Just eight games on the sandlot Thursday, which is fine by me because my head is a little scrambled after running two concurrent fantasy auctions tonight (don't try this at home). They can't all be Picassos - in this instance, a color-by-number job will have to do.
• I'm not going to rehash the crazy, meandering Elijah Dukes story, but I know this - when he's on a baseball field, healthy and focused, numbers can go up in a hurry. Dukes carried the Nats over the Dodgers Thursday, putting up two homers, three runs and a stolen base, and keep in mind he was playing fantastic baseball in the middle of the summer before a knee injury hit (he also battled a calf problem this month). If Dukes can get to 500 at-bats next year, I fully expect a 25-25 season to come out of it. In mixed leagues, I implore you to check your waiver wire, right now.
• Pennant fever is supposed to grip The Hub about this time of year, but how about some old fashioned panic instead? Josh Beckett has been scratched from his Friday turn; instead, he'll head to Alabama and have Dr. James Andrews look at his elbow.
Boston GM Theo Epstein is whistling an optimistic tune, but until Andrews passes judgment, all bets are off. "He's just not quite 100 percent," Epstein said about his ace pitcher. "He's getting better. Again, not quite 100 percent. As much for his peace of mind as anything, he's going to see Dr. Andrews on Friday morning."
• Clayton Kershaw was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas after his messy turn Thursday, but it's not what you think. Kershaw is still on track to make his next scheduled start Tuesday against San Diego; the team was merely looking to add some bullpen depth in the meantime, and taking advantage in a loophole in the process (because the Las Vegas season ends Monday, the Dodgers will not have to wait the typically required 10 days before calling Kershaw back up).
• Josh Anderson is a little too old to be seen as a prospect, but he could be a sneaky fantasy play down the stretch if the Braves give him regular time. Anderson, 26, got the call from the Braves again this week, on the heels of a .314 summer (with 42 steals) at Triple-A. He quickly justified the faith Thursday night, getting a hit, two walks, and a steal against Florida. Heads up in deeper groups.
• Speed Round: Two more hits and a walk for Jayson Werth, who looks rock-solid in Philadelphia’s regular lineup . . . Cristian Guzman hit for the cycle Thursday, if you were lucky enough to dial him up this week . . . Alexi Casilla is just 6-for-34 since returning from his thumb injury; it’s hard to say how healthy he really is right now . . . Aaron Harang finally had a positive turn Thursday (7 IP, 3 R, 9 K), but three solo homers did him in at Houston . . . Get Dana Eveland back on the radar; he made some key adjustments during his brief jettison to the minors, and he’s been sharp in two starts back up (14 IP, 3 R).
• Ty Wigginton didn't do a lot on Houston's recent road trip, but his best work comes at home, where he can take dead aim at the Crawford Boxes in left field. Wiggy hit two out in Thursday's win over Cincinnati, and he's got a mighty tasty resume at the Juice Box this year (.347 average, .707 slugging, 12 homers in just 147 at-bats). Wigginton has 16 home games left on the schedule, in addition to a three-game set at Colorado; stock-market and challenge-game players, take note.
• Injury Lap: Rick Ankiel’s abdominal problem and a slump against left-handers will likely keep him out the next couple of days, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch . . . Joba Chamberlain (shoulder) had an extensive bullpen session Thursday and is hoping to be back in the mix next week, albeit he’ll be working out of the bullpen . . . Dave Trembley thinks the Orioles might get Adam Jones (foot) and George Sherrill (shoulder) back next week, perhaps as soon as Monday. Jones has been taking batting practice for a while, and he’s also been running this week . . . Dioner Navarro is battling two sore hamstrings but should be back Saturday, and Evan Longoria (wrist) is aiming for Monday . . . Chris Carpenter (shoulder) had a positive throwing session Wednesday but I wouldn’t make any hard assumptions here . . Justin Upton (oblique) is just about ready for Arizona after spending over two weeks on a rehab assignment . . . To the surprise of no one, Rafael Soriano (elbow surgery) is done for the year . . . Ryan Sweeney (thumb) is ready to go again, so the A’s send Carlos Gonzalez to Triple-A.
• For a team that's going nowhere in the standings, Oakland’s bullpen sure looks awesome these days. Joey Devine scored the win Thursday, and his season numbers are ridiculous (0.80 ERA over 33.2 IP, 11 BB, 37 K). He’s yet to allow a run in 12 appearances since coming off the DL earlier this month.
• Handshakes: Jose Valverde (35) blew away the Reds for the second straight night, striking out the side again . . . Mariano Rivera got his fifth win of the year, getting four key outs as New York took a critical game against Boston . . . Another smooth close for Dan Wheeler (10, two strikeouts), but Troy Percival could be back this weekend . . . Mike Gonzalez (7) hasn't blown a save chance all year, but the Braves haven't had a lot of leads to protect in the second half. He struck out the side against Florida . . . I've got nothing new to say on Kerry Wood (28) and Francisco Rodriguez (51), so that's left as an exercise to you, the reader. We'll reconvene on Friday night.