The Skinny: Duke of Pittsburgh

Matt Romig
Yahoo! Sports

CLOSER HOT SEAT

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Brandon Lyon, Jose Valverde
Skinny: Lyon tested his strained elbow by throwing about 20 fastballs from the mound Saturday. Later, he told the Arizona Republic that his arm strength was at about 75 percent. If all goes according to plan, Arizona's saves leader will begin a minor league rehab assignment right around the All-Star break. Bruney has blown only one of nine save chances since taking over, but his days at the end of the bullpen are numbered. Valverde is still in the picture. A part-time closer in each of the past two seasons, he has allowed only one run in his past 11.2 innings, striking out 16 in the process.

CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner, Kent Mercker
Skinny: Weathers gets the nod here only because more save situations will call for a righty. Jerry Narron vowed he wouldn't be naming a closer, and so far Cincinnati's new manager has been true to his word. On June 22, Mercker retired one batter, Jim Edmonds, to earn his first save since 2003. Two nights later it was Weathers who got the call with two right-handed hitters due up in the ninth. The Reds have lost eight of nine since, and with a sell-off on the way, you have to ask yourself if this is a battle that really matters.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Lance Carter, Chad Orvella
Skinny: Tampa Bay's lone All-Star may be wearing a different uniform by August. According to the Tampa Tribune, the Diamondbacks, Braves, Cubs, Red Sox and Marlins have all expressed interest in Baez. The list of suitors must be disconcerting to Baez owners. He could close in Atlanta or Florida, but would probably settle into a set-up role in any other city. Orvella had nine saves and a 0.36 ERA at Double-A Montgomery before he was recalled. If Baez is dealt, the club may just hand the ball to the rookie to see if he has what it takes to close in the big leagues.

ATLANTA BRAVES HOT
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Jim Brower, Brad Boyer
Skinny: First-round draft pick Joey Devine has pitched five hitless innings for Class-A Myrtle Beach, recording a save and seven strikeouts in the process. He was closing games for N.C. State just a few short months ago, but don't rule out an appearance in the Braves bullpen by the end of 2005. Reitsma was cruising before allowing nine hits and five runs in his final two June appearances, both blown saves. Still in the team picture: Dan Kolb has a 1.80 ERA in his past nine outings. If he continues his return to form, the Braves will be less likely to pursue a closer before the trade deadline.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES WARM
1st Chair: Jose Mesa
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez, John Grabow
Skinny: To the surprise of no one, the "For Sale" sign went up outside PNC Park on Sunday. A few weeks ago, as the Pirates flirted with the .500 mark, GM Dave Littlefield was unsure whether the Bucs would be buyers or sellers before the trade deadline. Since then the club has been in a nosedive, prompting Littlefield to tell the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that another fire-sale was in the works. Should a deal for Mesa be reached, it would coincide nicely with the return of Gonzalez from the DL. Gonzalez hasn't been as dominant this year as he was in 2004, but there's hope a stint on the disabled list will restore some zip to his fastball.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS WARM
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt
Skinny: The Royals are willing to deal both MacDougal and Affeldt before the trade deadline, the Kansas City Star reports. If both are sent packing, rookie Ambiorix Burgos will re-enter the picture. The club regards him as their closer of the future, and he had thrown seven straight scoreless innings before landing on the disabled list. Burgos began a Double-A rehab assignment Saturday. He is expected to make at least four more appearances for Wichita before re-joining the Royals.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Yhency Brazoban
2nd Chair: Duaner Sanchez
Skinny: Addressing J.D. Drew's injury and finding a bat to protect Jeff Kent in the lineup have become the Dodgers' top trade-deadline priorities. Brazoban should be safe, assuming the club can't stumble upon a closer for cheap. He owns a 3.63 ERA in save situations, a figure that would be considerably more appealing if he hadn't allowed four earned runs on June 18 against the White Sox. Sanchez has struggled of late. Lefty specialist Kelly Wunsch has finished the eighth inning in L.A.'s past two close victories.

HOUSTON ASTROS WARM
1st Chair: Dan Wheeler
2nd Chair: Brad Lidge
Skinny: The Astros are being very careful with Lidge, who is nursing a mild strain in his right bicep. According to MLB.com, he was scheduled to throw in the bullpen Monday, but the club wasn't sure just when he'd be ready for game action. Roy Oswalt went the distance for Houston on Monday, and before that Wheeler recorded saves in back-to-back games. Wheeler has a WHIP below 1.00 since April and has been striking out opponent batters at a rate of about one per inning.

BOSTON RED SOX LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Keith Foulke
2nd Chair: Mike Timlin
Skinny: Manager Terry Francona continues to stick by his closer, but Foulke's struggles cannot be ignored. Unlike a lot of closers who suffer letdowns in non-save situations, Foulke has reserved his worst work for when it matters most. Through Sunday, his ERA in save situations stood at 10.24. His velocity is down considerably, which no doubt eats away at the effectiveness of his change-up. Timlin, meanwhile, is doing just fine as a setup man. Just how long he remains in that role depends on how Foulke recovers from his most recent troubles.

CLOSER HOT SEAT

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Brandon Lyon, Jose Valverde
Skinny: Lyon tested his strained elbow by throwing about 20 fastballs from the mound Saturday. Later, he told the Arizona Republic that his arm strength was at about 75 percent. If all goes according to plan, Arizona's saves leader will begin a minor league rehab assignment right around the All-Star break. Bruney has blown only one of nine save chances since taking over, but his days at the end of the bullpen are numbered. Valverde is still in the picture. A part-time closer in each of the past two seasons, he has allowed only one run in his past 11.2 innings, striking out 16 in the process.

CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner, Kent Mercker
Skinny: Weathers gets the nod here only because more save situations will call for a righty. Jerry Narron vowed he wouldn't be naming a closer, and so far Cincinnati's new manager has been true to his word. On June 22, Mercker retired one batter, Jim Edmonds, to earn his first save since 2003. Two nights later it was Weathers who got the call with two right-handed hitters due up in the ninth. The Reds have lost eight of nine since, and with a sell-off on the way, you have to ask yourself if this is a battle that really matters.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Lance Carter, Chad Orvella
Skinny: Tampa Bay's lone All-Star may be wearing a different uniform by August. According to the Tampa Tribune, the Diamondbacks, Braves, Cubs, Red Sox and Marlins have all expressed interest in Baez. The list of suitors must be disconcerting to Baez owners. He could close in Atlanta or Florida, but would probably settle into a set-up role in any other city. Orvella had nine saves and a 0.36 ERA at Double-A Montgomery before he was recalled. If Baez is dealt, the club may just hand the ball to the rookie to see if he has what it takes to close in the big leagues.

ATLANTA BRAVES HOT
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Jim Brower, Brad Boyer
Skinny: First-round draft pick Joey Devine has pitched five hitless innings for Class-A Myrtle Beach, recording a save and seven strikeouts in the process. He was closing games for N.C. State just a few short months ago, but don't rule out an appearance in the Braves bullpen by the end of 2005. Reitsma was cruising before allowing nine hits and five runs in his final two June appearances, both blown saves. Still in the team picture: Dan Kolb has a 1.80 ERA in his past nine outings. If he continues his return to form, the Braves will be less likely to pursue a closer before the trade deadline.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES WARM
1st Chair: Jose Mesa
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez, John Grabow
Skinny: To the surprise of no one, the "For Sale" sign went up outside PNC Park on Sunday. A few weeks ago, as the Pirates flirted with the .500 mark, GM Dave Littlefield was unsure whether the Bucs would be buyers or sellers before the trade deadline. Since then the club has been in a nosedive, prompting Littlefield to tell the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that another fire-sale was in the works. Should a deal for Mesa be reached, it would coincide nicely with the return of Gonzalez from the DL. Gonzalez hasn't been as dominant this year as he was in 2004, but there's hope a stint on the disabled list will restore some zip to his fastball.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS WARM
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt
Skinny: The Royals are willing to deal both MacDougal and Affeldt before the trade deadline, the Kansas City Star reports. If both are sent packing, rookie Ambiorix Burgos will re-enter the picture. The club regards him as their closer of the future, and he had thrown seven straight scoreless innings before landing on the disabled list. Burgos began a Double-A rehab assignment Saturday. He is expected to make at least four more appearances for Wichita before re-joining the Royals.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Yhency Brazoban
2nd Chair: Duaner Sanchez
Skinny: Addressing J.D. Drew's injury and finding a bat to protect Jeff Kent in the lineup have become the Dodgers' top trade-deadline priorities. Brazoban should be safe, assuming the club can't stumble upon a closer for cheap. He owns a 3.63 ERA in save situations, a figure that would be considerably more appealing if he hadn't allowed four earned runs on June 18 against the White Sox. Sanchez has struggled of late. Lefty specialist Kelly Wunsch has finished the eighth inning in L.A.'s past two close victories.

HOUSTON ASTROS WARM
1st Chair: Dan Wheeler
2nd Chair: Brad Lidge
Skinny: The Astros are being very careful with Lidge, who is nursing a mild strain in his right bicep. According to MLB.com, he was scheduled to throw in the bullpen Monday, but the club wasn't sure just when he'd be ready for game action. Roy Oswalt went the distance for Houston on Monday, and before that Wheeler recorded saves in back-to-back games. Wheeler has a WHIP below 1.00 since April and has been striking out opponent batters at a rate of about one per inning.

BOSTON RED SOX LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Keith Foulke
2nd Chair: Mike Timlin
Skinny: Manager Terry Francona continues to stick by his closer, but Foulke's struggles cannot be ignored. Unlike a lot of closers who suffer letdowns in non-save situations, Foulke has reserved his worst work for when it matters most. Through Sunday, his ERA in save situations stood at 10.24. His velocity is down considerably, which no doubt eats away at the effectiveness of his change-up. Timlin, meanwhile, is doing just fine as a setup man. Just how long he remains in that role depends on how Foulke recovers from his most recent troubles.

Fresh off the holiday weekend, The Skinny arrives at your doorstep this week with a small format change. Every season, Yahoo! gathers its top in-house experts and a handful of respected fantasy analysts for a draft. While we always do a thorough job of breaking down these drafts, the leagues tend to disappear from there. Until now, that is. Beginning this week, we'll provide a link to our Y! Experts League each week along with a breakdown of what went down. If you want to know which relievers got the hook or which prospects have the industry buzzing, this will be the place to look. If you were stuck manning the grill all weekend, we have the rest of the news for you, too.

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

  • Zach Duke wouldn't cut it as a waiter at Chotchkie's. Reason for termination: not enough flair. Watching Pittsburgh's top pitching prospect make his Major League debut Saturday, it was easy to question whether this was the same guy who was 12-3 in the minors this year after posting a sub-2.00 ERA in 2004. His fastball topped out at 89-90 mph. His delivery is nondescript – totally lacking the personality fellow lefty Oliver Perez brings to every pitch. If he has an out pitch, it's not immediately clear which one it is. There was only one giveaway – one sign that this was, indeed, the same guy Baseball America touted as one of the top 50 prospects in baseball. He just kept getting hitters out.

Duke struck out two of the first three batters he faced, then punched out the side in the seventh, his last inning. In between, he made very few mistakes. A Bill Hall homer, four singles and a walk were the only blemishes on his record. Baseball America calls him "quiet by nature," and that's exactly how he pitches. So is he worth a roster spot in fantasy leagues? Not yet – at least not outside NL-only leagues. Despite the nine strikeouts Saturday, he's not a power pitcher (he had 66 Ks in 108 minor-league innings). He seems to have the poise to be an effective starter, but in Pittsburgh these days that's not good enough. The Pirates are struggling to find clutch hits and their bullpen has been shaky. You can find better productivity elsewhere, but Duke and fellow call-up Ian Snell should be watched closely to gauge their future value.

  • The radar gun was kinder to Detroit prospect Justin Verlander. The book says he has a fastball in the high 90s, and sure enough he was clocked in the 98-99 mph range during his first big league inning. One of those fastballs blew away red-hot slugger Travis Hafner. Unfortunately, not much else got by Cleveland hitters that inning. Verlander was 10-2 with a 1.43 ERA in the minors, but that didn't amount to much as the Indians unleashed a three-run, four-hit attack in the first inning. To his credit, the rookie left the mound with a smile that said, "OK, you got me," and then set about getting back to work. He retired seven straight at one point and would yield only one more run before departing in the sixth.

Overall, it was a mixed bag for Verlander. He showed toughness and an electric fastball, but his location wasn't always there. Detroit needed to be blown away by his debut to keep him around, and that just didn't happen. Verlander has a world of potential, but for fantasy owners looking for an immediate return, Detroit's Sean Douglass has more value. The 6-foot-6 righty was 9-1 at Triple-A Toledo, and is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts with the Tigers. He kept the Yankees at bay for six innings Saturday before the bullpen intervened. With Verlander, Douglass and Joel Zumaya (2.90 ERA/137 Ks at Double-A Erie) under contract, Detroit has a trio of pitching prospects fantasy owners will be getting to know in the near future.

  • Watching Bret Boone address the media Sunday, it was clear that he's a guy who has put his heart and soul into the Seattle organization. It was an emotional moment, one that could pull at the heartstrings of even the most cynical of fantasy owners. For those who don't know, the Mariners designated Boone for assignment. The former All-Star hit just .234 in June with two homers and nine RBIs. The team now has 10 days to release or trade the 36-year-old?

What is the immediate fallout? In Seattle, Jose Lopez takes over at second base. He was a .281 hitter with modest power numbers at Triple-A Tacoma this year. He won't be a factor in fantasy leagues, particularly with potential stars like Rickie Weeks and Jorge Cantu emerging. The Mets and Padres are two teams reported to be interested in Boone. Both have temporary openings at second base due to injury. Boone needs to be cut in all but the deepest of fantasy leagues, but if he does land with a contender, he could become a feel-good story down the stretch.

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

  • Joey Gathright, OF, TB
    This is a need-based add, yes, but who doesn't need steals? Gathright was recalled from Triple-A Durham on Sunday. The speedy outfielder started and batted ninth for the Devil Rays Sunday and Monday. In the minors, Gathright posted a .388 on-base percentage and 31 steals in 58 games. At the big league level, the 24-year-old has nine steals in 26 career games. Guaranteed at-bats will be hard to come by, but all this kid needs to make an impact is a green light and an occasional call to pinch-run.

  • Scott Olsen, SP, Fla
    Can the Marlins catch lightning in a bottle a second time with a direct-from-Carolina product? It was two seasons ago that Dontrelle Willis made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues. He won 14 games that year for the parent club. The Marlins would probably settle for half that total from Olsen, who recently replaced Al Leiter in the starting rotation. In his first Major League start, Olsen fanned seven batters, the same total Willis punched out in his 2003 debut. On Monday, the lefty validated that start by striking out eight Brewers in 5.2 innings. Though he wound up with a no-decision, he displayed command and a mid-90s fastball that merits a spot in the rotation. Don't forget: Dolphins Stadium ranks among the most pitcher-friendly ballparks.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Delmon Young, OF, TB/Double-A (ETA – August 1)
    Too soon to start thinking about Young making his Major League debut? Not if you consider the fact that Miguel Cabrera was just 20 years old when he was promoted from Double-A to the big leagues. Young's numbers at Double-A Montgomery are simply ridiculous. Through 80 games, the 19-year-old is batting .332 with 19 homers, 70 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. According to Baseball America, he has more offensive upside than any of Tampa's prospects, including Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton.

  • Matt Cain, RP, SF/Triple-A (ETA – July 31)
    Cain took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his most recent minor league start. The 20-year-old would have to settle for his fifth win of the season after allowing one run on two hits in that sixth frame. The Pacific Coast League is generally regarded as hitter-friendly, but Cain has managed solid numbers: 97 strikeouts in 86.2 innings, a .209 opponent's average and an ERA of 3.95. The only not-so-favorable figure has been posted in the walk column, where Cain has issued 47 free passes. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday that while the Giants are taking it slow with Cain, he's certain to earn a promotion this season.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Chris Burke, LF/2B, Hou – Burke extended his hitting streak to nine games on Monday. Since June 19, he has raised his batting average from .181 to .237, stealing four bases along the way.

Russ Adams, SS, Tor – Since June 20, Adams has outperformed most fantasy shortstops. His totals: 12-for-38, two homers, 15 RBIs and eight runs scored. Not bad for a nine-game span. Toronto is committed to getting him more at bats against lefties.

Jamey Wright, SP, Col – In his past six starts, Wright is 3-3 with a 3.38 ERA. In those six games, he has issued only eight free passes. He walked 32 in his first 10 starts. He's still pretty much untouchable while with the Rockies, but there are rumblings that he may be shipped before the trade deadline.

Willy Taveras, CF, Hou – Taveras swiped two bases Monday, his third and fourth thefts in six games after a 22-game dry spell.

Ryan Howard, 1B, Phi – The home run he hit at Citizens Bank Park Sunday would have been a medium-deep fly out in just about every other Major League park and most of your local softball diamonds. Still, he doesn't have to apologize for his home field. Howard is 5-for-12 with three runs and four RBIs since Jim Thome was placed on the DL.

Eric Young, 2B/OF, SD – In a surprise return from a dislocated shoulder injury, Young collected three hits in four trips Saturday. If the Padres don't make a run at Bret Boone, Young could see his role increase while Mark Loretta is sidelined.

Ryan Drese, SP, Was – Whether it's the friendly confines of RFK Stadium or the tutelage of pitching coach Randy St. Claire, there's something about joining the Nationals pitching staff. Drese is 2-1 with a 0.96 WHIP since joining the Washington rotation.

Orlando Hudson, 2B, Tor – Since June 20, Hudson is 15-for-45 (.333) with 12 runs scored and 12 RBIs in 12 games.

Craig Wilson, 1B/OF, Pit – Wilson was 1-for-3 with an RBI single on Monday in his first rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis. You may remember that Wilson hit 29 homers in 2004. He had four doubles and a home run in six May games before going on the DL with a finger injury.

Corey Patterson, OF, ChC – It looks like Patterson might be stuck in a reserve role for a while. He pinch ran on Sunday and went hitless as a pinch-hitter Monday. Jerry Hairston tops the Cubs lineup while Patterson tries to work out of his slump.

Randy Winn, OF, Sea – The Mariners recalled outfielder Chris Snelling on Sunday. He hit .363 at Triple-A Tacoma and his addition to the roster could signal the beginning of the end for Winn in Seattle.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
Derek Lee got the nod over Albert Pujols in the All-Star voting, but it's Pujols who currently sits atop the Y! Experts League as a member of Y! Funston. Lee, fresh off another ho-hum, three-homer week, sits in second just 0.5 roto points behind.

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