MLB Skinny: Devils Food

CLOSER HOT SEAT

TEXAS RANGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Akinori Otsuka
2nd Chair: Francisco Cordero
Skinny: no closer has blown more saves since the beginning of '05 than the 13 that Cordero has squandered in that span. Manager Buck Showalter finally had enough after Cordero blew his third consecutive save chance last Wednesday. Otsuka was handed the ball in the ninth on Saturday, and although he allowed a hit and his first walk of the season, he managed to close out Cleveland without allowing a run to pick up the save. Otsuka closed for four years in Japan and has logged a K-per-inning and a 2.56 ERA in his two-plus years in the league. With Cordero relegated to a mop-up role, Otsuka is now the man for as long as he can hold the job.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Shawn Camp
2nd Chair: Dan Miceli, Tyler Walker
Skinny: It looks like manager Joe Maddon is playing the committee game here. Camp closed out Boston on Sunday for his third save of the season, and his second of the week. Walker notched a save Friday after Miceli opened the inning by walking two batters. But Miceli had entered the game in the eighth after Camp was knocked around for a couple runs, and Miceli was able to get out of that inning without any further damage. Camp seems to be the most in favor right now, but Walker surely made an impression after closing out Boston on Friday after arriving to the team about an hour before game time. And while Miceli has been a circus with his command, he hasn't allowed an earned run in his past six outings. If you have to pick one right now, go with Camp.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES HOT
1st Chair: Mike Gonzalez
2nd Chair: Roberto Hernandez
Skinny: The Pirates have just seven wins, of which three have been saved by Gonzalez and two, including the most recent (Saturday), by Hernandez. Saturday's save came after Gonzalez entered the ninth against Philly with a 3-2 lead and walked two of the first three batters he faced. Manager Jim Tracy then pulled Gonzo in favor of Hernandez, who immediately walked pinch-hitter David Dellucci before getting pinch-hitter Alex Gonzalez to ground into the game-ending, bases-loaded double play. Afterwards, Tracy glowed about the job of Hernandez. Said Tracy: "The moxie of Roberto Hernandez to make the pitch and induce the ground ball with the bases loaded and the go-ahead run standing at second base is another big reason you go out and get a guy like that in the winter time." Gonzo may be the closer of the future, but it sure seems like the closer of the present is a coin flip.

SEATTLE MARINERS WARM
1st Chair: Eddie Guardado
2nd Chair: J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano
Skinny: Guardado picked up back-to-back saves on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, he loaded the bases before relying on an Adrian Beltre defensive gem to secure the save. Guardado has just one 1-2-3 appearance among his nine this season, but perhaps his success over the weekend will put him back on the right track. If things continue south for the veteran southpaw with an 8.31 ERA, give Putz the slight lead over Soriano for the replacement call.

CLOSER HOT SEAT

TEXAS RANGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Akinori Otsuka
2nd Chair: Francisco Cordero
Skinny: no closer has blown more saves since the beginning of '05 than the 13 that Cordero has squandered in that span. Manager Buck Showalter finally had enough after Cordero blew his third consecutive save chance last Wednesday. Otsuka was handed the ball in the ninth on Saturday, and although he allowed a hit and his first walk of the season, he managed to close out Cleveland without allowing a run to pick up the save. Otsuka closed for four years in Japan and has logged a K-per-inning and a 2.56 ERA in his two-plus years in the league. With Cordero relegated to a mop-up role, Otsuka is now the man for as long as he can hold the job.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Shawn Camp
2nd Chair: Dan Miceli, Tyler Walker
Skinny: It looks like manager Joe Maddon is playing the committee game here. Camp closed out Boston on Sunday for his third save of the season, and his second of the week. Walker notched a save Friday after Miceli opened the inning by walking two batters. But Miceli had entered the game in the eighth after Camp was knocked around for a couple runs, and Miceli was able to get out of that inning without any further damage. Camp seems to be the most in favor right now, but Walker surely made an impression after closing out Boston on Friday after arriving to the team about an hour before game time. And while Miceli has been a circus with his command, he hasn't allowed an earned run in his past six outings. If you have to pick one right now, go with Camp.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES HOT
1st Chair: Mike Gonzalez
2nd Chair: Roberto Hernandez
Skinny: The Pirates have just seven wins, of which three have been saved by Gonzalez and two, including the most recent (Saturday), by Hernandez. Saturday's save came after Gonzalez entered the ninth against Philly with a 3-2 lead and walked two of the first three batters he faced. Manager Jim Tracy then pulled Gonzo in favor of Hernandez, who immediately walked pinch-hitter David Dellucci before getting pinch-hitter Alex Gonzalez to ground into the game-ending, bases-loaded double play. Afterwards, Tracy glowed about the job of Hernandez. Said Tracy: "The moxie of Roberto Hernandez to make the pitch and induce the ground ball with the bases loaded and the go-ahead run standing at second base is another big reason you go out and get a guy like that in the winter time." Gonzo may be the closer of the future, but it sure seems like the closer of the present is a coin flip.

SEATTLE MARINERS WARM
1st Chair: Eddie Guardado
2nd Chair: J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano
Skinny: Guardado picked up back-to-back saves on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, he loaded the bases before relying on an Adrian Beltre defensive gem to secure the save. Guardado has just one 1-2-3 appearance among his nine this season, but perhaps his success over the weekend will put him back on the right track. If things continue south for the veteran southpaw with an 8.31 ERA, give Putz the slight lead over Soriano for the replacement call.

I spent the weekend in New York at the NFL Draft. I'll admit, the trip didn't provide the best conditions by which to follow the latest ebbs and flows of fantasy baseball. But, any gaps in this forthcoming weekend analysis I'll blame on the Houston Texans for passing on Reggie Bush and blowing my concentration. I will not, however, place any blame on those fine Irish pubs bordering Time Square. On to the Skinny

WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

  • I'm not condoning the behavior, but I can't tell you how many times the video last week of Tampa Bay super-prospect Delmon Young throwing a bat at an umpire during a Durham Bulls game caused me to burst out in laughter. The image of Young walking off screen toward the dugout, only to see his bat make the long journey back across the screen and slap the stunned umpire upside the torso is an instant classic. About the only people that weren't laughing were major league baseball officials and anyone who plays in a fantasy league with a reserve roster that houses Young. Young has been suspended indefinitely, and speculation runs that he could face at least a 30-60 game suspension, if not a season-ending penalty. Those who hoped that he'd make a splash with the big club some time this season aren't likely to see that happen. It's looking doubtful now that the Rays will call him up, even if he isn't suspended for the season.

While Young is likely out of the D-Rays' picture, the team is expected to get a shot in the arm with the upcoming returns of Aubrey Huff (sprained knee), Julio Lugo (abdominal strain), Jorge Cantu (fractured foot) and, yes, Rocco Baldelli (hamstring). Huff is ahead of schedule and he and Lugo should return sometime during the Oakland series (May 5-7). Cantu is likely a couple days behind those two, but Baldelli's return is still uncertain after suffering a setback recently. Asked about his return, Baldelli said, "I have no idea, because every time I think I know when I'll be feeling good, sometimes I'm ready to go earlier than that and sometimes I'm not. It's not a huge setback. It still feels pretty good, it just doesn't feel 100 percent." Despite the setback, Baldelli should still be in a D-Rays uniform sometime before the end of this month. He's widely available in Yahoo! leagues, so start your roster planning if you need a player with his ample skills.

  • The start of May means Roger Clemens is eligible to return to the diamond, and clubs can start making offers for his services. It's not yet clear that he's going to return, but rumor has it that if he does, it's most likely to be with Houston again. The arrangement that the Astros have had with Clemens the past couple years has worked out well, and has allowed Clemens the flexibility to come and go on his off days to spend time with his family. And, speaking of family, Clemens' son Koby is a potential major league prospect in the team's minor league system, a fact that further ties the Hall of Famer to Houston. It's a foregone conclusion that Clemens will not return in May – June, or sometime before the All-Star break, seems more likely.

  • Notable injury updates: Bartolo Colon was initially expected to be near his return from shoulder problems around this time, but the new timetable calls for a few more weeks as the shoulder has been slow to recover. "You can't increase the pace at which this thing is going to heal," Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Right now, he's still crawling through the process." … St. Louis third baseman Scott Rolen was stricken by a viral condition that caused him to lose nearly 10 pounds and confined him to a bed for much of the time. His condition has improved, but he was left very weak by the ordeal. He's trying to regain strength and weight in hopes of returning to the lineup mid-week for the Houston series … Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne continues to rehab and his manager Grady Little was recently quoted as saying that Gagne's best-case scenario for a return is 3-5 weeks … New York Yankees OF Gary Sheffield could miss both of the two games against Boston this week after colliding with Toronto's Shea Hillenbrand. Sheffield is day-to-day, while Hillenbrand claims to have come out of the bang-up without injury … Pittsburgh 1B Sean Casey (back) is lifting weights and exercising in a swimming pool. His return is pegged at sometime in June.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Ryan Zimmerman, Was, 3B
    Ignore the .242 batting average – Zimmerman is much too talented as a hitter to wallow in his current range for long. In fact, he's 7-for-22 in his past six games with 3 HRs, some indication that he's already starting to pull out of his April swoon. Perhaps Zimmerman's most intriguing split is the 36 ABs he's seen with runners in scoring position, which ties him for the league lead. That's the reason he's managed a respectable 17 RBIs despite his struggles. With on-base machines Jose Vidro and Nick Johnson hitting in front of him, Zimmerman should continue to see a healthy amount of RBI opportunities.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Chad Billingsley, LAD, SP (ETA – June)
    The top Dodgers top prospect, according to Baseball America, Billingsley is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA at Triple-A Las Vegas and has fanned 31 batters and yielded just 16 hits in 28.1 IP. In his most recent start, he no-hit Colorado Springs for seven innings, and finished his work with just one hit allowed in eight innings of a 5-0 shutout. Said Las Vegas manager Jerry Royster, "That's what a future No. 1 starter in the Majors looks like to me." The Dodgers rotation is fitted with established veterans – Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Brett Tomko, Odalis Perez and Jae Seo – so there isn't immediate room for Billingsley. But he can force the team's hand if he keeps up his hot start and Perez and Seo don't soon bring their ERAs below 5.00.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Ben Broussard, Cle, 1B – God help a right-handed pitcher against this guy right now. Broussard owns a league-best .491 BA against righties, and he's coming off a week in which he hit .625 with 4 HRs and a league-best 13 RBIs.

Moises Alou, SF, OF – The fruits of hitting in front of Barry Bonds are once again ripe for Alou. He hit .500 this past week with 3 HRs and 12 RBIs.

Shea Hillenbrand, Tor, 1B/3B – When Hillenbrand gets hot, take notice. He is one of the league's well-established streak hitters. He can ride a hot bat for a month or two, and an 11-for-19 week (.579, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs) means that the wave has already begun to gain momentum.

Cory Sullivan, Col, OF – Well, let's just use Sullivan as a representative of a bunch of Rockies who are flying high at the moment – Garret Atkins, Brad Hawpe also figure prominently. This past week, Sullivan hit .444, Hawpe hit .414, and Atkins padded his numbers with a couple home runs and 6 RBIs.

Johnny Damon, NYY, OF – After playing in Boston a few years, it was easy to forget about Damon's speed – the Red sox have never favored the running game. But Damon has been turned loose in New York, and he led the majors with five steals this past week to go with 2 HRs and a .429 BA.

Corey Patterson, Bal, OF – With Brian Roberts on the DL, Patterson has landed in the leadoff spot for the Orioles and he closed out this past week with a .529 BA, 2 HRs, 6 RBIs and 3 SBs.

Chris Capuano, Mil, SP – Capuano is legitimizing his surprise 18 wins of a year ago by jumping out to a 4-2 record with a 2.56 ERA this season. He shut out the Cubs on Sunday, striking out six – he has fanned at least six in each of his six outings.

Byung-Hyun Kim, Col, SP – After the roller-coaster ride his career has taken the past few years, Kim needs all the positive publicity he can get. He gets kudos here for allowing just 1 ER and striking out nine Marlins in 6.2 IP in his season debut victory on Sunday.

Carlos Zambrano, ChC, SP – In his past two outings, Zambrano is 0-1 with an 8.18 ERA, 8 BBs, and 14 H in 11 IP.

Juan Uribe, ChW, SS – Uribe followed his 3-for-4, 2 HR performance on Sunday April 23 by going 1-for-23 this past week.

Ryan Howard, Phi, 1B – Howard hit .22 this past week and led the league with 12 Ks.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
My Y! – Funston squad has taken a vacation south to the league's second division, thanks, in part, to a laundry list of injuries (Jorge Cantu, Derrek Lee and Ken Griffey Jr., at present). RotoWire_Liss continues to dominate. His 94 points are nearly 15 points better than RotoWire – Erickson, currently in second. My latest add is Shea Hillenbrand (dropping Trot Nixon), while Shawn Camp, Mike Lowell and Craig Monroe were recent additions of others in the league.

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