Closing Time: Jim Thome has some thump left

At first glance, Jim Thome's(notes) walk-off homer against Matt Thornton(notes) doesn't seem to carry a lot of fantasy juice. Thome is an aging slugger, soon to be 40, who doesn't play every day. He also doesn't carry a position in our game. The baseball fan in you salutes the game-winning blast, but the fantasy owner in you doesn't pay any attention to it.

Not so fast, roto heads. We're closing in on the final quarter of the year, where it's perfectly acceptable to think about specialists as fantasy options.

First and foremost, let's stop and accept that Thome's having a surprisingly good year. He's whacked 17 homers on just 209 at-bats, he's slugging .618 at Target Field (if only everyone could say that) and he's been on a tear since the All-Star break (.313/.423/.688, seven homers). There wasn't a lot of bidding for Thome when he hit the free-agent market last winter but the Twins are getting a tremendous return for their $1.5 million. And Thome is also the type of veteran who lends value in the clubhouse; he's made a positive impact in every city that he's played in over the past two decades.

At this point in the roto season, the category chase is pretty well defined. An extra homer or two has decided a championship before; one big day on a slow day could be the thing that pushes you up a place in the standings. Sure, Thome's part-time role in Minnesota won't make him a regular on your squad, but there's just reason to consider him as a short-term pickup when the conditions are right. Maybe he'll do something against the homer-prone Angels on the weekend, or in batter-friendly Arlington early next week. The best time to scout player like this is on the eve of a Monday or Thursday slate, when not every club is in action.

Thome isn't the only player to fit this specialist theme, of course, and obviously it's not limited to the power cats. If you're looking for a speed merchant for the stretch run, why not kick the tires on Eric Young(notes) Jr. down in Colorado? He's reached base six times in three games back with the Rockies this week, and he's running every chance he gets (three steals).

Sure, his playing time isn't guaranteed going forward, but the Rockies are in a desperate way as they try to hold onto playoff contention and they can't ignore a productive player at the moment. My feeling – make the grab on Young, based on his upside, and worry about the role and the playing time later. If nothing else, he's earned the right to play regularly over the rest of the week, and there's a major payoff possible. That's all we're looking for right now, plausible upside and a chance at a big score.

There were plenty of injury comebacks on the sandlots Tuesday, with most of the action tied to second basemen: Martin Prado(notes), Dustin Pedroia(notes) and Chase Utley(notes) all returned to action, and coincidentally or not, all three of their teams were victorious. The Phillies and Red Sox actually got their wins in spite of their returning stars – Utley and Pedroia went a combined 0-for-9 – but Prado was in the middle of Atlanta's romp over Washington, posting a robust 5-3-3-2 line and raising his average to .318. Prado basically is standing in for Chipper Jones(notes) over the balance of the year – he's temporarily been shifted to third base, and he's also taking Chipper's No. 3 slot in the batting order.

We've been waiting for the Tommy Hunter(notes) correction for most of the season and finally the AL hitters have gotten the memo. The Angels ripped Hunter for eight runs at the end of July, the Red Sox clocked four homers off him last week, and on Tuesday it was Tampa Bay's turn to take out the lumber (3 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 4 K). B.J. Upton(notes) had a pair of doubles for the Rays and has been arguably the team's best player in August, posting a .322/.394/.559 line with two homers and five steals. Remember that Upton is still in his mid-20s – he turns 26 later this month – and don't be afraid to pounce if a mild discount tag comes with him next spring.

Bronson Arroyo(notes) may have gotten the win in Arizona but Daniel Hudson(notes) turned the most heads; the intriguing young righty piled up 10 strikeouts (against zero walks) over his seven innings, and this was on the heels of a nine-whiff, one-walk outing in his last start. I see no reason not to trust Hudson for his Sunday turn against the Rockies.

Coco Crisp(notes) sure is a handy player when healthy. He's got a .345 average and five steals in August, with two of those bags coming against the Blue Jays on Tuesday. Mike Wuertz locked up the victory and he's starting to get that look in his eye again; he's allowed just one hit over his six innings, along with 10 strikeouts.

The gopher ball was threatening to ruin Ricky Nolasco's(notes) season but his command has been much sharper over the last few weeks and he's turned his year around. He's quietly on a 7-2 run with a 3.20 ERA over his last nine turns, and he's only allowed four home runs over that time. More impressively, he's got 70 strikeouts against 12 walks, and opponents have a paltry .617 OPS against him. It's not a case of batted-ball luck here - Nolasco has actually been unlucky in that department of late (.325). It took a while, but he's morphed into the ace you expected back in March.

Speed Round: Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) has a fractured rib and is probably done for 2010. Thanks for the memories - wait a minute, you didn't make any in 2010. … Pat Burrell(notes) got a standing ovation in Philly, and he was so moved by the gesture he responded with a home run. … Josh Willingham's(notes) left knee isn't getting any better and he's probably done for the season. … Brandon Morrow's(notes) follow-up to last week's gem wasn't anything to write home about – he only lasted four innings at Oakland (4 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 2 K). Still, the Blue Jays have to feel thrilled that they somehow stole this guy for Brandon League(notes).Hisanori Takahashi's(notes) save on Monday went a long way with manager Jerry Manuel; Takahashi got the skipper's endorsement on Tuesday. "For the most part he'll be the guy if he's fresh and the matchups look favorable for him," Manuel said. "He'll be the guy that we'll look to close the games with." This is Planet Manuel, so don't be surprised if this changes within 48 hours. … Gregor Blanco(notes) probably isn't on your mixed-league radar, but we should note that he has four steals in his last four games, and the Royals seem committed to playing him. … Alex Rodriguez(notes) has a low-grade calf strain and will at least be out Wednesday. … The Reds have decided to shift Mike Leake(notes) to the bullpen, opening up a rotation spot for Homer Bailey(notes).

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