June 2009

Atkins, Fox capitalize in DH slot


you forgot about (or didn’t even recognize) these names before Interleague got kicked off, you
should now:

  • Interleague
    Play allowed Garrett Atkins
    to remind Rockies management (and owners) why they’ve held off on trading him
    in recent years. There’s no defending his sluggish season totals. But consider
    all that’s working in his favor: His
    underlying skills remain unchanged from last year, he still plays at Coors
    Field, Colorado probably wants to showcase him before the Deadline, and he’s
    coming off a three-game series in which he went 8-for-13 in Oakland. Roll it
    all up, and you have something promising. Even if you don’t play in a deep
    enough league to fully appreciate a guy like Atkins floating around on the
    waiver wire this time of year, he’s still worth watching. Big second-half
    performances in 2006 and ’07
    suggest another one could be in the works.

  • Could
    Jonny Gomes
    be the next Russell Branyan? The power is certainly there for
    another late-blooming power surge, and coming off an eight-game tear in which
    he hit .407 with three homers and eight RBIs during Interleague action, the
    playing time should be too. The Reds are desperate for right-handed pop, and
    Gomes has what it takes to fill the void in left field, even if he hits no better than .270
    along the way. 
  • Another
    National League slugger who benefited from batting in the designated
    slot was Jake Fox, who rang up a .357 average, two homers and nine RBIs over the past
    seven days. With Aramis Ramirez not due back for another couple of weeks or so,
    there’s a window of time for Fox to take advantage of playing time at third base. Remember, this guy was making a
    mockery of Triple-A pitching before the Cubs gave him the call.  
  • Everyone
    thought J.A. Happ would eventually crack the Phillies’ rotation, but who knew he would toss a complete-game
    shutout against one of the American League’s top offenses on the road? After
    making quick work of the Blue Jays and improving his record to 5-0 with a 3.00
    ERA, the rookie lefty could further endear himself to Philly fans when he takes
    on a depleted Mets lineup next time out.
  • The
    Rays haven’t officially thrown the closer tag on J.P. Howell, but that didn’t
    stop him from nailing down his fifth save Sunday against the Marlins. With Troy
    Percival mulling retirement and no other Rays reliever stepping up to the
    plate, the job appears to be the 26-year-old lefty’s to lose.
  • What
    in Jake Peavy’s name has gotten into Chad Gaudin? Striking out 11 Mariners over seven innings of two-run ball is
    one thing, but one-hitting the high-flying Rangers over eight shutout innings the next time out is quite another.
  • A
    no-name offense hasn’t stopped the Giants from staying in the playoff hunt, so
    don’t let it stop you from snagging their latest surprise hitter in Nate
    . It looks like he’s overtaken Fred Lewis as the club’s everyday
    left fielder for good, thanks to a preposterous five-game stretch in which he’s
    gone 12-for-21 (.571) with two long balls.
  • If
    Schierholtz is San Francisco’s latest successful experiment, then Pablo
    has to be the poster boy. That’s right, the second-year cornerman has
    emerged as a legit middle-of-the-order slugger, and one who qualifies at
    catcher in most formats, no less. 
  • Don’t
    count on the other Giants surprise story known as Ryan Sadowski, even if he
    held a formidable Brewers lineup scoreless during his big league debut Sunday.
    Why so skeptical, you ask? If most scouts have a hard time identifying a
    26-year-old righty, and his Minor League ERA stands at 4.67, chances are he
    won’t be very good.
  • Speaking
    of the farm, Ian Snell struck out a Minor League season-high 17 batters Sunday,
    including 13 in a row at one point. Of course, Tom Gorzelanny struck out 12 the
    day before against the same team, so take it with a grain of salt.
  • Remember
    Emilio Bonifacio? You know, the speedy Marlins third baseman who stole our hearts in the season’s first couple of
    weeks and then disappeared into the night? Well, he’s back doing his best Chone Figgins impression in the
    Sunshine state, riding a six-game hit streak into Monday, during which time he’s batting .348 with four swipes.
  • Speaking
    of cheap speed, shortstop Everth Cabrera wasted no time shaking off a 60-day disabled list stint, staking claim to
    the Padres’ shortstop job by
    hitting .323 with three swipes since returning to action on June 20.


Cushing, MLB.com

New uniform, familiar foe for Smoltz


It’s safe to say my first try at
previewing all the scheduled games Wednesday fell flat. Although Johnny Damon
bounced off the bench and went 3-for-5, the featured player who was expected to
return — Chris B. Young — only saw daylight as a pinch-hitter. Brad Lidge was
absent as well, although he was activated off the 15-day DL Thursday.


One player who won’t leave fantasy
owners high and dry Thursday is John Smoltz, whose season debut and return from
2008 shoulder surgery has been marked on the calendar since last week. Smoltz
couldn’t ask for more favorable circumstances — he’s toeing the rubber for the
first-place Red Sox and facing the last-place Nationals.  It’s the old vs.
the new: a 42-year-old future Hall of Famer squaring off against 23-year-old
rookie Jordan Zimmermann. Starting Smoltz might be too difficult to pass up,
even if the last time he saw game action was more than a year ago.


Two more intriguing matchups
warrant attention at sundown:


The first is Andy Pettitte vs.
Derek Lowe
. Both pitchers are in similar stages of their careers with similar
season lines. Granted, Lowe has aged better than Pettitte, largely because he
stayed in the NL while Pettitte went back to wearing pinstripes. Still, there’s
no comparing the Braves’ offense to the Yankees’, and with Lowe’s K/9 dipping
noticeably — from 6.27 last year to 4.97 in ’09 — Pettitte has to be the
favorite. Beyond this start, Lowe is an arm to consider selling.


The other matchup involves a pair
of promising young arms in Johnny Cueto and Brett Cecil. While Cueto is in the
midst of a breakthrough campaign with a 2.55 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, Cecil could
very well be ready to embark on one. Among the most talented southpaw prospects
in the game, the 22-year-old has a good support system working in his favor,
and the ’09 Reds are a far cry from the Big Red Machine.


On the offensive end, David Ortiz
will go for his third homer in as many days amid a resurgent month of June
(.327 AVG, 6 HR, 15 RBIs, .706 SLG).


How ’bout that Adam LaRoche? While
his annual slow starts must frustrate owners to no end, at least he’s
consistent. After two sluggish months, the soon-to-be free agent boasts a .357
average with seven doubles, four homers and 14 ribbies during June. Like Papi, he’s also
aiming for his third consecutive bomb.


Coming off another multi-hit game,
the mighty Cody Ross — who’s hitting .404 in his last 13 games — should only
continue building steam against all-too-vulnerable Orioles lefty Rich


You have to think Pat Burrell
circled the date when the Phillies were coming to town, no?  The mustachioed
DH homered against his former club on Wednesday, ending a homerless drought
that dates back to April 13. Another jack wouldn’t be shocking Thursday against
rookie lefty Antonio Bastardo.


Forget Scott Rolen all you want,
but he’s one of baseball’s hottest hitters and somehow remains available in
many leagues. The veteran rides a 13-game hit streak (.446 AVG) into Thursday
against Cueto.


Lindstrom injury creates closer vacancy


The Marlins just put Matt Lindstrom
on the 15-day DL because of right elbow inflammation, creating an opening in
the back of their bullpen.


Who takes over as Florida’s closer
in Lindstrom’s absence? Normally, Kiko Calero would be best suited to take his
place, having established himself as the club’s top setup man, but he also landed
on the DL recently. How about Leo Nunez? That would make sense, except for the
fact that Nunez left Tuesday night’s outing because of a sprained ankle and is
questionable for Wednesday. A speedy recovery would give him the leg up, but
nothing suggests he’s anything close to a sure thing.


Still, with no clear favorite, consider
taking a flier on Dan Meyer, who boasts a 2.10 ERA and a 29/7 K/BB ratio in 30
innings this season. Sure, he’s a lefty who up until this season was known
mostly as the disappointing starter Oakland got in the Tim Hudson deal, but
transitioning to the bullpen has revived his career: Meyer has actually fared
better against righty hitters (.155 AVG) than lefty hitters (.199 AVG) this
season, and while he may be accustomed to longer middle-relief outings, the
Marlins have few alternatives if Nunez can’t hack it. The bottom line is that
Meyer has excelled under the radar this year, and that matters when saves are
up for grabs this way. Good pitching has a way of busting through the door, regardless
of team politics.  


Other potential options include
Renyel Pinto and Brian Sanches.

Cushing, MLB.com

Big names returning to fold

  • votto_sizemore_maggs.jpgWhile the 15-day disabled list grew
    larger Monday with the addition of Carlos Beltran and Ervin Santana, two big
    names returned to action on Tuesday: Grady Sizemore and Joey Votto, both of
    whom were officially activated just hours ago.


  • Ryan Howard will likely rejoin the
    Phillies lineup as the designated hitter after being hospitalized this past
    weekend because of “acute sinusitis.”


  • And then there’s the curious case
    of Magglio Ordonez, who’s been benched since June 17 by Tigers manager Jim
    Leyland in order to “get away from it.” The “it” he’s referring to is the pedestrian
    year Magglio is having (.273 AVG, 3 HR, 17 RBIs), as well as rumors surrounding
    his potential release/trade.


  • Also expected back are Cubs
    outfielders Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley after getting Monday off.


  • Other notable players hoping to
    crack Tuesday’s lineup include Justin Morneau (general body soreness), Jermaine
    (calf), Johnny Damon (calf), Yunel Escobar (hip), Adrian Beltre (shoulder),
    Mike Lowell (hip), Placido Polanco (leg), Jason Kubel (illness), Jason Giambi (body
    soreness), Ryan Garko (wrist), Russell Branyan (arm), Ken Griffey Jr. (knee), Chris
    B. Young
    (groin) and Scott Hairston (biceps).


  • CC Sabathia‘s availability hinges
    largely on Tuesday’s bullpen session. The Yankees ace reluctantly exited during
    the second inning of Sunday’s start against the Marlins because of biceps
    tendinitis. If all goes well, chances are he’ll make his next scheduled start
    June 26 against the Mets. A DL trip hasn’t been ruled out, either.


Three potential pickups:


Keep a close eye on Khalil Greene,
who seems to have overcome Sunday’s plunking and the social anxiety disorder
that sidelined a few weeks ago, having homered in three of five games since
returning from the 15-day DL.


Will the Tigers continue going with
Marcus Thames, who tagged three homers in two games last Thursday and Friday?
One can only hope so, considering how monstrous Thames was last June, when he
erupted for seven bombs in as many days.


Andrew Miller‘s improving command
was one of the hot topics of Monday’s spot starters of the week, and another
strong outing could make him an attractive waiver-wire option.


— Alex
Cushing, MLB.com

Miller light strategy takes center stage


It pays to take chances every once
in a while.


Those of you who seized on last
week’s recommended spot-starters — namely, Ricky Romero and Dallas
— know exactly what I’m talking about.


And to those of you who went with Luke Hochevar instead, I don’t know what you’re
talking about.


But last week is last week. Let’s
check out this week’s slew of arms facing favorable matchups:


Andrew Miller, LHP, Marlins

Matchup: June 23 vs. Baltimore, at
Tampa Bay

Summary: Control has always been
Miller’s Achilles’ heel, but he seems to be making some good headway in that
area, illustrated by his 19/5 K/BB ratio in his last three starts and 17 1/3
innings. Look for continued progress when Miller plays host to the Orioles at
home, where he’s gone 2-0 with a 3.52 ERA this season compared to a 6.10 ERA
elsewhere. If your league allows daily roster moves, though, consider benching
him against the Rays later in the week. 


Brandon Morrow, RHP, Mariners

Matchup: June 24 vs. San Diego

Summary: Last week, Morrow struck
out six Padres and walked one in four innings of two-run ball, a fine, albeit unspectacular,
return to the Mariners rotation. This week, he again takes on the light-hitting
Padres, only this time at home, where he boasts a career 2.92 ERA against a
5.52 ERA on the road.


Brett Cecil, LHP, Blue Jays

Matchup: June 25 vs. Cincinnati

Summary: Replacing Roy Halladay in
the Blue Jays rotation might intimidate some starters, but Cecil took it in
stride, tossing seven innings of three-run ball against the Nationals over the
weekend. The 22-year-old lefty doesn’t garner the hype of, say, Tommy Hanson,
but make no mistake — he’s one of the top pitching prospects around. Plus,
four of his five starts have been quality starts, and he brings a 22/7 K/BB
ratio back to Toronto to square off against the middling Reds.


Brad Bergesen, RHP, Orioles

Matchup: June 26 vs. Washington

Summary: Without much fanfare,
Bergesen has been surprisingly effective in an otherwise ineffective Orioles
rotation, relying heavily on his sinker and a pitch-to-contact approach that’s
allowed him to last seven-plus innings in four of his last five starts. That
makes him an appealing target Friday, when he goes up against the last place
Nationals in Baltimore, where he’s gone 4-1 with a 3.30 ERA and a 25/7 K/BB
this year.


Charlie Morton, RHP, Pirates

Matchup: June 26 vs. Kansas City

Summary: OK, so Morton doesn’t have
a ton of service time, and he’s just getting his feet wet in Pittsburgh after
being included in the Nate McLouth trade earlier this month. Still, if his
Minor League stint offers any clues (7-2, 2.51 ERA, 55/16 K/BB ratio), he’s
more than capable of holding his own against an uninspiring Royals lineup in


Jason Hammel, RHP, Rockies

Matchup: June 26 at Oakland

Summary: Pitchers typically hate
leaving home. Hammel, however, can’t get out of Colorado enough. And who blames him? He’s routinely gotten hammered at Coors Field (7.12 ERA), but continues to
excel everywhere else (2.06 ERA). Banking on more of the same could leave
owners pleasantly surprised Friday, when he visits Oakland to face an erratic
A’s lineup.


Alex Cushing, MLB.com

Injury bug bites Ibanez


Raul Ibanez‘s improbable career year hit a snag Thursday
morning, when the Phillies slugger landed on the 15-day DL with a strained left


The ball dropped one day after Ibanez seemed to have
trouble running the bases. It was unclear initially whether the groin strain was
something new or related to the sore left Achilles’ that nagged him for a week
or so, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. cleared up the confusion shortly
after Thursday’s move, saying the two injuries were not related. 


Amaro was also quick to point out that the groin injury
has bothered Ibanez for a while. “It’s affected his play,” Amaro said.
“When he got back on the field yesterday and played, it got to the point
where the discomfort was enough for us to shut him down.” That may explain
why Ibanez is hitting just .194 (6-for-31) in the past seven games, although he’s
gone for three home runs in that span.


After missing Sunday’s game, Ibanez blamed his shoes for
the absence and insisted that the sore Achilles’ was nothing to worry
about.  You can hardly blame the guy for dismissing any form of physical
limitation. We’re talking about a 37-year-old having an MVP-caliber career
year, not to mention a model of men’s health who takes better care of his body
than William Sadler did in “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” as John McClane’s
karate-kicking nemesis, Col. Stuart.


That said, you have to figure the groin strain caused
enough concern for the first-place Phillies to put him on the shelf. It’s also
a huge loss for fantasy teams who’ve come to rely on the unlikely superstar
enjoying a Luis Gonzalezian campaign. An MRI will be taken Thursday for Ibanez,
who heads to the DL ranked second in the NL with 22 long balls and 59 RBIs.


“We’ll monitor him every day and see how he feels,
and hopefully he’ll heal properly and be ready in 15 days,” Amaro said.
“That’s the plan. That would be great. But I don’t know if that’s going to


John Mayberry Jr. was recalled to take his place, but
probably doesn’t deserve much attention beyond deep NL-only play. Known more
for his father’s skills than his own, Mayberry Jr. was hitting just .257 at Las
Vegas with a .470 slugging percentage.



Unfortunately, Ibanez, Roy Halladay and Scott Downs aren’t
the only prominent players to be bitten by the injury bug. A growing number of ailments
have left fantasy owners scrambling for replacements. Let’s walk through the week’s
biggest boo-boos and identify a few stopgap solutions:


Derek Jeter

Condition: Pulled from Monday night’s game with ankle
stiffness, Jeter was out of the lineup Wednesday. He’s not expected to go on
the DL.


Shortstop stopgaps

Maicer Iztirus: With Howard Kendrick out of the picture
as the Angels second baseman, Cesar’s half-brother has stepped in to go 8-for-14
with six runs scored, a homer and six RBIs over his last five games. Even if
Jeter makes a swift return, having an all-purpose infielder like Izturis to
plug in here and there isn’t the worst thing in the world. Worse players have
risen from utility status to full-time contributor.


Alternatives: Alberto Callaspo, Brendan Harris

Raul Ibanez

Condition: Landed on DL Thursday after weeks of being
hampered by a strained groin, no timetable for return.

Denard Span

Condition: Landed on the 15-day DL Tuesday after being
sidelined since June 9 due to an inner-ear infection.

Outfield stopgaps

Juan Rivera: A lengthy injury history limited Rivera’s
value heading into ’09, but he has no business being on the waiver wire with
the way he’s swung the bat in recent weeks. Since May 23, the guy sports a .395
average, six homers and 20 RBIs, including three homers in the last three days.
In other words, he’s worth owning regardless of when your regular starting
outfielder is ready to return.

Cody Ross: Riding the hot hand could reap short-term
rewards with Ross, who is hitting .407 (11-for-27) with four doubles, two
homers and six RBIs. The power is real, but don’t expect an average north of
.300 the rest of the way with all the strikeouts he racks up.


Alternatives: Tony Gwynn Jr., Jeremy Hermida, Chris Coghlan, Chris B.


Ervin Santana, Angels

Condition: Scratched from his last outing with right
forearm tightness, Santana has until June 23, his next scheduled turn in the
Angels rotation, to show he’s healthy. Otherwise, he faces the prospect of
another DL stint, damaging his short-term value.

Erik Bedard, Mariners

Condition: Bedard was placed on the DL on Wednesday
night, retroactive to June 8, when the shoulder inflammation he first
experienced after his June 7 start didn’t adequately subside.

Chris R. Young, Padres

Condition: Landing on the DL because of an inflamed right
shoulder might be a blessing in disguise for Young. The hope is that time away
will put him back on track, or at least bring down his unusually ineffective
5.21 ERA.

John Maine, Mets

Condition: On the DL since June 12 with shoulder
weakness, Maine is expected to rejoin the Mets rotation next week.

Starter stopgaps

Ricky Romero: I mentioned Romero as an attractive pickup
before Tuesday’s impressive outing in which he fanned nine Phillies in seven
innings of three-run ball. Now, you’ll have to pounce before someone realizes
the last-place Nationals are his next opponent this weekend.

Joe Blanton: Also among this week’s spot-starters,
Blanton heads into Thursday’s scheduled start against the Blue Jays sporting a
3-0 record, a 3.09 ERA and a 32/7 K/BB ratio in his last five starts.
Don’t be scared off by his season totals.

Jeff Niemann: The stuff has always been there, and we’ve
seen glimmers of dominance over the past few weeks, including a complete-game
shutout of the Royals.

Jose Contreras: Why not gamble? His fastball velocity is
reportedly back where it was a few years ago, and the fact that he’s coming off
back-to-back eight-inning gems offers hope that this isn’t the same guy who
rang up an 8.19 ERA through his first five starts in ’09. Stranger things have

Brad Bergeson: Granted, he’ll leave you yearning for more
strikeouts, and the wrong matchup could send his ERA soaring, but Bergeson’s
sinker is effective enough to provide value in deep mixed-league play. The
unheralded Oriole has induced more than twice as many grounders as flies,
bringing to mind an American League version of Aaron Cook.


Alternatives: Dallas Braden, Randy Wells,
Trevor Cahill, Luke Hochevar, Nick Blackburn


Brad Lidge

Condition: On the 15-day DL with a knee injury, he’s already
pitching bullpen sessions and might begin a rehab assignment this weekend (June

Frank Francisco

Condition: Sidelined since June 4, Francisco pitched a
bullpen session Tuesday and expects to return from the 15-day DL in the next
two weeks.

Reliever stopgaps

J.P. Howell, Rays: If you missed out on dash to grab Ryan
, Jason Frasor or C.J. Wilson, take a flier on Howell. Like Downs or Brian Fuentes,
this is a left-hander who has shown the ability to shut down right-handed
batters. And with no set timetable for Troy Percival‘s return, maybe the Rays
will go ahead and hand the closer reins over to their best reliever.


Alternatives: Mike MacDougal, Joe Beimel


— Alex Cushing, MLB.com

Spot starters of the week


Need pitching help? Scooping up one of the following
starters for this week’s action could leave you pleasantly surprised:



Braden, LHP, A’s

Matchups: June 16 at Dodgers; June 21 at San Diego

Summary: Lost in the emergence of newcomer Vin
Mazzaro has been the success of teammate Braden, who’s emerged as Oakland’s de
facto ace, reeling off five straight quality starts and a 2.91 ERA over that
span, including a 2.25 ERA in his past three starts. The Dodgers rank in the
bottom-half of the Majors in OPS over the past 30 days, and the Padres are
hitting just .218 against left-handers this season.


Blanton, RHP, Phillies

Matchup: June 18 vs. Toronto

Summary: Blanton doesn’t have most favorable
matchup, but there’s no reason he can’t keep his string of quality outings
going Thursday against the Blue Jays. Note that in his past five starts, the
rejuvenated righty has gone 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA and a 32/7 K/BB ratio,
including seven innings of two-run ball against the Red Sox last time out.


Hochevar, RHP, Royals

Matchup: June 18 vs. Arizona

Summary: Hochevar seems to be settling down in the
Royals’ rotation, tossing two impressive quality starts since being recalled
from Triple-A Omaha, including a complete-game shutout against the Reds last
time out. He’ll host another below-average lineup Thursday in the Diamondbacks,
making him a guy to grab despite being opposed by ace Dan Haren.


Outman, LHP, A’s

Matchup: June 19 at San Diego

Summary: See Dallas Braden. Southpaws give the
punchless Padres lineup fits, and Outman is trending in the opposite direction
as Friday’s opposing starter, Chris Young, who owns a ghastly 8.78 ERA in his
last three starts. Quietly emerging as one of the AL’s top surprise arms,
Outman has lasted six-plus innings in each of his past seven starts and boasts
a 4-1 record, 2.80 ERA and .182 average during that span.


Penny, RHP, Red Sox

Matchup: June 17 vs. Florida

Summary: Penny’s pitch command has improved markedly
since putting April in the books (38/9 K/BB ratio), which explains why he
sports a 3.57 ERA in his past three starts, including six scoreless innings vs.
the Yankees last time out. You can’t ask for more momentum than that heading
into Wednesday’s outing at home against the Marlins, who are hitting just .247
on the road this season.


Romero, LHP, Blue Jays

Matchups: June 16 at Philadelphia; June 21 vs.

Summary: Knocked around in his first start back from
the 15-day DL, Romero has rebounded by holding the Royals and Rangers to a
combined four earned runs in two starts and 13 1/3 innings since, good for a
2.70 ERA. Nobody has questioned his stuff, and his command is improving (32/14
K/BB ratio). If you have the choice of starting him once, pick Sunday against
the Nationals. Otherwise, he’s capable of pulling his weight against a Phillies
lineup featuring a number of left-handed hitters.


Wakefield. RHP, Red Sox

Matchups: June 16 vs. Florida; June 21 vs. Atlanta

Summary: Both of Wakefield’s matchups come at Fenway
Park, where the knuckleballer has done his finest work this season with a 5-0
record and a 3.27 ERA. He also faces two of the National League’s least
productive lineups in the Marlins (.725 OPS) and Braves (.716 OPS).



— Alex Cushing, MLB.com

On second thought …


The Angels optioned Howard Kendrick
to Triple-A on Saturday, one day after Maicer Izturis went 4-for-4 starting at
second base in his place. The real story had less to do with Kendrick’s falling
star than the guy who was summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake in his place: Sean
, who batted .273 and led the Pacific Coast League with 21 homers and
60 RBIs, major power production from a thin position. Izturis will likely see
the majority of starts at second base for now, but a few big games from
Rodriguez could force manager Mike Scioscia to reconsider, which could leave
owners ruing the day they didn’t scoop up the 24-year-old when the opportunity
first presented itself.


And hey, if Rodriguez doesn’t work
out, there’s always Brandon Wood, who has nothing left to prove at Salt Lake,
having hit .294 with 14 homers, 35 RBIs and a .600 slugging percentage in 170



  • The good news is that no structural
    damage was found in Roy Halladay‘s groin Saturday. The bad news is he’ll miss
    at least one start after leaving Friday’s outing after just three innings.


  • No good news to report for Jake
    , except maybe that he won’t have to worry about getting traded until
    winter, unless he rushes back from his strained ankle just to prove he’s
    healthy before the July 31 Trade Deadline.


  • Grady Sizemore finds out Monday whether
    his elbow needs surgery or more treatment, the difference between two months or
    another two weeks.


  • Jose Valverde returned to action on
    Saturday, retiring one Diamondbacks hitter before giving way to LaTroy Hawkins
    for his ninth save.


  • Also returning to the mound Saturday
    was Rich Harden, who was sharp against the Twins, fanning nine and yielding two
    runs in six frames.


  • Frank Francisco, out of commission
    since June 3, will test his sore shoulder on Sunday before determining whether
    another trip to the DL is due.




  • Jose Contreras made his second start
    Saturday since being recalled from Triple-A Charlotte, and it looked just like
    the first — only instead of pitching eight scoreless innings of one-hit,
    three-strikeout ball, he hurled eight scoreless innings of two-hit, eight
    strikeout ball in Milwaukee. With his fastball velocity reportedly back where
    it was two years ago, he might be worth a second look in deeper leagues.


  • Another right-hander lasting longer
    into starts is Ubaldo Jimenez, who threw his first complete game of the season
    Friday against Seattle, on the heels of an eight-inning, nine-strikeout showing
    in St. Louis.


  • Even the erratic Luke Hochevar
    joined the party, tossing his first career complete game against the Reds on
    Friday, which should buy him several more chances to stick in the Royals


  • Hochevar’s teammate, Alberto
    , is growing more and more secure as the club’s second baseman, ringing
    up a .462 average during his seven-game hit streak, including two homers in his
    last four games. There are worse ways to fill your middle-infield spot.


  • The Royals’ longest active hit
    streak belongs to Billy Butler, who’s on an 11-game ride with a .359 clip over
    that span. Slowly but surely, the former top prospect is coming into his own.


  • It’s safe to say Jason Kubel has
    come into his own, with homers in four of his last five games as the Twins
    cleanup hitter.





  • You have to feel for Twins rookie
    Anthony Swarzak, who was optioned to Triple-A Rochester after shutting down the
    Cubs for seven innings at Wrigley Field on Saturday.


  • Saturday was the last straw for
    Manny Parra, whose demotion to Triple-A Nashville came after the lefty was
    hammered for six runs in 1 2/3 against the White Sox as his ERA ballooned to


  • Reds fans can’t help but see a
    little Corey Patterson in Willy Taveras, who’s hitless in his last 32 at-bats.



Raul the real deal


Will Raul Ibanez ever slow down?


No, really -- will he?


Here we are, on the cusp of summer, and
the Phillies left fielder already has 21 homers, 58 RBIs and 49 runs scored.
And a .322 average. And a .674 slugging percentage.


This, after another heroic day at the
plate Thursday, in which he not only extended his hit streak to a Major
League-leading 11 games, but did so by single-handedly defeating the Mets at
Citi Field in extra innings with a game-winning, three-run homer.


Did I mention he's 37 years old?


Yes, 37 years old -- one year older than
Michael Jordan was when he walked away from the Bulls.


For that reason alone, the assumption is
that Ibanez's MVP-caliber pace will only last so long before he begins to act
his age.


Because that's what typical 37-year-olds
do. They slow down. They get sent to the DL. They relax with family.


Then again, typical 37-year-olds don't
keep a hyperbaric chamber in their home and work out all six months of the
offseason and on off-days during the regular season.


Whatever he's done, it's worked. Ibanez
been proving doubters wrong his entire career, from when he caught on in Kansas
City at age 30 to his second time around with Seattle, where he established
himself as one of the AL's most reliable run producers.

The decision to leave behind Seattle's
vast home park -- SAFECO Field -- for Philadelphia's cozy hitters' park --
Citizens Bank Park -- is also paying major dividends. Ibanez sports a beastly
.688 slugging percentage at home this season, evidence of Citizens Bank's
predictable effect on a lefty slugger. The veteran has benefitted from more
than merely a change of location, though, as his .321 average and absurd .714
slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers reflect the work of a hitter
who has gone great lengths to improve his approach.


The numbers should slow down some, but a
run at 40 homers is no fantasy.


Alex Cushing, MLB.com

Opportunity knocks for Aardsma


big headlines from Wednesday include Justin Verlander‘s seventh straight win,
Gil Meche‘s 11-strikeout gem in Cleveland and Carlos Quentin‘s recovery
timetable being pushed back until after the All-Star break.

the most useful piece of news came from Seattle, with word that Brandon Morrow
would be moved back to the rotation roughly three months after the team decided
to shift him back to the bullpen.

is this important?

announcement signals the club’s growing confidence in David Aardsma, a
little-known journeyman right-hander acquired from Boston this past offseason
for a bag of Cracker Jacks.

Morrow no longer lurking in the shadows, Aardsma is the clear-cut closer in
Seattle, not just the guy whose name appears first during roll call.

great news for owners who were lucky enough to scoop him up a few weeks ago.
Saves are saves, and Aardsma deserves the chance. The guy owns a 1.84 ERA,
having converted all but one of his 11 save opportunities this season.

winning a closer job and keeping it are two different things.

Aardsma has both the imposing mound presence and the heavy fastball required of
good firemen, he’s yet to erase the control problems that have hampered him
throughout his five-year career.

you can argue that he strikes guys out (9.85 K/9 rate) and limits hits (.175
AVG against), but the righty’s strikingly high 6.5 BB/9 rate is cause for
legitimate concern. Sooner or later, the ball will start falling in more
frequently, as is made clear by his .247 batting average against on balls in
play. And when that happens, it’s only a matter of time before Aardsma’s back
in middle relief like so many past flavor-of-the-month closers.

you’ve held onto Aardsma for this long, now is the time to cash in your chips.
This is as good as it gets.

tidbits …

Francisco Liriano‘s
ERA fell below 6.00 for the first time in weeks Wednesday, as he struck out
seven Oakland hitters and walked two en route to his second consecutive quality
start.  A buy-low opportunity could be
brewing here, as his next start comes against the powerless Pirates.