Around the AL: Injuries, new and old.
What's been going on around the American League in the past week? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the news and notes for each of the 14 AL teams:
Baltimore Orioles: Bad news for one of this year's more popular late-round sleepers, as Adam Loewen will be lost for perhaps four months after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left elbow. He had been pitching through a persistent ache in his left forearm, which could help explain his disturbingly high 26 walks in 30 1/3 innings, and finally was shut down after leaving his most recent start last Tuesday. The Orioles have since shipped Loewen to the 60-day disabled list and ordered him to rest for two months, meaning anything he provides fantasy owners this season should be considered a welcome surprise. Of course, a September return would be encouraging to those AL-only owners in deep keeper leagues, as the 23-year-old former first rounder does have a bright future ahead. With Loewen and Jaret Wright now out for extended periods, the Orioles are in desperate straits for starters, inserting Brian Burres and Jeremy Guthrie into their rotation. Neither seems likely to offer fantasy owners much, and the team views each as a stopgap solution. That's good news for Garrett Olson, though; he now has a 4.36 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and .220 BAA in six starts for Triple-A Norfolk and could get a chance to move up to the majors by the All-Star break.
Boston Red Sox: With Roger Clemens' decision on where he'll pitch in 2007 now known, the fifth-starter role in Boston seems far more likely to come down only to in-house candidates. That's why Jon Lester's setback in his second rehabilitation start for Triple-A Pawtucket is so troubling; the odds-on favorite to overtake Julian Tavarez suffered cramping in his forearm and is now with the Red Sox for evaluation. He'll be brought along slowly, meaning any further struggles from Tavarez could mean Devern Hansack gets the first chance to step in as the No. 5 starter. Hansack, recalled from Pawtucket last Thursday, could be a useful matchups option if moved into the rotation, and it's possible he could pitch himself into a more prominent role as a reliever, too. In deep AL-only leagues, he's not a bad pitcher to stash on your bench in the event his role increases.
New York Yankees: Where Andy Pettitte goes, Roger Clemens is sure to follow. Such has been the case since 1999, as the two have been teammates since then, including their three-year stint in Houston from 2004 to '06, and now they'll be reunited in pinstripes this summer, as Clemens made the surprise announcement to the Yankee Stadium crowd on Sunday that he has agreed to terms with the Yankees. He'll begin on a minor league deal and eventually earn a prorated one-year, $28 million contract, perhaps joining the beleaguered Yankees rotation by as early as Memorial Day, becoming an instant prize in any leagues in which he's available. Wins shouldn't be a problem for Clemens, nor should strikeouts, but for those who look at his 2.40 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in his three years in Houston and expect a similar performance, be prepared for a disappointment. Clemens the Yankee from 1999 to 2003 managed a 3.99 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 11 wins and 133 strikeouts per 22 starts, the probable number of starts he'll make in 2007. Those numbers seem about right, but they're still better than those of most anyone you'll find in free agency all year.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Major League Baseball suspended Juan Salas for 50 games on Monday for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, a distressing development for the Devil Rays considering he was the only reliever other than closer Al Reyes with an ERA below four. His loss, coupled with Ruddy Lugo's demotion, demonstrates the turnover in the team's bullpen, which ranks dead last in the majors in ERA (5.46) despite Reyes' astonishing start. In their places the Devil Rays recalled Chad Orvella, at one time a candidate for the closer role, and Seth McClung could soon be on his way as well. Orvella had a 2.76 ERA in 12 appearances for Triple-A Durham, and could quickly elevate himself to next in line for saves with a hot start. Keep tabs on him, as he was a former minor league closer and there's no guarantee Reyes will stay healthy all year.
Toronto Blue Jays: Mark the Blue Jays down as a team you shouldn't trust with regard to injury information. In an interview with a local Toronto radio station last Thursday, general manager J.P. Ricciardi admitted that he misled the media in reporting that it was B.J. Ryan's back that cost him nearly two weeks during spring training. Apparently Ricciardi, the Blue Jays' medical staff and Ryan himself knew it was the left-hander's elbow that was troubling him all along, and the report about a back problem was meant to buy the team more time. Ryan has since been transferred to the 60-day DL, and news that his elbow has been an issue since mid-March helps back the rumors he might eventually require Tommy John surgery. With Ryan out until at least mid-June, it's worth speculating for saves in the Toronto bullpen. Jason Frasor might be the closer today, but don't overlook what Jeremy Accardo has done in middle relief. Accardo has tossed 13 2/3 shutout innings with a 0.80 WHIP and .130 BAA in 11 games, compared to Frasor's shaky 6.39/1.34/.213 rates. The former Giants minor league closer could be a factor for saves sooner than you think, so snatch him up now if you have the bench room to do so.
Chicago White Sox: Darin Erstad appears to have claimed the everyday leadoff role, a spot manager Ozzie Guillen says he'll retain even after Scott Podsednik's return from the DL. In his last 12 games, Erstad has batted .391 (18-for-46), though it's no guarantee he'll be able to maintain an on-base percentage high enough to warrant keeping the spot all year. He's well worth using in AL-only and deep mixed leagues while he remains hot, but keep in mind he has topped a .330 on-base percentage only three times in the past eight seasons, a poor rate for a leadoff man. More distressing is the fantasy impact of the decision on Podsednik's value, once he returns sometime in the next month. As a No. 9 hitter, he'll receive fewer at-bats and therefore fewer stolen base chances, and his runs scored total could suffer with Erstad and Tadahito Iguchi hitting behind him.
Cleveland Indians: It only took one spin through the rotation before Fausto Carmona was called back by the Indians, as the night before Cliff Lee marked his return from the disabled list last Thursday, Jake Westbrook suffered a strained left abdominal muscle that sent him to the DL. He'll miss about a month, likely costing him a roster spot in many fantasy leagues based on his terrible start to the season. Slow starts are nothing new for Westbrook, though; he was 2-7 with a 5.94 ERA in 11 starts combined the past two Aprils, and 28-18 with a 4.04 ERA in 55 starts the rest of the year. Keep him around if you can, because at worst there's matchups potential for him in the season's second half. Carmona, meanwhile, not only is worth a pickup, but one could argue he warrants a permanent rotation spot in Cleveland. With Monday's victory he's now 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in five starts, and I point to his 2.35:1 career ground ball-to-fly ball ratio as a sign he'll minimize mistakes. Call him a "pound-'em-into-the-ground" type, a trait that should make Carmona one of the safer matchups plays for as long as he's starting.
Detroit Tigers: So much for Joel Zumaya threatening Todd Jones' job security. The right-hander landed on the DL on Sunday after he felt a pop in the middle knuckle in his pitching hand while warming up in the bullpen the night before. He has been diagnosed with a ruptured tendon that will require surgery, costing him nearly three months. That thrusts Fernando Rodney into the primary set-up role, making him a useful handcuff for Jones owners in larger leagues, though it also decreases the likelihood that Jones will turn over the closer role barring an untimely injury of his own. What Jones' detractors fail to recognize is that since last June 15, the right-hander has converted 32 of 37 save chances with a 2.00 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 54 appearances, making him one of the most effective closers in the game during that span. He's sure looking pretty safe.
Kansas City Royals: It sure didn't take long for the Royals to clear a more permanent starting spot in their outfielder for rookie Billy Butler, though it took an unfortunate injury to do it. Reggie Sanders, who had actually been a useful AL-only outfielder throughout April, suffered a torn left hamstring during last Wednesday's game, sending him to the DL. He'll be out at least one month and perhaps until the All-Star break, allowing the Royals to be as patient with Butler as they've been with struggling third baseman Alex Gordon. Butler already has three multi-hit efforts in his first six games for the Royals, and he's now a much safer long-term bet with Emil Brown his only real competition for at-bats. It's growing increasingly likely he'll be able to offer his owners a .290 batting average and as many as 15 home runs.
Minnesota Twins: Defending American League batting champion Joe Mauer was dealt a serious blow to his chances at repeating that title when he landed on the DL on Sunday with a strained left quadriceps. After he was scratched from Saturday's lineup, a precautionary MRI revealed bleeding in his quadriceps, something that could cost him anywhere from two weeks to a month or more. Mauer had yet to show the power many -- myself included -- expected of him this season, but he continued to bat at an exceptional rate, .353 through 28 games, a top-10 number in the league. Now the Twins will have to make do without their best pure batsman, and his owners are forced to scramble to a free-agent list that can't possibly boast a talent close to Mauer's level. Mike Redmond takes over as the Twins' starter, and his .291 career batting average does indicate some value as an AL-only No. 2 catcher. However, he has long been known to offer only an empty batting average; only 106 of his 503 career hits have gone for extra bases, and 92 of those were doubles. In daily leagues, Redmond is a good player to spot in when he faces a lefty, as he hits them at .328/.814 career rates. Beyond that, though, his appeal is limited.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels placed Garret Anderson on the DL last Friday after an MRI revealed a tear in his right hip flexor tendon. There's no timetable for his return, but with yet another Angels hitter on the DL, expect the team to be linked to trade rumors in the next several weeks. Reggie Willits, a .302 career minor league hitter who averaged 38 stolen bases the past three years, should continue to stand in for him, making him a useful AL-only addition if you're in need of speed. Long term, though, the Angels could pursue a deal for a bat like the Rockies' Brad Hawpe, Cubs' Jacque Jones or Brewers' Kevin Mench, so don't expect Willits' value to be strong for long. Brandon Wood is back in L.A. after Maicer Izturis landed on the DL last Thursday with a strained right hamstring. It's a curious move for the Angels, as they don't appear to have much interest in shifting Chone Figgins to second base. That makes Wood only a part-time player, and with his high-strikeout tendencies, he shouldn't be counted on to make much of an impact. Keep him in mind more in deep AL-only or keeper leagues.
Oakland Athletics: Mike Piazza has struggled through a tough first month in the American League, and now he'll miss a significant portion of the season after he suffered a sprained right shoulder, the result of a collision with the Red Sox's Mike Lowell last Wednesday. Piazza will miss four to six weeks, and one has to wonder whether the ailment might have an impact on his performance initially upon his return. In other words, we might not see him back to full form until close to the All-Star break, a real problem for fantasy considering the dearth of quality free-agent catchers. The Athletics, meanwhile, have been using the suddenly available DH at-bats to ease Nick Swisher's recovery from a hamstring strain, though newly acquired Jack Cust should get a look once Swisher is ready to return to the field. Cust, despite a .217 batting average and 57 strikeouts in 138 at-bats in stints with the Rockies and Orioles in 2002-03, appears an Adam Dunn type, an all-or-nothing slugger with a high walk rate. That's a shaky player, but then Dunn's not a useless one, either. Cust might not bat higher than .250, but if he gets 250 at-bats he could be a 15-homer hitter. In leagues that use on-base percentage instead of batting average, he could be quite the sleeper.
Seattle Mariners: It's not yet time to panic, but it's officially time to start worrying about the severity of Felix Hernandez's elbow injury. Originally slated to return from the DL on May 4, "King Felix" has since seen that estimated return date pushed back to May 9, and now the Mariners have pushed it back again, to May 15 against the Angels. Sure, it's possible that all could go well with Hernandez's recovery between now and the 15th, but that's a good number of steps to be taken, and if Chris Carpenter's rehabilitation was any indication, he supposedly made it all the way to his final step before suffering the setback that sent him in for surgery. Hernandez will throw a simulated game on Tuesday and then a bullpen session on Friday, after which point a decision will be made on his status for May 15. Still, you can count on the Mariners being cautious with their prized right-hander, so don't be surprised if his return date is bumped back once again. At this point, consider another 18-20 usable starts from him a good finish to the year.
Texas Rangers: Kevin Millwood hit the DL last Saturday with a strained left hamstring, which he suffered while shagging fly balls during batting practice last Wednesday, a night before his scheduled start. Though his fantasy owners might not mind his absence due to his disappointing 5.88 ERA and 1.72 WHIP through six starts, Millwood is nonetheless a better pitcher than the numbers to date, and not an easy one to replace. Most frustrating about his injury is that it doesn't help explain his shaky start; that's all performance related. He's a better pitcher than this, but since hamstring problems can often cost a pitcher a month's action, be prepared to be without Millwood until perhaps June. Eric Gagne (hip) might be activated in time for Tuesday's game in New York, leading to an interesting question for the Rangers: Who closes, Gagne or Akinori Otsuka? The Rangers turned the role back over to Gagne the last time he came off the DL, though Otsuka's 1.54 ERA and 4-for-4 save conversion rate should make them rethink that this time. Even if Otsuka is returned to set-up relief this week, his performance the last year-plus, as well as Gagne's injury history, should make Otsuka well worth keeping on hand.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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