Print and Go Back ESPN.com: 2007 [Print without images]

Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Cockcroft: Pedro comes back

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

What's been going on around the National League in the past week? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the news and notes for each of the 16 NL teams:

National League East

Atlanta Braves: Matt Diaz picked up a rare start against a right-hander Friday, his second in the Braves' past three games against a righty and his eighth against that side all season. By comparison, he had started all 57 of the Braves' games against left-handers, batting .368 with a .395 on-base percentage and .614 slugging percentage in 186 plate appearances. Diaz definitely deserves more of a chance against righties, though, with .320/.358/.422 rates against that side, in range of Willie Harris' .300/.375/.435 numbers against right-handers this season. With Harris in a bit of a slide, though, batting only .154 (10-for-65) with no homers and 17 strikeouts in his past 24 games, don't be surprised if the Braves work Diaz into the mix more regularly in September. NL-only and deep-mixed owners should consider picking up the veteran, who contributes better-than-expected numbers in batting average and could help the counting numbers with more at-bats.

Florida Marlins: Henry Owens, the Marlins' closer for a brief period in late April/early May, underwent surgery Thursday to repair a damaged rotator cuff. He hadn't pitched in a game since June 8 because of inflammation. Owens won't resume a throwing program for at least six months, putting that timetable about the beginning of March, meaning he'll probably miss the majority of the 2008 season, as well. It's a real shame for the 28-year-old, who briefly looked like a future closer hopeful, thanks to a 1.96 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and .216 BAA in 22 relief appearances for the Marlins this season. … Those of you in NL-only or deep-mixed keeper leagues should take note of sophomore Jeremy Hermida's emergence of late. Since July 1, he's a .339 hitter with a .417 on-base percentage and .563 slugging percentage in 55 games, making good on his top-prospect status from the past couple of seasons. He continues to flash a troublesome strikeout rate -- one per 4.58 at-bats in that span -- but it seems Hermida is beginning to figure out big league pitching. He might be a surprise breakout in 2008, though it'd be nice to see him steal some bases, as he did in the minors. He has no steals since June 30, and no attempts since July 15.

New York Mets: Pedro Martinez marked his return from rotator cuff surgery with a five-inning, three-run (two earned) effort against the Reds on Monday, an encouraging outing yet one that shouldn't inflate his fantasy owners' expectations. As he did in his four minor league rehabilitation starts, in which he had a 4.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and .219 BAA, he hit only 82 mph on the radar gun with his first pitch, stayed in the mid-80s for most of his pitches and never topped 89. That's quite a bit down from Martinez's usual mid-90s levels from his prime, and it's unlikely he'll be able to get back to those levels at any point this season. He should be able to add a few ticks to the radar gun in each successive performance, and at this stage of his career, the right-hander is committed to using guile and command instead of pure power to set down hitters, but be prepared for the occasional struggles as he works back to full health. Stamina is also a concern for Martinez. Remember that the Mets are most concerned about getting him up to a full workload for the postseason, not helping fantasy owners in the final weeks of the regular season.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels suffered a setback Thursday in his return from a strained left elbow, experiencing soreness during a bullpen session. He had been scheduled to return to the rotation Sunday, but a report in phillyBurbs.com has the left-hander at only 80 percent health, meaning he'll presumably miss another week or two. Expect the Phillies to remain cautious with their young ace, despite their standing in the playoff race, meaning Hamels' owners shouldn't be counting on much from him the rest of the season. The good news: The Phillies' conservative approach with Hamels should help assure he's at peak form to begin the 2008 season. … Freddy Garcia finally succumbed to the knife Thursday, undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum. That'll likely cost him a significant chunk of the 2008 season, and with him set for free agency this winter, he'll probably need to sign an incentive-laden deal with another team and hope for a shot at a rotation spot by midseason. The timing of Garcia's operation means his chances at a noticeable fantasy impact next year take a real hit, but check back on him in the spring.

Washington Nationals: John Patterson, who hasn't pitched in a big league game since May 5 or a minor league contest since June 21, will undergo season-ending surgery to decompress the radial nerve in his right arm. He told The Washington Post on Friday that he hasn't felt healthy since March 8, when he faced Nationals minor leaguers in a minor league game, beginning a six-month trek during which he tried everything he could to avoid an operation. Among the treatments: He traveled to Toronto in June and July to undergo a procedure involving injections that isn't approved in the United States; details weren't made public by the team. Patterson should be fully healthy in time for spring training, but considering he has made only 15 big league starts since the start of last season, and 20 total accounting for minor league rehab starts, he'll be at least as risky a bet for 2008 as he was entering this season. He hasn't truly been 100 percent in more than 16 months, despite what he says.

National League Central

Chicago Cubs: In a bit of a curious move, the Cubs acquired veteran right-hander -- and former Cub -- Steve Trachsel from the Baltimore Orioles on Friday for third baseman Scott Moore and reliever Rocky Cherry. Trachsel will join the rotation immediately, supplanting left-hander Sean Marshall, an odd decision considering Marshall's ERA (3.98), WHIP (1.34) and BAA (.263) are all better than Trachsel's numbers (4.48/1.56/.279). It's unclear whether the move will be for only one trip through the rotation; manager Lou Piniella mentioned he's considering a six-man rotation in September. For now, though, NL-only owners can consider adding Trachsel and using him based solely on the matchups. He'll stand a better chance at success out of the American League East because he no longer will face the Red Sox and Yankees lineups, but it's tough for a guy to succeed when he has noticeably more walks (69) than strikeouts (45) for the season. Marshall's owners in NL-only formats should keep him on hand in case Trachsel struggles initially.

Cincinnati Reds: Top prospects are the name of the game in Cincinnati now that rosters have expanded to 40 players, though the news regarding the team's best kids isn't as good as fantasy owners could have hoped. First baseman Joey Votto was scheduled to be promoted Tuesday from Triple-A Louisville, where he finished the season batting .294 with 22 homers, 92 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 133 games. Interim manager Pete Mackanin told The Cincinnati Post that Votto would play the most of any of the team's September call-ups, splitting his time between first base and left field, though the amount of the rookie's playing time has yet to be determined. NL-only owners can add Votto, but keep him on reserve until it's clear whether he'll get regular at-bats, something he should receive as the team turns its focus toward 2008. Outfielder Jay Bruce, Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year after he managed .319/.375/.587 rates in 133 games among Class A Sarasota, Double-A Chattanooga and Louisville, won't be recalled, however. He almost assuredly will get a long look for a starting role next spring, but the development does hurt his chances at being in the Opening Day 2008 lineup. Finally, right-hander Homer Bailey, who had a 6.99 ERA in six starts for the Reds earlier this season, is unlikely to return to the team. He'll continue to work out in Sarasota, Fla., after pitching with Louisville recently, and will be a strong candidate for the 2008 rotation. Bailey likely will need a solid spring training to break camp as a starter, though.

Houston Astros: Chris Sampson was activated from the DL on Friday, though his monthlong absence with an elbow injury means he'll be limited to bullpen status for the remainder of the season. It's a bit of a shame for NL-only owners because the right-hander had a 4.64 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and .291 BAA in 19 starts earlier in the year, serving as a decent matchups consideration at times. Surprisingly, however, although Sampson is now in the bullpen, Brandon Backe will mark his return from Tommy John surgery as a member of the rotation. Backe was scheduled to start Tuesday's game at Milwaukee, only three days short of the one-year anniversary of his operation, after managing 4.50/1.50/.280 numbers in six minor league rehabilitation starts, five of them for Triple-A Round Rock. He's unlikely to get up to a full starter's workload at any point this season, but his status as a member of the rotation should help gear him up better for 2008. Don't bother adding Backe to fantasy rosters, but if he finishes strong, he could be an NL-only sleeper for next season.

Milwaukee Brewers: With injuries continuing to hit the Brewers' rotation, Yovani Gallardo and Ben Sheets likely will be pushed harder than they might have otherwise the remainder of the season. Gallardo, who had a 7.55 ERA in six August starts, already has logged 155 innings as a rookie between the Brewers and Triple-A Nashville this season, exactly the number he had in the minors in 2006 and only 20 short of the team's planned cap for the right-hander. There's still a chance he occasionally could be skipped, shifted to the bullpen or shut down entirely, although as long as the Brewers remain in the playoff race, he'll stand his best chance at a full starter's workload. Sheets, meanwhile, tossed 118 pitches Monday in his second start since returning from the DL, and he has a 1.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and .262 BAA in back-to-back quality starts. He'll be at greater risk to get hurt again if the Brewers keep his pitch counts that high, but it's also a sign the team believes he's fully healthy, meaning you should trust him until such time as he suffers a setback. … Rookie Manny Parra was placed on the DL on Friday with a broken left thumb, opening up the fifth-starter role for Carlos Villanueva. Villanueva, who had a respectable 2.93 ERA in 35 relief appearances and allowed one run in five innings in one spot start before the All-Star break, isn't a bad NL-only matchups consideration for as long as he remains in the rotation. Expect him to fill in anytime the team needs in September.

Pittsburgh Pirates: It took five years, three months and one day from the date he was selected first overall in the 2002 amateur draft, but Bryan Bullington is finally set to make his major league debut Wednesday at St. Louis. He was 11-9 with a 4.00 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and .262 BAA in 26 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis, good but not great numbers, limiting his appeal to NL-only formats. Bullington isn't nearly the prospect he was at the time he was drafted, having missed all of the 2006 season because of shoulder surgery, meaning he's best stashed on a bench to see how he fares the next couple of weeks. In the best-case scenario, he has a useful matchup or two to exploit and makes a run for the 2008 rotation, perhaps winding up an NL-only sleeper. … Zach Duke (elbow) is on the mend, though a poor performance in his most recent rehabilitation start for Indianapolis on Saturday -- 3 2/3 IP, 7 H, 2 ER -- will keep him from returning in the Pirates' open rotation spot Thursday. He'll pitch for Class A State College instead, then likely return next week. At this late stage of the season, Duke seems highly unlikely to make a fantasy impact, with anything he does in September more relevant to his chances for 2008.

St. Louis Cardinals: Juan Encarnacion is out for the season, and his baseball career might be in doubt, after he suffered multiple fractures of his left eye socket when he was hit by a foul ball Friday. He remains in the hospital and might have suffered a permanent loss of vision when he was hit by Aaron Miles' foul ball while standing in the on-deck circle. We can only hope for the best for Encarnacion in his recovery, but with him sidelined, expect Rick Ankiel to pick up everyday at-bats in right field for the remainder of the year. With .353/.382/.676 rates in 19 games thus far, including .474/.429/.947 in 21 plate appearances against left-handers, Ankiel hasn't been a bad pickup for NL-only and even mixed-league owners thus far. … Scott Rolen is also out for the season after being placed on the DL on Friday with a sore left shoulder. He'll soon undergo an operation to clean up scar tissue, one that will cost him 6-8 weeks' recovery time, leaving third base in the hands of Brendan Ryan, and -- to a lesser extent -- perhaps newly acquired Russell Branyan against right-handers. Ryan warrants deep NL-only attention, but Branyan would be only an interesting spot-start type in leagues with daily transactions.

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona continues to seek fifth-starter candidates, and it probably will again after Dana Eveland was shelled for five runs in 2 2/3 innings on Saturday. The left-hander, who came over with Doug Davis in the Johnny Estrada trade, had a 1.95 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and .271 BAA in seven games (five starts) for Triple-A Tucson, though he missed three months with a partial tear of the tendon sheath on his throwing hand. He presumably will finish the year pitching in low-pressure situations, turning his rotation spot over to some mix of Edgar Gonzalez, Yusmeiro Petit or perhaps Dustin Nippert the remainder of the year. With the D-backs' offense not providing much in the way of run support this season, though, don't count on any value from the bunch, even in matchup situations. … Carlos Quentin was activated from the DL on Saturday and could push rookie Justin Upton for at-bats in right field with a hot start. Quentin had a pinch-hit RBI double Monday; by comparison, Upton is hitting .204 (11-for-54) with no homers and 16 strikeouts in his past 15 games. Upton, only 20 years old, remains far more useful in keeper formats, and might have limited value in yearly formats the rest of the year.

Colorado Rockies: Both Aaron Cook (oblique injury) and Jason Hirsh (fractured fibula) have been ruled out for the year; Cook aggravated his injury during a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Colorado Springs on Saturday, and Hirsh's leg hasn't healed as quickly as the Rockies had hoped. That will force Elmer Dessens, he of the 8.10 ERA in four starts for the Rockies, to remain in the rotation, but, more importantly, it'll virtually assure that rookies Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales will stay starters the rest of the year. Morales, optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs after his start last Tuesday, should be recalled to pitch this Tuesday after managing a respectable 4.40 ERA despite a shaky 1.81 WHIP in his first three MLB starts. Neither pitcher should be a trusted fantasy option, though, especially given that the Rockies and their opponents have combined to average 12.2 runs per game at Coors Field since July 1 and 15 of their final 25 games will be played at home. Use this time as more of an evaluation period for either pitcher for 2008.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Los Angeles claimed Esteban Loaiza off waivers from the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday, installing him directly into its rotation in place of Eric Stults. Loaiza won his Dodgers debut Sunday, tossing seven innings of three-run, nine-hit ball, marking his third consecutive quality start since returning from the DL on Aug. 22. NL-only owners can go ahead and pick him up, and those in more shallow leagues can consider him a matchups type; his Dodgers do play six more games apiece against the Diamondbacks and Giants and three against the Padres, each of which is a weak-hitting team. … Top prospect Andy LaRoche was summoned from Triple-A Las Vegas on Sunday after batting .373 (50-for-134) with 15 homers and 35 RBIs in 38 games there since returning June 30 from shoulder trouble. He should sneak in at least half the playing time at third base, robbing Shea Hillenbrand of much of his appeal, though there's no guarantee he will do so. After all, Nomar Garciaparra (calf) could be back from the DL as early as Tuesday, creating a logjam at third base. Expect a time-share between the three the remainder of the year, limiting their fantasy value.

San Diego Padres: The Padres activated Michael Barrett from the DL on Saturday, presumably dropping their catcher spot back into a time-share between him and Josh Bard. Barrett had actually started only 25 of the team's 45 games between the time he came over in a trade from the Cubs on June 20 and his DL stint, and at best should count on only 50 percent of the at-bats behind the plate the remainder of the year. After all, he has only .234/.241/.290 numbers in 32 games for the Padres and Bard has batted .262 (16-for-61) with 14 RBIs in 20 games since Barrett got hurt. Neither should be a particularly appealing fantasy choice the rest of the year, but Bard should be at least as good a bet as Barrett as an NL-only No. 2 catcher. … The Padres continue the search for a viable No. 5 starter, with minor league veteran Jack Cassel the fifth pitcher they have tried in that spot. He allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings Friday, perhaps enough to earn him another start, though his 7-14 record, 3.91 ERA, 1.56 WHIP and .315 BAA in 27 games (24 starts) for Triple-A Portland don't bode well for his chances at continued success at the big league level. Clay Hensley could yet get another shot at the role before season's end.

San Francisco Giants: The time of the year for teams to rest rookie pitchers has arrived, and with the Giants out of the race, expect Tim Lincecum to be skipped or pushed back in the rotation as much as possible to limit his innings the remainder of the season. Between his 130 1/3 innings for the Giants and 31 for Triple-A Fresno, he has logged 161 1/3 frames this season; that's 4 1/3 more than he pitched between the University of Washington and the minor leagues in 2006. There hasn't been any formal announcement of what cap the Giants plan to put on Lincecum's innings, but be prepared for the team to play conservatively with the 23-year-old's schedule in September. Jonathan Sanchez took his spot Saturday, pushing the right-hander back to Tuesday, and that arrangement could take place a couple more times in the coming weeks. In fact, Sanchez -- who tossed a respectable 5 1/3 innings Saturday, allowing three runs on six hits -- might not be a bad NL-only matchups option while the Giants spot him in to keep their other youngsters fresh.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.