Need to Know
Jon Lester, SP, BOS: The Indians are not slouches against left-handed pitching, which adds a little more credibility to Lester's very decent debut. He struck out six, walked three and gave up two earned runs in six innings; that's nothing to complain about. What I liked even more was when he got into a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning. Grady Sizemore, who had already jacked a two-run homer the previous inning, was at the dish with the bases juiced and Lester made him whiff. That's pretty darn good poise, if you ask me. I've been a Lester fan for a while, but I challenge a nonbeliever to leave him on the wire in a fantasy league with 14 teams or more. You just can't ignore pitchers on a win-machine like the Sox.
Kason Gabbard, SP, BOS: Speaking of pitchers on a win-machine like the BoSox, Gabbard is sitting on 3-0 July record in four starts with a 1.93 ERA and 0.71 WHIP. You can bet he is flying off waiver wires faster than his parents got a new typewriter after naming him (get it? Jason? never mind...). The hordes of fantasy owners picking him up all know his ERA and WHIP will climb, but again, a Red Sox pitcher showing signs of success is extra valuable for the wins. I simply advise benching him the first time he faces an offense he has already pitched to this season, just in case. I suspect the league will catch up with him before too long.
Hurting and Healing
Shawn Hill, SP, WAS: A Washington pitcher worth paying attention to, Hill is on track to be back in the middle of August. Six of his eight starts before before he strained his shoulder were quality starts, and all eight of those starts were palatable in fantasy. Hill avoids the long ball, strikes out almost twice as many batters as he walks; in fact, it's hard to find too many negatives about him. Ah, here's one: He pitched six games last year and eight games this year before getting hurt. If the news continues to be good on Hill, he'll be an impact player in NL-only and deep leagues and is available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues.
Josh Johnson, SP, FLA: Johnson has been a pretty big disappointment this season. Maybe owners weren't expecting more than the 12-win season we saw in 2006, still, expectations were by no means low for Johnson. There are reports that his fastball has been back up at 97 mph in this rehab stint. After starting the season on the DL, he had four very poor outings in late June and early July, after which he was ushered right back on the DL. This has all led to his ownership slipping below 5 percent in ESPN leagues. If you need to add an arm right now in NL-only leagues, grab or trade for Johnson. He managed to maintain an ERA lower than 2.00 for an entire two-month period last season. Let's hope he can regain some of his form.
Bartolo Colon, SP, LAA:
His continued elbow problems mean that there is a chance Colon is done for the year. He may or may not opt for surgery after the discovery of a posterior impingement of his elbow, but the amount of rest required -- sans surgery -- likely puts him out for the season. The Angels can get through a turn of the rotation without using a fifth starter, but they are going to need one next week. With the trade deadline also looming, we'll have to see what the team does.
Homer Bailey, SP, CIN: Bailey is on the DL in Triple-A after straining his groin. He was originally sent down to stay on schedule through the All-Star break but was hit hard in the minors. It looks like we'll have to wait for the September roster expansion before Bailey gets a chance at redemption.
Chris Young, SP, SD: News should start to filter down late Friday on what Young's status is, as technically, he hasn't been ruled out for Sunday's start yet. He left his start in the third inning Tuesday with a strained oblique. Obviously, this is crushing news to his fantasy owners; Young has been arguably the most valuable pitcher compared to his draft value. Initial reports, however, all seemed to downplay the severity of the strain and a mention of a DL stint seemed to be an afterthought. The DL is still a possibility though and Young owners should start making short-term plans for a replacement.
Tim Stauffer, SP, SD: The former first-round pick is in line to start Sunday if Young turns out to be unavailable. Stauffer has only done one thing consistently for the last several seasons: struggle. Left-handed batters have been killing him this year. Lefties seem to be his Achilles heel; his numbers versus right-handed bats are fairly average. Unless he is given a right-handed heavy lineup at home in Petco, you want no part of him.
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, COL: I'll be watching Jimenez closely. I like it when pitching prospects almost become forgotten about as the years go by. Jimenez was generating a lot of chatter last year, but he has already made two starts for Colorado now with nary a mention in most fantasy baseball circles. The five walks he has issued are a little concerning, but Jimenez looks better when you see he has allowed just eight hits in 12 innings while striking out 10. The Rockies want another arm for the stretch run and they may have found it in Jimenez. Watch his next couple box scores and see if he is keeping his WHIP low. A low WHIP is necessary for success in the thin-air of Denver.
Tom Gorzelanny, SP, PIT: Gorzelanny's stiff shoulder sounds to me like routine midseason stuff. I highly doubt he will miss a start, but even if he does I wouldn't panic unless he formally hits the DL.
Roy Oswalt, SP, HOU: Oswalt also sounds like he is not concerned over his sore chest keeping him from the mound. Use this latest injury news as the straw to break a fellow owner's back and get them to trade you Oswalt. Despite a rise in ERA in July, his walk totals -- formerly his biggest problem -- plummeted. In April, May and June he walked 17, 10 and 16. So far in 25 July innings, he has issued three free passes. With 11 days rest between starts, assuming he is good to go next week, Oswalt will be poised to finish the year in old form.
Mike Mussina, SP, NYY: I've been an advocate of Mussina since Joe Torre started pairing him with catcher Wil Nieves. But since the acquisition of Jose Molina, Nieves is one catcher too many for the Yankees bench. Jorge Posada was back behind the plate for Mussina's past two starts. One was a positive result, one was a negative. If I am fighting for position in a tight fantasy league, I'm benching Mussina to see what happens in the next start with Posada giving him the signals.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com and TalentedMrRoto.com. He can be reached at alla_rino@TalentedMrRoto.com.