Closing Time: First of many for Kershaw

We've already talked about Fernando Rodney and Manny Ramirez in this space over the weekend, so there's no need for a rehash in this edition (you can do your Rodney Rappin' here, or spend a Manny Minute here). Instead, let's freshen up the fantasy pistol and let those bullets fly.

It was a heaven-and-hell week of assignments for Clayton Kershaw, who got to work at home against Washington Sunday (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) after drawing Coors Field five days ago. Kershaw had his good stuff yesterday (you won't see a better curveball) and the punchless Nats didn't put up much of a fight, getting shut out for the 15th time this year. The 20-year-old lefty stays at Chavez Ravine this week, drawing Arizona on Friday.

It will be interesting to see how much the Dodgers expose Kershaw the rest of the way. He threw 86 pitches over six innings Sunday; he's now at 107 innings (combining all levels) for the season. Back in May the team announced a "Kershaw Decree" that afforded the lefty just 25 innings a month while he prepped in the minors. Will that plan be scrapped if Kershaw can stick in the rotation and be a factor in a pennant race? Only the LA brass knows for sure.

John Grabow got work in a high-leverage situation Sunday but didn't improve his chances to be the No. 1 in the Pirates bullpen. Grabow allowed homers to Scott Hairston (eighth inning) and Josh Bard (ninth inning), the difference in a 3-1 Padres win. He also threw 35 pitches, so if the Bucs need a stopper against Colorado Monday, look for Tyler Yates (a carnival ride in his own right) to get the tap on the shoulder. Trevor Hoffman worked a scoreless ninth for his 21st save; he's blown just one opportunity over the last three months.

Francisco Liriano was passable but not dominant in his Triple-A turn Sunday (6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 9 K), picking up his 10th win of the year. It's pretty ridiculous that the Twins head into a key four-game series with front-running Chicago this week and they won't be able to use this talented lefty.

Adam Lind barely registers on the Y! ownership chart, but he's earned the right to be rostered even in mixed leagues. Given a chance to play everyday this month, he's come through with flying colors (.397, 15 runs, 17 RBIs), and he's raking against both lefties and righties. Let's get his count up to where it belongs.

Jarrod Washburn continues to enhance his trade value with a run of effective starts, but the low strikeout count throws up a red flag. He fanned just two over his eight strong innings at Toronto Sunday, giving him 17 whiffs over the last 41.2 innings. Nonetheless, the Yankees are very interested here.

Given the way Alexei Ramirez swings at just about anything you throw, I can't imagine him keeping this .309 average much longer. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts at Detroit Sunday.

A homer and three more hits for Jeff Baker, who's come out the break smoking and maintained his starting spot even with Troy Tulowitzki back (Clint Barmes heads to the bench, Baker starts at 2B). I can't figure why Baker's ownership count is so low; this is a three-position guy who's protected by the Colorado undertow. Point and click, amigos.

Paul Maholm has been a fantasy asset in nine of his last 11 turns, including Sunday's battle with Jake Peavy (both pitchers went seven innings, one run). Maholm's also spiking the striking rate of late (nine Sunday), and he's allowed just one homer over his last four starts (no fluke when you consider his heavy ground-ball rate). The former first-round pick is turning into staff ace material at age 26.

Jacoby Ellsbury was benched Saturday and demoted to the No. 9 spot Sunday - fair enough, given that he's been in a .229/.257/.291 funk since June 1. Is Ellsbury's wrist still bothering him? At least last night he was able to right the ship, rapping out three hits and making a nifty catch in center field, but the running has all but stopped for the rookie (his last swipe came on July 1).

Brad Ziegler kept the sweet music playing Sunday, working two scoreless frames (2 H, 3 K), then handing off to Huston Street for the ninth. Make it 27 scoreless innings for the submariner, who hasn't allowed a home run at any level over the last year and a half. I don't know what Oakland plans for Ziegler if and when Street gets moved, but if nothing else it's an easy story to get behind.

Whatever Conor Jackson is eating for breakfast, pour me a bowl of it. He ripped a homer and three more knocks Sunday, making him 19-for-37 with four homers in the second half. "I've never seen anyone as hot as him," said teammate Randy Johnson, who's in a nice groove himself (four straight wins, 26.1 IP, 7 R, 2 BB, 19 K). Arizona is commonly mentioned as a landing spot for Mark Teixeira, but I expect the Snakes will balk when the Braves ask about Jackson.

Alfonso Soriano struggled with his timing for most of the week, fresh off the DL, but he was back in the swing of things Sunday (3-for-5, homer). The Wrigley jet stream was also friendly to Derrek Lee (17), Dan Uggla (25) and Mike Jacobs (21, 22).

Andruw Jones sat on the bench Sunday, as Joe Torre said he's going to "play the hot hands." That means Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Juan Pierre stick in the lineup, while Jones is the fourth outfielder.

Speed Round: Endy Chavez was sad to see the Cardinals leave town; Trendy Endy went 8-for-18 over the weekend with a couple of steals . . .Was their any reason for Johan Santana to throw 118 pitches in a 9-1 game? Oh well, it's their $137 million asset, not mine . . . Another strong turn from Ubaldo Jimenez, who's been sharp in July (five wins, 1.74 ERA) despite less-than-stellar control (15 walks). He'll work at Florida Friday . . . I was concerned about a cliff season from Pudge Rodriguez entering 2008, and for about two months I felt justified, but he's been on every pitch since the opening of June. Four hits Sunday pulled his average to .298, and he's also chipping in with a little power and the occasional steal . . . Jeff Samardzija justified the Big Noise love on Sunday, working two perfect innings (three strikeouts) and registering his first big-league save. He was getting the ball late because Carlos Marmol (heavy work on Thursday and Saturday) needed a day off . . . It was a fun afternoon in Kansas City, as our two favorite most written about Royals (Mike Aviles, Billy Butler) combined for four hits and two homers. Butler's round-tripper left a dent in the foul pole, believe it or not . . . It will be interesting to see if the Rays aggressively go after a middle-of-the-order bat this week (they were rumored to be in the Xavier Nady chase, but we know how that played out). How far can you really go with Willy Aybar and Gabe Gross getting meaningful at-bats? . . . . . . Why isn't Chris Iannetta owned everywhere? He's up to .281 with 11 homers, he's playing two-thirds of the time, and it's been a washout year for fantasy catchers . . . Gerald Laird might be worth a look in two-catcher leagues; he's off the DL and set to play most of the time, per Ron Washington. Laird had three hits Sunday.

Most of Fred Lewis's stats this year have come against right-handed pitching, but he did come through with four hits and two steals against Randy Johnson Sunday. It's a shame the Giants can't find every-day at-bats for Lewis, who has a quiet seven homers and 19 steals.

It's safe to say Jon Lester knows what he's doing against the Yankees, beating them Sunday night for the second time this month. He's allowed two runs over 16 innings against the rivals, rolling up 16 strikeouts. He draws the Athletics Saturday. The Red Sox have a future No. 2 starter in their hands here, and keeper-league owners should hold on tight as well.

Injury Lap: Brian McCann suffered a mild concussion in Philadelphia Sunday, courtesy of a helmet-to-helmet collision that looked like an NFL play (thanks, Shane Victorino). X-rays came back negative, but it looks like McCann will sit out a few days anyway . . . Chipper Jones (hamstring) sat out the weekend as expected and isn't confident he can avoid the disabled list . . . Kerry Wood (blister) did some side-throwing Sunday, wearing protection on his finger. It's not clear yet if he'll be able to go at any point during the upcoming Milwaukee series . . . Nomar Garciaparra left Sunday's game with a sore knee and is considered day-to-day . . . We're used to Eric Chavez being hurt, but it's sad to hear him describe his shoulder as "shredded." It's very possible his days at the hot corner are over . . . Tim Hudson (elbow) played catch Sunday and probably won't miss a start . . . Jose Guillen (groin) sat out Sunday but hopes to go Monday against Oakland . . . A pair of sizzling Bucs (Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez) left Sunday's game with back spasms. Both are unlikely to play Monday . . . Michael Bourn sprained his right ankle Saturday and didn't play Sunday. He's day-to-day.

Handshakes: Joe Nathan (28), Brad Lidge (24), George Sherrill (30; phones are ringing); Jonathan Broxton (4). And let's also tip the cap to Brian Cappelletto, Scrabble overlord. The Windy-City Wizard went 7-0 Sunday at the National Scrabble Championship, and when he's not studying words and board positions, he's playing our favorite game.

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