The Skinny: Chen and Wang

Matt Romig
Yahoo! Sports

CLOSER HOT SEAT

CHICAGO CUBS RED HOT
1st Chair: LaTroy Hawkins
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski, Michael Wuertz
Skinny: After completing a simulated game on Saturday in Houston, Borowski was off to Triple-A Iowa, where he is expected to make his first rehab appearance on Tuesday. The Chicago Tribune reported on Sunday that the Cubs would like to see Borowski appear in back-to-back games before activating him. Until then, manager Dusty Baker is expected to employ a "closer-by-situation" strategy. He indicated that Hawkins, Wuertz and Mike Remlinger were all in the closer mix, but it was Hawkins who got the call with games on the line on Wednesday (win) and Friday (save). Sleeper: Roberto Novoa has been clocked in the high-90s and was Hawkins' setup guy in Friday's win.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Ambiorix Burgos
2nd Chair: Mike MacDougal, Andy Sisco
Skinny: You don't make the jump from low Class-A in 2004 to Kansas City's closer chair in '05 without having some explosive stuff. Burgos punctuated that thought on Sunday by striking out Ronnie Belliard to close out Cleveland and earn his first big league save. The rookie has been force-fed a series of pressure situations, having been inserted into two tie games and two one-run games in four appearances. So far, so good for Burgos – but temper your expectations. Kansas City has just two saves as a team. Even if they turn things around, Jeremy Affeldt may well re-claim his job soon. He got favorable results from an MRI last week and is slowly resuming physical activity as he recovers from a strained groin.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX RED HOT
1st Chair: Shingo Takatsu
2nd Chair: Dustin Hermanson
Skinny: Manager Ozzie Guillen could single-handedly keep the Closer Hot Seat in business. Consider these gems: After Takatsu suffered a loss on Friday in a non-save situation, Guillen was sympathetic. "You're going to blow games as a closer," he said. "If you do, you still have to be ready the next day." One night later the manager backed up those comments in a 4-3 game by handing the ball to … Dustin Hermanson? Sure, Hermanson has been effective, but it was an oddly timed move considering the vote of confidence. His justification? "I didn't think Takatsu threw the ball very well Friday," Guillen told the Chicago Tribune. OK, then. Bottom line: Whether it's a post-game interview or the late innings of a tight game, you never know what to expect from Guillen.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS HOT
1st Chair: Derrick Turnbow
2nd Chair: Mike Adams, Matt Wise
Skinny: With shaggy hair and a blazing fastball, Turnbow seems like a perfect fit for a city that once embraced Pete Vukovich as a cult hero. It doesn't hurt that he's also getting batters out. Through Sunday, he had converted all three of his save chances while holding opponents to a .108 batting average. Whether the Los Angeles Angels made a mistake waiving him last winter remains to be seen. He did walk 36 batters in 38 innings in 2000 and through 10 games this year has issued seven free passes in 11.1 innings. Adams has appeared in only one game since walking three against the Giants on April 24.

COLORADO ROCKIES HOT
1st Chair: Chin-Hui Tsao
2nd Chair: Brian Fuentes
Skinny: Since The Skinny last checked in on the Rockies bullpen, Colorado has suffered through three rainouts and a four-game losing streak. Tsao pitched a scoreless mop-up inning on Friday, but hasn't pitched with a lead since recording his second save April 23. Ryan Speier, who had been targeted as a possible closer, was optioned to Triple-A on Thursday after allowing opponents to hit .417 off him in 10 appearances. Veteran Jay Witasick took his spot in the bullpen and immediate passed batting tee Byung-Hyun Kim on the depth chart.

NEW YORK METS WARM
1st Chair: Braden Looper
2nd Chair: Mike DeJean, Roberto Hernandez
Skinny: Looper successfully converted his third straight save chance on Sunday, but not before allowing the tying run to come to the plate while protecting a three-run lead against the Nationals. With a career K/9 innings average of only 5.76, it is clear that Looper doesn't have typical closer stuff. He got by on smarts last year, but craftiness only goes so far. Hernandez and DeJean have allowed earned runs in only three of a combined 21 appearances.

CLEVELAND INDIANS WARM
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Bob Howry, David Riske
Skinny: Like Miguel Tejada's backup or John Rocker's agent, Wickman hasn't had much work lately. Since recording a save April 23 against Seattle, Wickman has settled for one scoreless inning of mop-up work. At his age, he could use the rest, but it doesn't help his fantasy value. Riske hasn't been scored upon in 2005, Howry has been sharp and even Arthur Rhodes is enjoying a bounce-back season. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported on Sunday that Cleveland's deep bullpen has been the subject of trade talk.

CINCINNATI REDS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Danny Graves
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner
Skinny: After allowing just one hit while striking out seven in his previous 6.1 innings, Wagner was touched for four runs on Saturday in a 6-5 loss at Milwaukee. That blemish aside, Wagner has been Cincinnati's most effective reliever in 2005. Graves is a perfect 8-for-8 converting saves, but has allowed 20 baserunners in just over 10 innings.

ATLANTA BRAVES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Dan Kolb
2nd Chair: Chris Reitsma
Skinny: Kolb walked Albert Pujols (a smart move), then retired Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen to notch his seventh save of the season on Sunday. Given that he was protecting a one-run lead for hard-luck starter John Smoltz, it was a job-saving effort for Kolb. Atlanta's closer had been pulled by manager Bobby Cox after allowing two runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday. Reitsma has allowed only two hits in his past 6.2 innings and now boasts an ERA of 0.66.

CLOSER HOT SEAT

CHICAGO CUBS RED HOT
1st Chair: LaTroy Hawkins
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski, Michael Wuertz
Skinny: After completing a simulated game on Saturday in Houston, Borowski was off to Triple-A Iowa, where he is expected to make his first rehab appearance on Tuesday. The Chicago Tribune reported on Sunday that the Cubs would like to see Borowski appear in back-to-back games before activating him. Until then, manager Dusty Baker is expected to employ a "closer-by-situation" strategy. He indicated that Hawkins, Wuertz and Mike Remlinger were all in the closer mix, but it was Hawkins who got the call with games on the line on Wednesday (win) and Friday (save). Sleeper: Roberto Novoa has been clocked in the high-90s and was Hawkins' setup guy in Friday's win.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Ambiorix Burgos
2nd Chair: Mike MacDougal, Andy Sisco
Skinny: You don't make the jump from low Class-A in 2004 to Kansas City's closer chair in '05 without having some explosive stuff. Burgos punctuated that thought on Sunday by striking out Ronnie Belliard to close out Cleveland and earn his first big league save. The rookie has been force-fed a series of pressure situations, having been inserted into two tie games and two one-run games in four appearances. So far, so good for Burgos – but temper your expectations. Kansas City has just two saves as a team. Even if they turn things around, Jeremy Affeldt may well re-claim his job soon. He got favorable results from an MRI last week and is slowly resuming physical activity as he recovers from a strained groin.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX RED HOT
1st Chair: Shingo Takatsu
2nd Chair: Dustin Hermanson
Skinny: Manager Ozzie Guillen could single-handedly keep the Closer Hot Seat in business. Consider these gems: After Takatsu suffered a loss on Friday in a non-save situation, Guillen was sympathetic. "You're going to blow games as a closer," he said. "If you do, you still have to be ready the next day." One night later the manager backed up those comments in a 4-3 game by handing the ball to … Dustin Hermanson? Sure, Hermanson has been effective, but it was an oddly timed move considering the vote of confidence. His justification? "I didn't think Takatsu threw the ball very well Friday," Guillen told the Chicago Tribune. OK, then. Bottom line: Whether it's a post-game interview or the late innings of a tight game, you never know what to expect from Guillen.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS HOT
1st Chair: Derrick Turnbow
2nd Chair: Mike Adams, Matt Wise
Skinny: With shaggy hair and a blazing fastball, Turnbow seems like a perfect fit for a city that once embraced Pete Vukovich as a cult hero. It doesn't hurt that he's also getting batters out. Through Sunday, he had converted all three of his save chances while holding opponents to a .108 batting average. Whether the Los Angeles Angels made a mistake waiving him last winter remains to be seen. He did walk 36 batters in 38 innings in 2000 and through 10 games this year has issued seven free passes in 11.1 innings. Adams has appeared in only one game since walking three against the Giants on April 24.

COLORADO ROCKIES HOT
1st Chair: Chin-Hui Tsao
2nd Chair: Brian Fuentes
Skinny: Since The Skinny last checked in on the Rockies bullpen, Colorado has suffered through three rainouts and a four-game losing streak. Tsao pitched a scoreless mop-up inning on Friday, but hasn't pitched with a lead since recording his second save April 23. Ryan Speier, who had been targeted as a possible closer, was optioned to Triple-A on Thursday after allowing opponents to hit .417 off him in 10 appearances. Veteran Jay Witasick took his spot in the bullpen and immediate passed batting tee Byung-Hyun Kim on the depth chart.

NEW YORK METS WARM
1st Chair: Braden Looper
2nd Chair: Mike DeJean, Roberto Hernandez
Skinny: Looper successfully converted his third straight save chance on Sunday, but not before allowing the tying run to come to the plate while protecting a three-run lead against the Nationals. With a career K/9 innings average of only 5.76, it is clear that Looper doesn't have typical closer stuff. He got by on smarts last year, but craftiness only goes so far. Hernandez and DeJean have allowed earned runs in only three of a combined 21 appearances.

CLEVELAND INDIANS WARM
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Bob Howry, David Riske
Skinny: Like Miguel Tejada's backup or John Rocker's agent, Wickman hasn't had much work lately. Since recording a save April 23 against Seattle, Wickman has settled for one scoreless inning of mop-up work. At his age, he could use the rest, but it doesn't help his fantasy value. Riske hasn't been scored upon in 2005, Howry has been sharp and even Arthur Rhodes is enjoying a bounce-back season. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported on Sunday that Cleveland's deep bullpen has been the subject of trade talk.

CINCINNATI REDS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Danny Graves
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner
Skinny: After allowing just one hit while striking out seven in his previous 6.1 innings, Wagner was touched for four runs on Saturday in a 6-5 loss at Milwaukee. That blemish aside, Wagner has been Cincinnati's most effective reliever in 2005. Graves is a perfect 8-for-8 converting saves, but has allowed 20 baserunners in just over 10 innings.

ATLANTA BRAVES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Dan Kolb
2nd Chair: Chris Reitsma
Skinny: Kolb walked Albert Pujols (a smart move), then retired Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen to notch his seventh save of the season on Sunday. Given that he was protecting a one-run lead for hard-luck starter John Smoltz, it was a job-saving effort for Kolb. Atlanta's closer had been pulled by manager Bobby Cox after allowing two runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday. Reitsma has allowed only two hits in his past 6.2 innings and now boasts an ERA of 0.66.

The calendar couldn't turn fast enough for The Skinny. The rosters may be the same, but May brings with it an air of promise for fantasy owners suffering with a stable full of slow starters. An illogical optimism? Maybe, but as if to say "thanks for keeping the faith," Vernon Wells collected two hits on Sunday to raise his average above .200. He wasn't alone. Bret Boone collected six hits, Ken Griffey Jr. ended his homerless drought and even Mike Lowell has a seven-game hitting streak. Yes, I own all these players on one team, and you can add Eric Chavez and Victor Martinez to the list. Painful as it is, here's a last look back at April:

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

  • Watching Chien-Ming Wang's delivery is like watching ketchup drip from a freshly opened bottle, but if you blink you might miss an entire half-inning of work. The Skinny was a step slow on Saturday. By the time the remote control landed on the Toronto/New York game, Wang had dispatched the Blue Jays on six pitches in his first inning of Major League work. Eighteen deliberate windups later, he had set down 10 hitters in a row. The rookie rarely missed a target in the first four innings, setting down hitter after hitter on squibs, broken bats and routine plays. Toronto's one big rally plated two runs and went like this: broken-bat single, walk, ground out, ground out, infield hit, ground out.

For the Yankees, and fantasy owners looking for something to talk about, the start couldn't have gone much better. Sure, he didn't strike anyone out, but John Smoltz and Roy Oswalt would combined for two strikeouts one day later. With Jaret Wright on the shelf for 4-6 weeks (if not more), the Yankees are hoping Wang can give them the same type of shot in the arm they got from Jose Contreras in 2003 and El Duque in 2004. Those two combined to go 15-4 in 24 starts. It would be premature to predict similar success for Wang. Hitters adjust, but from what we saw on Saturday, the kid looked pretty unflappable. The safe play for fantasy owners is to claim him now before his next start against the struggling Devil Rays.

  • With an eight-game winning streak and recent series wins over Boston and the Yankees under their belts, it appears that the Orioles have answered any and all questions about the legitimacy of their April success. The only question left to ponder is what benefits fantasy owners can glean from this resurgence. Traditionally, the first place to look is the bottom of the pitching rotation. Here, the Orioles do not disappoint. On Saturday, they were beneficiaries of a gem by Erik Bedard. In his past two starts, Bedard hasn't allowed a run in 15 innings, striking out 13 while walking only one batter in the process. On Sunday, it was Bruce Chen's turn. He struck out seven to beat Tampa Bay and improve to 3-1 in his past four starts.

Both players are watch-worthy, at the very least. Bedard was named the top prospect in the Baltimore organization by Baseball America in 2003. He appears to be rounding into form. Chen held opponents to a .220 batting average for the Orioles in 2004 and carried that success through spring training with 14.2 scoreless innings. He finally caught a scheduling break on Sunday after facing either New York or Boston in each of his first four starts. On the offensive side, you'll probably find the Baltimore roster picked pretty clean in your league. The one remaining diamond in the rough may be Jay Gibbons, who has four homers, 10 RBIs and 11 runs scored in his past nine games.

  • To include all the teams employing temps as their closer would force the Closer Hot Seat off the page, so The Skinny will take on a few banged-up bullpens in this space. We'll start in San Francisco, where the use of buzz words has reached such ridiculous proportions that manager Felipe Alou has reportedly implemented a "closer-by-congregation" system. Whatever. For now it appears Alou will use anyone at any time. On Saturday, he stopped just short of having Greg Minton and Jim Barr warm up, using seven total relievers. Jim Brower would end up with the save, but Matt Herges and Jeff Fassero figure to get their share of chances until a go-to guy surfaces.

In Florida, Guillermo Mota was placed on the 15-day DL with an inflamed elbow. The move was retroactive so he's eligible to return next week against Houston, but manager Jack McKean expects to be without his closer for at least three weeks. McKean called veteran Todd Jones "the guy," after Detroit's long-time closer got the final five outs on Friday to earn his first save of 2005 against Philadelphia. The shortest stay on the sidelines will belong to Jason Isringhausen, who is expected to resume closing games for St. Louis as soon as he's eligible on May 11. That's good news considering manager Tony LaRussa's propensity for micro-managing in the late innings. Julian Tavarez and Ray King are the likely closer candidates with Izzy on the DL, but Al Reyes managed to steal a save by retiring a single batter on Friday.

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

  • Alexis Rios, OF, Tor
    Much has been made of Rios' lack of power – and for good reason. A corner outfielder who stands 6-foot 5 should have more than one home run in 514 career at-bats. Heck – Mark Prior has just as many homers in almost 400 fewer tries. If Rios is letting the power outage get to him, it doesn't show at the plate. Through Sunday, he's on an 11-for-23 tear with six runs scored, five RBIs and two stolen bases. Call him a poor-man's Luis Matos for now. That may not be saying much, but if he continues to run (3 SB attempts/last 5 games), he'll be a valuable pickup for managers looking for stolen base and batting average help.

  • Bronson Arroyo, SP, Bos
    It can be startling at times just how much fantasy owners overvalue the strikeout. Boston's rotation provides a perfect example. Matt Clement is a sub-.500 pitcher with a career WHIP inching toward 1.50 but, because he'll strike out nearly a batter per inning, he's nearly universally owned. Arroyo, on the other hand, doesn't mind seeing the ball get put into play. He's walked only two batters in his past 20 innings and seven total in five starts. Yet, because his strikeout figure is stalled at 15 in 31.2 innings, you'll find him available in more than half of Yahoo! leagues. Arroyo has won two straight and has allowed three or fewer runs in four of five starts.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Ryan Howard, 1B, Phi
    Howard wants to be traded. His agent said as much, and you can't blame the kid or his agent for losing patience. He has proven himself at every level, but it will take the implementation of the DH in the National League or Jim Thome's retirement to give him a shot. Well, that or a serious injury to Thome. Philadelphia's slugger is on the verge of a DL stint with persistent pain from back spasms. Could Howard get his shot? The Phillies aren't talking, but Howard's bat is speaking loudly once again. At Triple-A he's batting .316 (.423 OBP) with four homers and 14 RBIs in 23 games.

  • Matt Cain, SP, SF (ETA – July 1)
    The Giants are wisely resisting the temptation to recall Cain to solve their short-term closer problems. That doesn't mean we won't see him in a San Francisco uniform this season. Cain took a no-hitter into the eighth inning on Thursday. He finished with 10 strikeouts in 7.1 innings while improving to 3-0 on the season. Only one level waits to test Cain, and it's likely we'll see him perform in the big leagues before the season is done.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Jason Ellison, LF, SF – Manager Felipe Alou describes Ellison as a player who brings a lot of electricity to the game. He rewarded the youngster with four straight starts, and Ellison responded by going 9-for-16 with seven runs scored. He has four steals and is batting .565 against lefties.

John Thomson, SP, Atl – Thomson allowed only one earned run in six innings on Saturday against St. Louis. In his past two starts he's 1-0 with 13 strikeouts and an 0.69 ERA in 13 innings.

Brad Hawpe, OF, Col – Dustan Mohr's return to action couldn't force Hawpe's bat out of the Colorado lineup. He homered on Saturday and collected two more hits on Sunday to raise his season average to .396.

Wade Miller, SP, Bos – After pitching five shutout innings for Triple-A Pawtucket last week, Miller may soon be rewarding fantasy owners for their patience. He is expected to make one more rehab start before joining the Red Sox.

Austin Kearns, OF, Cin – Kearns regained his cleanup spot and promptly hit in three straight games, including a home run, four runs and four RBIs.

Neifi Perez, SS, ChC – The no-brainer upgrade of the week is 15-for-34 with eight runs scored in Chicago's past nine games. Rumor has it, however, that the Cubs are scouting Arizona's Alex Cintron as a possible addition to the post-Nomar infield.

Tadahito Iguchi, 2B, ChW – Discarded by many fantasy owners after a slow start, Iguchi is enjoying a productive stretch with nine hits in his past 17 at-bats. He has two steals and four runs scored in his past four starts.

Esteban Loaiza, P, Was – Loaiza punched out 11 Phillies on Thursday and now has 22 strikeouts in his past 19 innings. He hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his past four starts, but he's still looking for his first win of 2005.

Kevin Youkilis, 3B, Bos – Back with Boston after an extended stay at Triple-A Pawtucket, Youkilis went 4-for-8 with a run and three RBIs in two weekend starts for the Red Sox.

Ken Harvey, 1B/DH, KC – Harvey was hitless on Sunday, but he started his season with seven hits in 14 at-bats including a grand slam on Saturday. He batted .375 with three homers in 18 games at Triple-A Omaha.

Jorge Cantu, 2B, TB – Mired in a 6-for-33 slump, Cantu has begun to lose at-bats to Nick Green, who is heading in the other direction after a 10-for-19 streak.

Carlos Lee, LF, Mil – After a hitless series last week, Lee is now 5-for-54 (.093) career against St. Louis Cardinals pitching.

Carlos Pena, 1B, Det – Though he collected two hits on Sunday, his streak of homerless games reached 17 as the series with Chicago came to a close.

Jason Lane, OF, Hou – Lane has just two hits in his past 19 plate appearances. He hasn't homered since April 17 and his four-steal, mid-month barrage is starting to look like an aberration.

Kevin Millar, 1B, Bos – The Red Sox inked John Olerud to a minor league deal on Sunday. He's auditioning for a backup role, but the move is hardly a vote of confidence for Millar, who is just two for his past 18.

Hideki Matsui, OF, NYY – The move would be seen as disrespectful in Japan, but Matsui appears to have taken his demotion to sixth from the cleanup spot as business as usual. He was 1-for-3 with a double and two RBIs on Sunday.

Kerry Wood, SP, ChC – The Chicago Tribune reported on Monday that Wood will miss at least one start and possibly more after leaving Saturday's game with shoulder tendonitis.

Jim Thome, 1B, Phi – As he continues to struggle at the plate (3 for his past 22), the Phillies are considering placing Thome on the disabled list with back spasms.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
.818 Lyle Overbay's batting average since taking 12 stitches Tuesday after a run-in with some plexiglass in foul territory. In three weekend games he had three homers, three doubles, five runs scored and seven RBIs.

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