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Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Around the NL: Nolasco debuts, Rollins third

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Editor's Note: 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: It's clear the Braves intend to play the matchups to fill in while closer Bob Wickman is sidelined; in their two save chances since Wickman's DL stint began, left-hander Mike Gonzalez and right-hander Rafael Soriano have a save apiece. Manager Bobby Cox is willing to turn to Gonzalez before the ninth inning when multiple left-handed batters are due up, such as the eighth inning of Wednesday's game against the Phillies, when both Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were due up. It's possible the Braves will continue to split the chances based on matchups until Wickman returns, so keep both on hand for now, especially in NL-only formats. … With both Brian McCann (finger) and Brayan Pena (concussion) banged up in the past week, the Braves promoted top prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia to help fill in. He has earned starts in two of the team's past five games, though with McCann on the mend, don't expect Saltalamacchia to stick around for long. With his upside, he's a useful No. 2 NL-only option while he's up, but it would take a long-term McCann injury for him to become valuable in mixed formats.

Florida Marlins: In one of the more surprising moves of the past week, the Marlins demoted one of last year's most promising rookies, Anibal Sanchez, to Triple-A Albuquerque last Friday. Sure, he was 2-1 with a 4.80 ERA in six starts for the big club, seemingly decent enough numbers, but there were underlying concerns with him. He had only one quality start, averaging five innings per turn, and his 5.70 walks per nine innings ratio and 2.07 WHIP weren't at all in line with his 3.62/1.19 rates as a rookie or 2.90/1.10 career minor league numbers. Then, on Tuesday, the explanation came: Sanchez admitted after his demotion that he had been battling tendinitis in his shoulder, a problem similar to the one he complained about in January. It's possible that he's now paying the price for throwing 200 innings combined between the majors and minors in 2006, a career high and 64 frames more than the year before. Sanchez is worth keeping around in NL-only formats, but the unfortunate fact is that since he's on the minor league DL, he's ineligible for DL status in fantasy leagues. Feel free to cut him in mixed formats.

New York Mets: So much for Chan Ho Park lasting as the Mets' fifth starter in Orlando Hernandez's absence. After the right-hander was pounded for seven runs in four innings on April 30, the Mets returned him to Triple-A New Orleans, replacing him with Jorge Sosa. At first glance, Sosa might not appear any better an option in the Mets' rotation than Park, with his lifetime 4.59 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, though there is room for optimism. He was 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in five starts at New Orleans, and in 20 starts for the 2005 Braves, he was 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA while working with pitching guru Leo Mazzone. It seems Sosa has the talent to be a successful starter, and it's possible he merely needs to work with the right pitching coach, one who can get through to him. The Mets' Rick Peterson could indeed be that coach, and if Sosa's first start -- 6 1/3 IP, 2 ER, win last Saturday -- is any indication, he's worth a pickup in NL-only formats. Hernandez is slated for a minor league rehabilitation assignment, allowing Sosa another two starts to show his stuff. That could be enough for him to earn a permanent spot ahead of Mike Pelfrey.

Philadelphia Phillies: Brett Myers' stay as a middle reliever was rather short-lived, as closer Tom Gordon landed on the DL last Friday with inflammation in his right rotator cuff. He complained of pain in his shoulder while the Phillies were on the road last week, and returned home to Philadelphia for an injection to ease the pain last Friday. Gordon's diagnosis could have been worse -- he might miss only 2-3 weeks -- but it's a bad time for him to hit the DL. That's because Myers, who has a 0.87 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 10 appearances since his move to the bullpen, is now the team's closer, and he has the talent to lock down the role for the long haul. Myers picked up two saves in two appearances in San Francisco over the weekend, and he's far too valuable to the team to bump back into a middle-relief role, barring a disastrous performance the next two weeks. Gordon might have to settle for a setup role, one similar to his with the Yankees from 2004-05, though at least he'd be a useful NL-only handcuff for Myers owners. As for Myers, with his talent and speed adapting to his new role, he should be a top-10 closer from this point forward.

Washington Nationals: We might finally have an explanation for John Patterson's slow start -- he's 1-5 with a 7.47 ERA through seven starts -- as he landed on the DL on Sunday due to soreness in his elbow and biceps. An MRI revealed no structural damage, but he has inflammation and fluid in the elbow, the same one on which he had surgery last season. Patterson will miss at least a month, and with his injury history, it's possible he could be out for much longer than that. Don't expect too much from him the rest of the year, especially taking into account how little run support he'll get from the Nationals' bats even once he's healthy. … Closer Chad Cordero landed on the bereavement list on Tuesday, and he'll be in Southern California for the next 3-7 games to attend to his ailing grandmother. With him gone, expect the closing duties to fall to Jon Rauch, who has a 4.67 ERA but also a 0.92 WHIP in 18 appearances. In leagues that allow daily transactions, Rauch is well worth a pickup for some cheap saves, especially taking into account that 10 of the team's next 12 games come at pitching-friendly RFK Stadium.

National League Central

Chicago Cubs: Remember the days when Angel Guzman was considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball? It wasn't too long ago, as he ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects three years straight from 2003-05, topping out at No. 26 in 2004. Health problems have dogged him ever since his first appearance on the list, though; shoulder surgery in 2003 slowed his career, limiting him to 32 starts combined in the minor leagues from 2003-05. Now Guzman is up and in the Cubs' rotation, despite his 12.19 ERA and .318 BAA in three starts for Triple-A Iowa this year. Unfortunately, to date his arsenal seems more suited to relief work than starting; he's 0-6 with an 8.50 ERA in 11 career starts, but has a 1.74 ERA in nine career relief appearances. With Guzman's upside, he's worth picking up and tracking in NL-only formats, but a slow start from him might mean Wade Miller reclaims his fifth-starter role once healthy, sometime within the next month.

Cincinnati Reds: What's with Alex Gonzalez's sudden power burst? With his two home runs on Monday night, he's now up to seven for the season, a pace of 35 for the full year. In fact, he's in the midst of a torrid hot streak in which he's batting .370 (20-for-54) with all seven homers in his past 13 games. Remember, this is a player who hit nine home runs in all of 2006 in 111 contests, though Gonzalez has displayed a decent share of pop in the past, with 41 homers combined from 2003-04, in a spacious ballpark in Florida. Great American Ballpark's hitter-friendly confines do play well to a potential 20-homer year for Gonzalez, but look back to 2003-04 as indications what you might expect from him the rest of the way. In 2003, he got off to a .333-9-28 start through 39 games, but finished with a .226-9-49 line in his next 111 contests. In 2004, he batted only .232 in setting a career best with 23 homers. In other words, Gonzalez has shown similar streaks in his past, but his career .248/.691 rates show how shaky he can be with the bat overall. He's much more a glove man, so enjoy his hot streak while it lasts.

Houston Astros: The Astros and his fantasy owners might not be happy with his output thus far, but Morgan Ensberg is still a player with whom I'd recommend patience. Sure, he's a .242 hitter with two homers and a career-worst .721 OPS, but isn't it possible he's merely getting comfortable to new spots in the lineup? The Astros have been hitting him second a fair share, which isn't nearly as bad an idea as it might seem. He sports a career .372 on-base percentage, and .388 since 2005, which might actually make him a case for the leadoff spot, as was the case last Saturday. If Ensberg can get himself on base nearly 40 percent of the time, hitting 20-25 home runs, a 100-run season wouldn't be an unreasonable expectation. The main problem with him is the Astros' intent on finding spots for Mike Lamb and Mark Loretta to play; they have combined for eight starts in 31 games at third base. Ensberg needs a hot streak soon to re-establish himself as an everyday player, but I'm hopeful he'll do so and bounce back with .270-25 numbers and 100 runs.

Milwaukee Brewers: His defense in the spring was rather troublesome, but Ryan Braun's bat is getting too good to keep buried at Triple-A Nashville. He's off to a blistering start, batting .358 with eight home runs in 28 games, and his defense hasn't been a major concern, either, with only two errors. Meanwhile, at the big-league level, the Brewers have received only .220/.604 numbers in 32 games from their third-base platoon of Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino, easily their worst production from any field position. The Brewers would be smart to promote Braun in the near future, and while he might be one of the weaker defenders in baseball in his rookie season, there's little doubt he could bat .280 with 15-plus home runs given 100 games. Think at least a debut performance like Miguel Cabrera's following his June 20 promotion in 2003. … Speaking of top prospects who warrant a promotion in the near future, Yovani Gallardo becomes the next-most exciting minor league pitcher with Phil Hughes and Tim Lincecum now in the majors. He has a 2.19 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and .164 BAA in six starts at Nashville, and should be next in line for a rotation spot if one of the Brewers' arms gets hurt. Stash him away now.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Judging by his recent performance, Ryan Doumit is forcing the Pirates to find creative ways to get him into their lineup. Since his promotion from Triple-A Indianapolis on April 26, he has batted .484 (15-for-31) with two home runs and seven RBI in nine games, and at Indianapolis, he batted .415 (22-for-53) with four homers and 20 RBI in 16 games, recapturing the form that made him one of the more popular sleepers in 2005-06. The one concern with Doumit, a converted catcher, though, is that the Pirates lack a regular place for him to play. In his nine games since his most recent promotion, all starts, he has caught three times, played right field five and first base once. Doumit's catching ability leaves a bit to be desired, and though Adam LaRoche is off to a sluggish start, he's too good to keep on the bench regularly. That leaves right field as Doumit's most reasonable place to play, though it leaves Xavier Nady to the bench. Maybe Doumit's hot streak will be short-lived, but I look at his .292/.815 career minor league rates and see a fair share of upside. In leagues where he qualifies at catcher, he's not a bad No. 2 option.

St. Louis Cardinals: How frustrated are Chris Carpenter owners today? After picking him as the No. 2 starting pitcher in the preseason, those same owners had to deal with losing him for a month due to an elbow injury suffered in his first start of the regular season. Now, right as it seemed Carpenter was days away from returning to action, the Cardinals announced last Saturday that he will undergo arthroscopic surgery, costing him most of the season. He experienced some discomfort after pitching a simulated game last Tuesday, in what was his next-to-last step before returning to the Cardinals' rotation, causing the team to send him in for surgery on Tuesday. Carpenter will have bone spurs removed from his elbow and won't throw a ball for about six weeks after the surgery, and it'll likely be another six weeks from there before he'll be game-ready. In other words, he's out until at least August and might be sidelined for the season, though the Cardinals are optimistic he'll be back before the regular season concludes. In his place, Brad Thompson makes the move from the bullpen, a tough move for a young pitcher in-season. He'll need time to build up his stamina as a starter, though his career 2.94 ERA and 1.16 WHIP as a professional do suggest he could be a useful matchups time once that happens.

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks: Micah Owings was spared a demotion to Triple-A ball upon his activation from the DL last Thursday, as he reclaimed the fifth starter role some feared he might have lost upon Randy Johnson's recent activation from the DL. Instead, the Diamondbacks bumped Edgar Gonzalez to the bullpen, the right decision despite the fact that the right-hander did manage a 3.69 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 10 starts between 2006-07. Gonzalez managed only one quality start in his five tries this year, and he allowed eight home runs, too high a rate to expect continued success. He'll work out of the bullpen, though his respectable ratios do indicate he should be next in line should another spot open up. Keep tabs on him in NL-only formats. Owings, meanwhile, has far greater long-term upside, and he marked his return from a hamstring injury with a quality-start effort against the Mets, one of the better offenses in the game. His command hasn't been nearly as suspect as it was at times in his minor league days, though with 10 walks in 21 1/3 innings to date, it's something to monitor. For now, consider Owings a useful NL-only option and a potential matchups consideration for mixed-league owners.

Colorado Rockies: It seems the Rockies have finally found a suitable hitter for the No. 2 spot in their lineup, as Troy Tulowitzki's rookie campaign has seemed to take off since his promotion to that lineup spot on April 25. In 11 games as a No. 2 hitter, Tulowitzki has batted .340 (16-for-47) with two home runs and 11 runs scored, scoring a run in all but one of those contests. He's now up to .259/.736 numbers for the season, and while he won't maintain that torrid a pace all year, he could offer his owners a .270-.280 batting average with plenty of runs scored if he sticks there. Tulowitzki's strikeout rate -- one per 4.16 at-bats for his big-league career -- remains a concern, but he was an on-base specialist in his minor league days (.365 career), making him well suited to sticking in the No. 2 hole. In fact, the Rockies now appear to be faced with a decision once Kazuo Matsui returns from the DL: Should Matsui be lowered in the lineup from his former No. 2 spot, or should the team lead him off? Willy Taveras currently occupies the top spot, so Matsui might find himself hitting seventh or eighth once he returns in late May.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The promotion of Andy LaRoche is much more a sign of the Dodgers giving up on the struggling Wilson Betemit than it is him having earned a promotion, at least statistically speaking. LaRoche endured a trying spring, batting only .175 (10-for-57) with two extra-base hits, both doubles, then got off to an uninspiring start at Triple-A Las Vegas, batting .235 with a .676 OPS in 24 games. Those numbers hardly indicate he's ready to make a significant impact at the big-league level, but with Betemit batting .153 with 19 strikeouts in 59 at-bats, the team felt it was time for a change. LaRoche, Baseball America's No. 19 prospect in the preseason, has comparable potential to brother Adam, and a season not unlike Adam's .278 batting average and 13 home runs in 110 games isn't an unreasonable expectation. Andy's sluggish start to 2007 makes him one of the riskier rookies around, but he's well worth adding in NL-only and larger mixed formats. Barring a dreadful start, he should be up to stay.

San Diego Padres: Though he managed a surprisingly good 3.71 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in his first year in the Padres' rotation in 2006, Clay Hensley's follow-up season has been far more trying. He kicked off the year as one of the more hittable pitchers in baseball, with a 7.62 ERA, 2.05 WHIP and .350 BAA in six starts, and in his sixth, he suffered a strained groin that sent him to the DL. Hensley shouldn't be out for long, supposedly being ready to return once he becomes eligible on May 18, but even after his return there's some concern as to whether he can recapture the form that made him a useful mixed-league matchups and solid NL-only option a year ago. Hensley isn't a future ace in the making, not by any means, but with his ballpark and bullpen helping him, he should be able to help fantasy teams when scheduled to face league-average or worse offenses. In his place, the Padres promoted Justin Germano to stand in for a few rotation turns, though he's hardly a worthwhile fantasy addition. He's worth tracking in NL-only formats, but his 7.67 ERA in six career starts suggests he's not yet ready to make an impact.

San Francisco Giants: Finally the Giants turned over their fifth-starter role to top prospect Tim Lincecum, who tore through the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) with a 0.29 ERA and .119 BAA in five starts to begin the year. He wasn't nearly as fortunate in his big-league debut, which came on national television on Sunday night, lasting only 4 1/3 innings and allowing five runs (four earned), but there's nevertheless plenty about him to generate excitement. Consider that in 13 minor league starts since he was picked 10th overall in the 2006 amateur draft, Lincecum is 6-0 with a 1.01 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and .123 BAA, virtually unhittable numbers. He'll need better command than he displayed on Sunday -- he threw only 53 of his 100 pitches for strikes -- but remember that even Phil Hughes had shaky command in his debut before bouncing back with 6 1/3 no-hit innings. Lincecum is as likely as any rookie pitcher to enjoy a debut year like that of Jered Weaver or Anibal Sanchez in 2006, so be patient. Suffice to say, once Russ Ortiz's elbow heals, he'll probably find himself pitching out of the bullpen, where he should be.

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