Sixty Feet, Six Inches: Stuck in the middle?

The Yankees put Ian Kennedy on the DL because of a strained lat muscle he suffered Tuesday. As a result, the New York Daily News speculates that Joba Chamberlain's ascension to the rotation could come sooner. Kennedy was scheduled to start on Tuesday against the Blue Jays. Is it possible Joba will be a starting pitcher by then? (He threw 28 pitches in the game against the Orioles on Wednesday, then threw 27 more in the bullpen to get further stretched out.)

Chamberlain already is owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues, so it doesn't exactly make sense for me to advise you to rush out and sign him. I've got mixed feelings about the move; after all, the Yankees resisted the urge to make effective set-up man Mariano Rivera a starter when David Cone got hurt back in the mid-'90s, and that turned out pretty well. I suppose nothing says Chamberlain can't go back to being the closer of the future once the Yankees get their rotation in order. By the same token, nothing takes a bloom off a pitcher's rose faster than getting exposed after multiple passes through all the lineups in the American League.

Anyway, what's done is done, and I've been thinking: Which other valuable commodities are laboring away in the middle of big-league bullpens waiting for their close-ups? Here are my top five:

1. Max Scherzer, Diamondbacks: His ownership has dropped to around two-thirds of ESPN.com leagues, but if he got dumped in your league, I'd grab him. I actually think it's equally possible that Scherzer would wind up Arizona's closer as he would a starter again, but an awful lot of moving parts are in that Diamondbacks rotation. Will Randy Johnson stay healthy all year? Will Doug Davis? Plus, if Scherzer regularly will fan four in 2 2/3 innings out of the pen, as he did against the Braves on Monday, he'll have value even in middle relief.

2. Brandon Morrow, Mariners: The Seattle Times reported earlier this week that the Mariners were contemplating converting Morrow back to a starter, then Wednesday subsequently reported that the team says it'll make no such move. These are the Mariners, so when the wind changes its direction tomorrow, they could announce something different. (Et tu, Jeff Clement?) Morrow, the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft, brings it in the high 90s. He's also shown more confidence in his slider, a potentially devastating pitch if he can get it over with regularity.

3. J.P. Howell, Rays: OK, yes, there's a drop-off here. But until Tuesday, Howell was absolutely lighting it up as a middle reliever, allowing just 21 hits and 12 walks in 31 2/3 innings while fanning 27. He got bombed by the Rangers on Tuesday, but the longtime tease who got three years' worth of rotation chances from '05 to '07 still could get a look as a starter if and when Andy Sonnanstine or Edwin Jackson falters. I think there's a better chance of that happening than the Rays' rushing Wade Davis or Jake McGee to the bigs. AL-only owners might keep that in mind.

4. Chad Gaudin, A's: I'm a Gaudin booster. I think he's gotten lost in the shuffle while Dana Eveland and Greg Smith have surprised, and I think he got a raw deal entering 2008. Gaudin was terrific for much of last season but took a huge leap in innings pitched and predictably got hurt toward season's end. He threw quite well in four of his six starts this year, and currently boasts a 3.56 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. Rich Harden and Justin Duchscherer aren't exactly walking advertisements for durability, so Gaudin will get another chance.

5. Dontrelle Willis, Tigers: OK, yuck. Longtime readers know I'm a big Willis detractor, and I wouldn't add him even in AL-only leagues because I believe his heavy-usage seasons in '05 and '06 have permanently taken something away from his arm. But I have to admit: The Tigers didn't pay the D-Train all that money to be a mop-up man. Eventually someone's going to get hurt or Armando Galarraga (who looked good again Wednesday) will scuffle, and Willis will get another chance. I'm not saying I'd pick him up. I'm just saying it'll happen.

Comings and Goings

Daisuke Matsuzaka avoided his first loss of the season Tuesday night but had to come out of his start in Seattle because of what the team called "shoulder fatigue." He'll probably miss at least a start, as he'll return from the Red Sox's road trip Thursday for a precautionary MRI. Boston won't need a fifth starter until the middle of next week; Clay Buchholz could come back up from Triple-A, as could Justin Masterson. Jake Peavy threw 40 pitches from flat ground on Tuesday and told the Padres' official Web site that his elbow felt good and he hopes to return to the team's rotation this weekend. It's worth noting that the Padres didn't make a comment, and that Peavy has yet to throw from a mound. The Mets have announced that Pedro Martinez will return from the DL on Tuesday against the Giants. Either Mike Pelfrey or Claudio Vargas will leave the rotation to make way for Pedro. Interestingly, Martinez faced David Price in a Class-A rehab stint Wednesday, and last year's No. 1 overall pick (Price) was the better man, throwing six scoreless innings and striking out nine. Pedro wasn't bad, though: 6 K, 4 H, 2 ER in 6 IP. Fausto Carmona had to come out of his start last Friday because of a left hip strain. An MRI subsequently revealed no damage to the interior muscles of his hip, which is good news, but the Indians still expect Carmona to miss a month. Jake Westbrook (oblique) came off the DL to take Carmona's turn Wednesday and went five innings, allowing five hits, two walks and three runs. Aaron Laffey (1.59 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in six starts) gets to stay in the rotation for now. Kelvim Escobar told the Los Angeles Times that he's no longer considering surgery as an option in his recovery from a tear in his rotator cuff. However, he hasn't thrown off a mound yet, so the best-case scenario has him at least a couple of months away from helping the Angels. The Twins should get Scott Baker back at some point next week, at which time they'll have to decide which starter leaves the rotation. Glen Perkins is a possibility, but he's pitched well in four starts (2.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 16 K, 4 BB in 26 IP), so the Minneapolis Star-Tribune speculates Boof Bonser could go to the pen. The Astros activated Wandy Rodriguez (groin) from the DL for Wednesday's start against the Cardinals. He allowed six runs (three earned) in 4 2/3 innings. Chris Sampson moves to the bullpen to make room for Rodriguez, while Brian Moehler keeps his spot. Because of Sunday's 18-inning game, the Reds used Bronson Arroyo Wednesday on three days' rest, and he responded: 6 IP, 1 ER, 6 K, 4 BB and 3 H. Aaron Harang, who pitched four innings in that marathon game, will start Thursday, followed by Edinson Volquez, Matt Belisle and Johnny Cueto. Joel Pineiro missed a start this week because of a sore groin and was placed on the DL Wednesday. Mike Parisi will take Pineiro's rotation slot for the time being and will start for the Cardinals on Saturday. Curt Schilling told the Boston Globe he'll throw off a bullpen mound for the first time a week from tomorrow. Zach Duke and Phil Dumatrait traded spots in the rotation because of a callus on Duke's pitching hand. Dumatrait will go for the Pirates against the Reds on Thursday, while Duke will face the Cardinals on Friday. The Rockies demoted Jorge De La Rosa to the bullpen after five bad starts. The Rocky Mountain News believes Glendon Rusch will take De La Rosa's spot in the rotation and pitch Saturday.

On The Farm

Indians 2003 first-rounder Adam Miller returned to the Triple-A DL and had surgery Thursday to reattach a torn flexor tendon in his middle finger. This was a crucial year in his development, and Miller was pretty good in six minor league starts (1.88 ERA, 1.33 WHIP), but he continues to be haunted by the injury bug. The organization expects him to be out for two months, and it's unlikely we'll see him in the bigs in '08. Jason Schmidt allowed two earned runs in 3 1/3 innings Monday for Class A Inland Empire, his longest outing to date in his rehab stint. Clearly the Dodgers are ramping him up slowly; he's expected to make three more starts on this assignment, at which time the team will reassess whether he's ready to be a rotation candidate. The good news is that he reportedly hit the low 90s on Monday. Kyle Davies has pitched very well for Triple-A Omaha this year: 10 starts, 6-2 record, 2.06 ERA, 1.18 WHIP. The Royals haven't given any indication that they're ready to call him up, but considering the struggles of Brett Tomko (6.11 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) and Luke Hochevar (4.54 ERA, 1.49 WHIP), it's not inconceivable. James Simmons, Oakland's 2007 first-rounder, was shut down at Double-A Midland because of a "dead arm" period. I speculated a couple of weeks ago that Simmons was a long-shot candidate to be called up later this year, but that looks wrong at this point. Chris Tillman, the best prospect Baltimore got from Seattle for Erik Bedard, is destroying Double-A, to the tune of a 2.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .185 BAA, 44 K in 48 2/3 IP. Tillman is only 20 (and won't turn 21 until April), so although a promotion to Triple-A seems likely at some point this year, the Orioles won't rush Tillman to the majors. Kris Benson saw his velocity increase to the high 80s in an extended-spring game Tuesday, and he'll pitch for Class A Clearwater on Sunday. The 33-year-old righty could be a middling option for the Phillies' rotation after the All-Star Break. Philip Humber came close to making the Twins this spring but has been downright terrible for Triple-A Rochester: 5.19 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 29 K and 27 BB in 50 1/3 IP. He's not going to have any fantasy impact this year.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.