworth(notes), born under a bad sign. Coco Crisp(notes) is probably ready to use again; he had two hits and a steal against the Tribe.

Andrew Miller(notes) seems to be improving with every start; he fanned eight Cardinals on Thursday, and although a lot of his appearances have been short ones, he hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his last six turns. Don't forget the pedigree here – Miller was the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft, in front of some very interesting prospects. I probably wouldn't use Miller in Fenway Park next week, but in a deeper mixed leagues, he's worth spot-starting fairly regularly.

John Maine(notes) is headed to the DL but he doesn't want anyone to worry about him. "Nothing serious. My shoulder is just fatigued. It's dead. I think I pushed a little too much." In truth, "dead arm" isn't anywhere near as severe as the title would suggest, so Maine should be back in good shape after a couple of weeks on the shelf. There's no fantasy gain while Maine is out; Nelson Figueroa(notes) and Fernando Nieve(notes) don't offer any buzz or intrigue.

Speed Round: Kelvim Escobar(notes) is going to work out of the bullpen for now while he builds up his shoulder strength, which means Matt Palmer(notes) slides back into a rotation spot for now. … The forearm soreness hasn't gone away for Chad Qualls(notes) and if things don't improve soon, a DL stint is a possibility. … I'm a card-carrying member of the "don't trust Kevin Millwood(notes)" club so imagine my surprise as he shut down the Blue Jays in Arlington Thursday. Ricky Romero(notes) was solid on the other side (6.1 IP, 1 R) and could be ready for the circle of trust again. … Another day another Luke Scott(notes) homer – that's nine since he came off the DL two weeks ago. … The scuffling Aubrey Huff(notes) was rested for the third time in five games Thursday. … Brad Penny's(notes) real-life trade value gets a boost after he worked six scoreless innings against the Yankees. Penny fanned five, though he also collected 117 pitches in short order. … Mike MacDougal(notes) needed a day off Thursday so the seldom-trustable Joe Beimel(notes) fell into a rogue save. … Jason Bartlett(notes) (ankle) might be able to start a rehab assignment on Friday, and it looks like Kazmir (quad) will begin his at some point next week.

Sometimes Closing Time writes itself, and sometimes you get a colleague offering to write the story for you. With that in mind, here's a very Joycian ending to tonight's edition, penned by our buddy Brad Evans:

Another innocent prospect has been victimized by the Big Noise kiss of death. After penning a rather gushy entry on Matt Joyce’s(notes) power potential earlier today, he, naturally, was optioned to Durham tonight to make room for Pat Burrell(notes). Hi-lar-i-ous. Strangely Joe Maddon’s man-crush for the kid hasn’t waned. In honor of my gross misfire, please post your best and cleanest “Big Noise Blows” one-liners in the comments section here. The winner earns a very special spot in the ‘09 Evans Football Blog League. Draft date TBA.

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