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It might have been just a one-and-done audition, a spot start, but Max Scherzer made the most of his opportunity Sunday, in a high-pressure game with playoff implications.
While the Diamondbacks' sagging bullpen eventually blew the game, Scherzer did all he could to avoid the sweep, as he limited the Dodgers to three runs on five hits in five innings of work. Most importantly, he fanned 11 hitters.
Now that's the power-pitching prospect we've been waiting for!
There's a ton to like in Scherzer's 2008 numbers as we look forward to next season. In 13 big-league games (four of them starts), he has a 3.00 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 45 strikeouts in 39 innings and a .229 batting average allowed. Meanwhile, for Triple-A Tucson, Scherzer made 13 appearances (10 starts) and logged a 2.72 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 79 K's in 53 innings and a .182 BAA. Those are extraordinary full-season totals: We're talking a 12.13 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio and a .202 BAA combined between the majors and minors. That's a pretty un-hittable pitcher.
So the question now is, what's next for Scherzer?
Assuming Randy Johnson is healthy enough to take his next turn in the rotation -- he's the one Scherzer replaced Sunday -- a return to the bullpen is in order. Scherzer could yet carve out an important role for himself as a reliever heading into the postseason -- assuming the Diamondbacks get there -- as in shorter outings he can concentrate on completely overwhelming hitters. Unsurprisingly, he has held opposing hitters to a .172 average in his nine relief appearances this season.
But it's his 2009 potential that has Scherzer owners -- or prospective ones -- excited. He should be a prime candidate for a rotation spot, and if that's not an option, a future as a closer could be in order, a future that might begin as soon as next season. Scouts feel Scherzer has ace-starter or elite-closer upside. Even if his command is somewhat shaky, as it was in an earlier stint with the big club this season, he'll be a decent middle-of-the-rotation option with plenty of appeal in leagues that reward strikeouts.
Health, actually, is the greater concern with Scherzer. Be aware that he missed a month while with Tucson this summer because of shoulder fatigue, and as a power pitcher, that injury could return at some point. He hasn't even topped 100 innings between the majors and minors this season, so expect a cap on his workload in 2009.
David Purcey managed his second outstanding effort against the Rays in an 11-day span; he tossed eight shutout innings of six-hit baseball, striking out seven. He had tossed eight innings against Tampa Bay on Aug. 27, allowing one run on five hits while striking out 11. Purcey has been alternating good and bad outings for the past month, and seems to be starting to figure things out at this level. With a good spring training, he could be an AL-only sleeper or spot-start candidate heading into 2009. Don't expect a lot out of him this year, though, not with the Blue Jays' remaining schedule including seven games against the Red Sox, six against the Orioles, four against the White Sox and three against the Yankees. ... With B.J. Ryan having worked four of the previous five days, and having thrown 25 pitches in each of his last three appearances, the Blue Jays gave Jesse Carlson the save chance on Sunday, and he converted it. There's nothing to suggest Ryan won't get the next save, though, so don't read much into this. ... Kerry Wood suffered his second consecutive loss Sunday, allowing three runs on three hits and two walks while recording only one out. Again, there's little to indicate his closer role is in jeopardy, even with Carlos Marmol tossing 1 1/3 shutout innings to set him up, but any problems like this from Wood have to raise the health question. No word that he's hurt, but it's something to keep watch. ... Aaron Harang tossed his fourth consecutive quality-start effort, and during that span he has a 3.12 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and, perhaps most importantly, a 2.75:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's looking close to his pre-injury self and doesn't face that hazardous a remaining schedule. ... Despite being scratched from the starting lineup with a sore left ankle, Chris Dickerson came on to provide a pinch-hit, game-tying, two-RBI double to saddle Wood with the blown save (Jolbert Cabrera's RBI single handed Wood the loss). Dickerson continues to hit despite his strikeout tendencies in Triple-A that seem to suggest he would have a low batting average. Keep riding this hot streak. ... Francisco Rodriguez notched his 55th save, tying him with Eric Gagne (2003) and John Smoltz (2002) for the second-best single-season total in baseball history. He has 20 games remaining to take aim at Bobby Thigpen's single-season mark of 57. Those are good odds. ... Paul Konerko homered for the third consecutive game and managed his sixth multi-hit effort in his past 10 contests. Few seem to realize he's batting .293 with eight homers in 45 games since his return from the DL, not quite in line with his rates from past years but certainly useful for fantasy. ... Chris Young tossed 7 2/3 perfect innings and finished with a one-run, two-hit, complete-game effort against the Brewers. It's quite an encouraging outing in his second start since returning from a strained forearm, and it appears his final three starts will come against the Giants, Nationals and Pirates. A strong finish should be expected. ... Cliff Lee's astonishing season continued on Sunday, as he notched his 21st win, winning his 10th consecutive decision. He has a 2.06 ERA and 1.07 WHIP during that span, and a 6.11:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, too. Lee is already assured the Cy Young award; everything from this point forward is gravy (and fantasy owners in head-to-head leagues gobble down gravy). ... Instead of holding him back to battle the division rival Cubs, Adam Wainwright got the call for the Cardinals on Sunday against the Marlins, a move that fantasy owners must have loved. He went eight innings and allowed one run on six hits for the win, instead of having to deal with a much tougher matchup Tuesday against the Cubs. Even better: Now it appears his four remaining starts will be at Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati, versus the Diamondbacks and versus the Reds, a pretty favorable schedule. ... Jamie Moyer continues to simply dominate at Shea Stadium; he tossed six scoreless innings of two-hit baseball to win Game 1 of Sunday's doubleheader. He has a 2.25 ERA in six starts there between this and last season, but sadly, Sunday was his last regular-season start there (ever). No matter; the Phillies do have a lot of Braves, Marlins and Nationals on their remaining schedule, so Moyer should be fine the rest of the way. ... Paul Byrd sure has been a smart pickup for the Red Sox; with Sunday's win he has four wins in his first five starts for the team. He tossed 6 2/3 shutout innings of three-hit baseball against a potent Rangers offense at Texas' bandbox ballpark, and looks to finish his season with starts against the Blue Jays (twice in a row) and Indians. That's quite the favorable schedule. ... Jose Lopez went 3-for-4 and hit two home runs against the Yankees, raising his season batting average to .294. It has been a much more encouraging second half for him than the one in 2007; he's batting .285 with nine homers and 30 RBIs in 47 games since the All-Star break. Lopez is no fantasy standout, but maybe he can be a useful starter after all. ... Mike Mussina's chances at his first career 20-win campaign took a severe hit when he allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings. He has been one of this year's greatest comeback stories, regardless of his finish, but as things stand he'll likely pitch three more times, against the Rays, White Sox and Blue Jays. But fantasy owners can root for the Yankees to shuffle their rotation so he can start a fourth time, in the regular-season finale at Boston. ... Carlos Delgado continued his stellar campaign by belting two home runs in the crucial Sunday night game against the Phillies, helping his Mets maintain a two-game lead in the division. Since (and including) that two-homer, nine-RBI game he had at Yankee Stadium on June 27), he's batting .299 with 22 homers and 65 RBIs in 64 games. Wow.
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Cabrera's 1,000th career hit was his 32nd homer of the season. He's two homers and six RBIs from tying his career-best marks from last year. He has 16 homers and 56 RBIs since the All-Star break.
Pedro Martinez, Mets
While Johan Santana prevailed in the nightcap against the Phillies, Martinez showed why he's not an ace anymore, as he gave up six runs and seven hits over four innings in the first game of the twin bill.
There's a chance Billy Wagner's season is officially over. According to Newsday, he walked off the mound in disgust after being forced to cut short a throwing session between games during Sunday's doubleheader. It was his first session against hitters since Aug. 16 in Pittsburgh. Wagner will be re-examined on Monday, but that he continues to experience discomfort in his elbow will surely keep the Mets conservative with his rehabilitation. Luis Ayala's grasp on the closer job just got stronger. ... Nate McLouth left Sunday's game after apparently injuring his left eye attempting a diving catch, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The sunglasses he was wearing were shattered when the ball bounced and hit him near his eye, and the ball caromed off his face and into left field. McLouth had to be helped off the field with a towel covering his face, so don't expect to see him out there for the next couple days, at least. ... The Mariners scratched Carlos Silva from Sunday's start after he complained of a stiff back, suffered while shagging balls in the outfield and taking pitchers' fielding practice on Saturday. He's also expected to fly to Minnesota to be with his wife for the birth of their child. "That's probably not going to be a big help, either, flying cross-country and all that," said manager Jim Riggleman. "We certainly don't look at it as season-ending, but we don't know exactly how quick we'll get him back." ... John Maine told the New York Daily News that doctors have told him to wait another week before picking up a baseball, putting his chances at returning this season at pretty slim, even as a reliever. He'll do arm exercises this week. Maine could sneak in a few games out of the bullpen in late September on this schedule, and be ready for a relief role in the playoffs, but for fantasy, it's beyond time to write him off for 2008. ... The Indians are expected to promote Travis Hafner from his just-completed rehabilitation assignment with Double-A Akron and activate him from the disabled list on Tuesday, according to the team's official Web site. He hit a grand slam Friday and then another home run on Saturday to help the Aeros advance to the Eastern League Championship series, and was expected to work out with the Indians before Monday's game against the Orioles. "He felt as good as he's felt [Saturday]," said manager Eric Wedge. "We'll talk to him [Monday], give him a work day and potentially activate him Tuesday." Hafner should get a good share of at bats as the designated hitter to demonstrate he's fully healed for 2009. ... Elbow tightness will force Brandon Backe to miss his scheduled start on Monday, according to the Astros' official Web site. He has thrown 162 2/3 innings this season, exceeding his career high of 149 1/3, set in 2005. "I don't want to miss the start, but I don't want to press it too far," said Backe. "The decision was made by [manager Cecil Cooper] that I was going to be skipped and I didn't argue with the fact that he said that. It's OK with me." Alberto Arias will start in Backe's place on Monday against the Pirates.
• The Nationals activated Dmitri Young from the DL following Sunday's game, further clogging first base. Now they'll need to figure out how to dish out starts among Aaron Boone and Kory Casto, who have shared the position for the past month, and Young. Don't expect much from this trio.
• Devern Hansack was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket by the Red Sox in order to provide bullpen depth. He had a 4.05 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 20 starts for Pawtucket, displaying his typical decent command. Hansack won't be of any use to fantasy owners, and he's no longer much of a spot-start candidate for the Red Sox, either.
• The Indians recalled Scott Lewis from Double-A Akron, and will grant him the start in Anthony Reyes' place on Wednesday. He was 8-4 with a 2.40 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 17 starts combined between Akron and Triple-A Buffalo, and has gaudy minor league career numbers (2.70 ERA, 1.08 WHIP). But before you get too excited about Lewis, consider that he hasn't tallied more than 26 starts or 134 2/3 innings in a season, so durability could be a concern. He might be matchups-capable in 2009, but you probably shouldn't trust a potential one-and-done spot starter this deep in the 2008 season.
• Kevin Jepsen, a lights-out reliever in the minors and for Team USA in the Olympics this season, had his contract purchased from Triple-A Salt Lake by the Angels. He'll help fill their bullpen and could be an interesting sleeper in a setup role heading into 2009. Keep an eye on how he does this month.
• Wade Davis pitched Triple-A Durham into the Governors' Cup finals with six innings of one-run, four hit baseball to defeat Louisville. It was his eighth quality-start effort in 10 turns since his promotion from Double-A Montgomery; he's 5-2 with a 2.59 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 59 innings in those 10 starts. Davis has an outside chance at joining the Rays' bullpen once the Bulls are done with their postseason, though the fact he's not on the team's 40-man roster might mean his big-league debut waits until 2009. He should be one of the first pitchers called upon, though fellow Bull David Price surely ranks ahead of him on the depth chart.
• Bartolo Colon tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings, albeit in a losing effort, for Triple-A Pawtucket, allowing two hits while striking out three. Tack that onto his six-inning, one-run, four-hit effort Pawtucket on Sept. 1 and Colon looks about ready to step in for the big club if needed. Rumblings leading into the weekend had the veteran a candidate to start one of the games of Saturday's doubleheader.
• Phil Hughes pitched his best game of the season in the clinching game for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre against Pawtucket, logging eight shutout innings of four-hit, 11-strikeout baseball to propel his team into the Governors' Cup finals. In Hughes' past three starts, he has pitched 20 innings, struck out 26 and allowed three earned runs on 14 hits. He'll stick with Scranton-Wilkes Barre until the playoffs are over, and might get a brief look in the Yankees' rotation the final week-plus of their season. Hughes should be virtually guaranteed a spot in the Yankees' rotation to begin 2009, considering his potential.
• Travis Metcalf hit two of the RedHawks' six home runs as they advanced to the PCL finals. It was his second multi-homer game in the past eight days, and in the first round of Triple-A Oklahoma's playoffs, he batted .278 with three homers and nine RBIs. Metcalf will be a candidate to rejoin the Rangers' bench once the finals end.