A lot of phrases get tossed around with Jon Lester. Power lefty. Touted prospect. Cancer survivor. Let's add another one to the record: one of the AL's most reliable starters.
The beaten-up Red Sox bullpen needed a rest Wednesday, one day removed from the 19-17 keg tapper, and Lester was up to the task, as usual (7-plus innings, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 6 K). It's the 10th time in 11 starts that Lester has worked seven innings or more, no small feat in the hitter's league. He's currently ninth in the AL in ERA (3.25), and is shouting distance away from the Top 5. (Mike Timlin didn't do Lester any favors by letting two inherited runners score.)
"Lester was tremendous," manager Terry Francona said. "I thought he had power on his two-seamer and his cutter."
Next Monday Lester opposes a right-hander even more underrated than he is - Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie. The post-hype special mowed down his former team in Cleveland Wednesday (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4), keeping his mid-90s heat down in the zone and dropping his ERA to 3.18. Guthrie, the 22nd overall pick out of Stanford in 2002, has parceled out just five runs over his last four turns. He was dealing with some minor back soreness at the end of the start, but it's probably not a big deal.
"He's establishing himself as a legitimate top-of-the-order starter in either league," manager Dave Trembley told the AP. "I think he's still got some upside." You won't get any argument from me, skip.
With those two quality-start machines out of the way, let's do a quick bullpen lap, and then see what else is going on around baseball during an all-play evening:
• John Grabow picked up his third save of the year Wednesday, working a clean ninth against Cincinnati. Look for him to hold onto the committee chair in the Pirates bullpen until Matt Capps returns, which might be later this month. Grabow was less than 10 percent owned in Y! leagues entering the week.
• Takashi Saito is doing some very light throwing (from about 50 feet) and isn't feeling any pain, but a torn right elbow ligament normally requires Tommy John surgery. I'll be surprised if he has fantasy value again in 2008. The Dodgers should be just fine with Jonathan Broxton working the ninth; he pitched a perfect inning against Philadelphia Wednesday (two strikeouts, just nine pitches), then grabbed a win when Nomar Garciaparra homered in the bottom of the frame.
• Chris Perez grabbed his third save of the year at Florida, recording the last five outs without incident (two walks, two strikeouts). The stint took 33 pitches, so the Cardinals might need a different option if faced with a late lead Thursday. Tony La Russa was impressed with what the rookie reliever showed. "He came into a situation that is hard, veterans can get distracted and you let it get away," LaRussa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He didn't get distracted. He didn't get negative. Good signs."
• Joe Nathan didn't have any problems securing his 32nd save, pushing the Yanks aside with two strikeouts (against a walk) in the ninth. Nathan has allowed one measly run over his last 24 appearances, and his ERA is a scant 1.05 on the year. Anyone who thinks Francisco Rodriguez is having a better season than Nathan needs to adjust the fine tuning on their set. (K-Rod had a messy blown save Wednesday, for what it's worth; the Mariners went on to beat the Angels in 12 innings. Maybe this will temper some of the ridiculous Cy Young buzz around Rodriguez. A monster save total doesn't make you the best pitcher, or even the best reliever, in the league.)
• John Maine's first game back from a sore rotator cuff was a walk in the park: five scoreless innings at Washington (1 H, 4 BB, 6 K). The Mets quickly staked him to a 12-0 lead and Maine had a high pitch count early (90), as per usual, so it made sense to take him out there. Brian Stokes worked four scoreless innings to follow, picking up a rogue save. I guess we can remember the Maine next week, when he gets the Pirates and Astros.
• Carl Crawford will have surgery on his right hand Thursday, which means he's probably done for the rest of the regular season. The Rays are holding out hope that he might be able to get in some work during the final week of the season. In a redraft league, I'd cut bait now and find a warmer body.
• Mike Lowell's second-half nightmare continued Wednesday, as the Red Sox put him on the 15-day DL (oblique). He's batting .187 over the last month, with one homer and a .253 slugging percentage. Kevin Youkilis and Jed Lowrie split the time at third base Wednesday; they also combined for five hits and four RBIs.
• Raul Ibanez and Jarrod Washburn have both been claimed off revocable waivers, which means the Mariners have roughly two days from the claims to negotiate with the involed teams. Tampa Bay is likely interested in Ibanez, but it's doubtful it could get a deal done without being blocked by the Red Sox. To be continued.
• Russell Martin entered Wednesday in a .220 funk over the last six weeks, so Joe Torre dropped him to the eighth spot in the order. Perhaps that got Martin's attention, because he rapped out three hits and added a walk. Nonetheless, a few more days off for Martin in the dog days of August isn't a bad idea.
• Speed Round: David Purcey threw six superb innings in Detroit (2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 4 K), but I still have a hard time trusting him against the Yankees next week . . . Mark Buehrle had seven super innings against Kansas City (5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K), and let's go back to him Monday when he draws the Mariners . . . Delmon Young's power has been missing all year, but it's come alive of late, with three long-balls over the last five games . . . CT favorite Ty Wigginton got a start in the leadoff spot Wednesday and came through with a 4-1-2-1 line. Wiggy was so inspired by the assignment, he even tried to steal a base - alas, Bengie Molina gunned him down . . . Yeah, Mark Teixeira is still good (3-for-6 with two homers, including a game-extender in the ninth off J.J. Putz) . . . Jose Bautista is headed to the minors Thursday, a clear sign that John Russell is committed to Andy LaRoche as the team's third baseman . . . The Rays don't want to give Rocco Baldelli more than seven innings in the outfield at a time, at least right now. "I think maybe at home under the right circumstances as he continues to get out there, you might see him be able to go all nine," Joe Maddon told the Tampa Tribune.
• If not for Brandon Webb, CC Sabathia might be racing into the NL's Cy Young picture. The burly Brewer had no problem zipping through the Padres Wednesday (7 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K), trimming his ERA to 1.55. He gets home dates with the Astros and Pirates next week, a must for the stock-market players.
• Injury Lap: Ryan Braun says he's making progress with his back and ribcage, and he hopes to play this weekend against the Dodgers . . . Carlos Quentin (sore forearm) sat for the second straight game and is day-to-day . . . Andruw Jones will begin a minor-league rehab assignment this weekend, partly to work on his knee, and partly to fix his mental approach to hitting. Good luck, sir . . . Chipper Jones played just one of two games Wednesday, dealing with a stomach virus. He also admits his quad is still pretty sore . . Stork duty pulled Josh Hamilton away from Boston in the middle of Wednesday's game, and he's expected to miss Thursday's contest as well . . . Adam LaRoche (rib cage) looked good in a brief rehab assignment and is expected to rejoin the Bucs Thursday . . . Victor Martinez (elbow) is set to begin a rehab assignment this weekend, working as a designated hitter. When he returns to Cleveland, Eric Wedge plans to use him at catcher, first base and DH . . . Travis Hafner (shoulder) will take batting practice Thursday. Dream all you want, I need to see him do it in a game first . . . Billy Wagner starts a rehab assignment Thursday and hopes to return to New York early next week . . . Chris Carpenter (shoulder) has been officially scratched for his Friday turn; Brad Thompson will step in.
• With Joel Zumaya (shoulder) hitting the DL, Fernando Rodney has a little more breathing room. Todd Jones could be back in Motown this week, but Jim Leyland hasn't spelled out the roles yet. As for Carlos Guillen, he's got a pinched nerve in his lower back and will rest for at least a few games. Leyland admits he has "no idea" when Guillen will return. There's probably no fantasy gainer from Guillen's injury; Ramon Santiago got the call at third Wednesday.
• It's been a rich homestand for Brad Hawpe, and he kept it going with a 3-1-3-2 line Wednesday (including the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning). Hawpe used to be notorious for doing his best work on the road, but now that he's a Coors Field crusher, we can go ahead and call him Misty Mountain Hawpe. And with the rest of Led Zeppelin IV belting away in my headphones, the bullpen is officially closed for the night.