<
>

Around the AL: Beckett hurt

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:

American League East

Baltimore Orioles: For those fantasy owners concerned about Chris Ray's 4.34 ERA and three blown saves in 11 chances, it's important to take into account the context of his poor performances. All three of those have come against either the Red Sox or the Yankees, and his past seven blown saves dating back to last year's All-Star break have come against teams that ranked among the top 10 offenses in the majors. Take out Ray's games against the Red Sox and Yankees this season and he'd have three wins, five saves, 14 scoreless innings and a 0.57 WHIP in 13 appearances. Take out Ray's 28 combined appearances against the Red Sox and Yankees for his career and he'd be 7-4 with 35 saves in 42 chances, a 2.43 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 93 appearances, which are pretty solid numbers. He's 1-6 with a 6-for-11 performance in saves, a 4.66 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in those career games against the two division rivals, which says one thing: If you're in a league that affords you the depth to do it, consider playing Ray's matchups and sitting him out against the powerful Red Sox and Yankees lumber.

Boston Red Sox: Josh Beckett's string of wins in seven consecutive starts to begin the season was snapped on Sunday, and it came to an end not so much due to poor performance, but more because he tore a flap of skin on his right middle finger. He went four innings, allowing only two runs while striking out seven batters, looking every bit as dominant as he did in his previous seven starts, five of which were quality-start efforts. Now Beckett's status for his next start, Friday against the Braves, is in question. He played catch on Monday, but it's unclear whether the finger will heal in the four days between his starts, meaning he could be pushed back a few days or placed on the DL. Remember, Beckett has a long history of blisters, having made six DL trips in his career with blister-related issues, limiting him to an average of 26 starts a season from 2002-06, so be prepared to be without him for a couple of spins through the rotation. In AL-only formats, Devern Hansack wouldn't be a bad addition in the event he's called to stand in for Beckett.

New York Yankees: We finally have a timetable for Roger Clemens' return, as the Yankees have scheduled his first minor-league tune-up on Friday for Class A Tampa. From there he'll be sent to Double-A Trenton for a second appearance, perhaps on May 23, after which point the team will decide whether he needs a third start. If he makes only two minor-league starts, Clemens could join the Yankees in time for the May 28 game at Toronto, though he did require three minor-league starts before joining the Astros last season. If that's the case this year, he'll head to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to pitch on that date. Based on that timetable, Clemens' 2007 debut would come June 2 at Boston, quite the challenging matchup for him. He'll be well worth using in all formats for each of his MLB appearances this season, barring an unforeseen decline in performance, but remember that he did average only 5.96 innings per start in 2006, lasting as many as seven innings only five times, so be forewarned that there should be a limit to your expectations.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The Devil Rays might need to reconsider their batting order in the near future, with Rocco Baldelli in the midst of a dreadful slump to begin the month. He's 1-for-37 (.027) with 13 strikeouts and only one walk in his last nine games, and 3-for-49 (.061) with 16 strikeouts and only two walks in 12 contests since May 1. Two-week slumps aren't unheard of from leadoff hitters, but in Baldelli's case, that he rarely ever draws a walk magnifies his poor performance when he's struggling while hitting out of such a prominent lineup spot. For his career he has averaged only one walk per 21.5 plate appearances, and his on-base percentage is .324, well below the MLB averages of 10.8 and .340 from leadoff hitters this season. The Devil Rays could maximize Baldelli's value by hitting him lower in the lineup, with perhaps Carl Crawford or B.J. Upton a better fit in the leadoff hole. Don't count on a change coming just yet, but with the Devil Rays as an offense struggling this month (2.92 R/G), it has to be something they're considering.

Toronto Blue Jays: Could there be a team more snakebitten this season than the Blue Jays? Last Thursday, B.J. Ryan succumbed to Tommy John surgery, ending his season and perhaps costing him a chunk of his 2008 as well. Then, the very next day, it was revealed that ace Roy Halladay would require an appendectomy, sending him to the DL and costing him four to six weeks. The loss of a team's closer and its top starter within the same week can be a crushing blow to a team's psyche, so don't be shocked if the Blue Jays as a team continue to struggle in the coming weeks, disappointing overall for the season. Halladay could return in as few as three weeks in the best-case scenario, but with the Blue Jays' season already nearly lost, expect the team to be as patient with him as necessary. Fortunately for fantasy owners, there is a promising development as a result of those injuries. With Ryan out, the closer role remains up for grabs, and Jeremy Accardo, he of the 16 2/3 scoreless innings this season, appears primed to seize it for himself. He picked up his first save of the year on Saturday, and needs to be owned in the 36.5 percent of ESPN leagues in which he remains available. A former minor league closer, Accardo could step in right away as a solid second-tier fantasy option.

American League Central

Chicago White Sox: Jim Thome owners will have to wait another week before he returns to the White Sox's lineup, as the team's upcoming interleague matchup against the Cubs forced the team into a decision regarding the slugging designated hitter. With the games scheduled at Wrigley Field, where there is no DH, Thome would be relegated to a pinch-hitting role, and with him not quite ready to play in the team's early-week series against the Yankees, the White Sox decided instead to send him on a week-long rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Charlotte. Thome should be fine in time for the White Sox's three-game series against the Athletics beginning May 21, after which point he's well worth activating in all fantasy formats. His owners, and owners of White Sox hitters, can only hope his return boosts the team's lineup; the team has averaged only 2.92 runs in the 13 games since Thome's last appearance. In addition, starters Joe Crede (.205/.549), Jermaine Dye (.203/.659), Tadahito Iguchi (.210/.640) and Paul Konerko (.194/.617) each have batting averages no higher than .210 and OPS no better than .659.

Cleveland Indians: Joe Borowski owners should go get Rafael Betancourt as a handcuff, as the veteran closer continues to look shaky into May. Sure, Borowski has 12 saves, tied for second in the AL, but after Monday's disastrous outing, his ERA is now 9.00 and his WHIP 1.73, hardly the types of numbers a fantasy owner wants to see from a closer. Betancourt, meanwhile, has a 2.45 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 14 appearances, and 3.21/1.15 rates for his career. Expect the Indians to give Borowski a few more chances to keep his closer role, but with the team performing well enough to stick in the playoff race, don't count on too much patience with him. Betancourt is every bit as strong a bet as a closer in the long haul, and AL-only owners should also take a look at Fernando Cabrera, despite his ninth-inning meltdown on Sunday. Cabrera has a 3.24 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings, and was once viewed as the team's closer-in-waiting.

Detroit Tigers: After Friday's 7-3 victory, the Tigers moved to 7-0 in Mike Maroth's starts this season, a surprising record considering the left-hander has never been considered much more than a fourth/fifth starter at the big-league level. He managed his third quality start of the season, and second in his last three turns, though that's hardly a reason to get too excited about his chances looking forward. For the season, Maroth has a 4.69 ERA and 1.71 WHIP, numbers that don't at all back up his having pitched that successfully, and sure enough, he's seventh in the majors in run support (7.81). These Tigers currently rank second in the league in runs per game (5.50), which helps make Maroth an appealing AL-only matchups type, but that's about it. ... Jeremy Bonderman had his scheduled start on Sunday pushed back due to a cut on the middle finger of his right hand, though the Tigers aren't concerned he'll need a DL stint. He'll likely start Friday's game against the Cardinals, a great matchup for him even at less than 100 percent.

Kansas City Royals: Incredibly, in the past week, the Royals decided that they were better off with both Scott Elarton and Luke Hudson in their rotation ahead of Zack Greinke, despite the fact that the latter had three quality starts in seven tries, with his two worst outings coming against the Tigers, one of the game's best offenses to date. Greinke was bumped to the bullpen, where he has allowed only one run on three hits in four innings in two appearances, but count on him making it back into the rotation at some point this season. He's well worth keeping reserved in AL-only leagues. Hudson, meanwhile, made only one start before returning to the DL due to biceps tendinitis. He had all the makings of an AL-only matchups type late last season, but is now a risky bet for the remainder of the year due to his constant injury issues. As for Elarton, that he had a 5.34 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and more walks (52) than strikeouts (49) in his 20 starts for the Royals before getting hurt last year doesn't bode well for his chances this season. Brian Bannister will stand in for Hudson for now, though Greinke should get his or Elarton's spot before too long.

Minnesota Twins: Finally the Twins gave up on Sidney Ponson, owner of a 6.93 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in seven starts this season. He was designated for assignment on Sunday, and the right-hander has said he'll return home to Florida, where he'll sit out the remainder of the season while deciding whether to resume his career in 2008. All I can say is it's about time for the Twins to turn over that spot to one of their younger starters in Triple-A ball, but in a curious move, it's Scott Baker who initially will get the assignment. He had a 3.16 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and .219 BAA in seven games (six starts) at Triple-A Rochester, rates well worthy of a promotion. Still, it's hard to forget that Baker endured a trying spring, with a 8.71 ERA and .412 BAA in 10 1/3 innings, and he was regularly pounded in 16 starts for the Twins last year, with a 6.37 ERA, 1.56 WHIP and .324 BAA. He's a command specialist whose solid finish to 2005 (3.35 ERA, nine starts) and minor league track record (career 2.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) do indicate upside, but AL-only owners should add him only as a reserve for now. There's a good chance the Twins will soon need to turn to either Matt Garza or Kevin Slowey, each also pitching well at Rochester, but that the team went to a man on their 40-man roster first to step in for Ponson suggests that Slowey's MLB debut might be further off than you'd think.

American League West

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Leave it to a newspaper report to put fear into fantasy owners. A report in Monday's Los Angeles Times noted that the Angels' patience with Ervin Santana's Jekyll-and-Hyde act between his home and road starts is wearing thin. While the paper stopped short of suggesting Santana might be on his way back to Triple-A ball, mere speculation that such a move could occur due to the team's depth in starters in Triple-A -- Joe Saunders and Dustin Moseley -- can't help but worry his owners. Sadly, Santana's road struggles are an issue, especially since he's now in his third big-league season and has yet to show any growth in that aspect of his game. He's 0-4 with a 7.86 ERA and 1.97 WHIP in five road starts this season, compared to 2-1 with 2.57/1.05 rates in three starts at home. For his career, he's now 9-15 with 6.69/1.60 rates in 30 road starts, and 21-6 with 3.04/1.13 numbers in 34 home starts. Those are astonishing splits, and ones that clearly put Santana in the matchups-potential category only. It's good that the Angels are beginning to address the right-handers' issues away from Angel Stadium, but I need to see a solid road outing or two from him before calling him trustworthy.

Oakland Athletics: Sure, it was nice to see Jack Cust finally get a chance to show his stuff as a starter, but who possibly could have foreseen the outburst he displayed in his first week with the Athletics? He homered in four consecutive games from Thursday-Sunday, and in his first seven games with the team, he's 9-for-26 (.346) with six homers, 14 RBIs and six walks. That's a pace Cust can't possibly maintain, especially considering he has 11 strikeouts, maintaining that one strikeout per 2.43 at-bat rate he now has for his career. Still, that Cust has 100-strikeout and 100-walk potential indicates that he might be a batting-average risk, but he should be serviceable enough in on-base percentage leagues and a sleeper in the power categories in regular Rotisserie formats. That the Athletics designated Todd Walker for assignment on Saturday shows the team's faith in Cust as a short-term designated hitter fix, so keep riding the hot streak. He should maintain a good share of AL-only value, and perhaps some mixed appeal, until Mike Piazza returns.

Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez finally is ready to return to the Mariners' rotation, and he'll do it in a Tuesday start against the Angels. Expect the team to limit him to around 75-80 pitches, and from there he might still be reined in for a few turns, but with his talent, he's well worth activating even if he's limited. After all, Hernandez had a 1.56 ERA and 0.69 WHIP in his first three starts before getting hurt, including that one-hit shutout of the Red Sox on April 11, and for his career, he has 3.81/1.20 rates, all accrued before his 22nd birthday. ... To clear a spot for Hernandez, the Mariners bumped Jeff Weaver from their rotation, though it wasn't by releasing him or shifting him to the bullpen. No, the team instead placed him on the DL on Friday with tendinitis in his shoulder, which might be more creative roster maneuvering than true diagnosis. Weaver hasn't complained of pain in the shoulder, but rather is in a dead-arm period, so the Mariners instead decided to shut him down and work on building strength in his shoulder and fixing his mechanics. He might never return to the Mariners' rotation, though, based on how poorly he pitched this year.

Texas Rangers: Kevin Millwood's owners can't help but be frustrated on Monday, after many of them activated him looking at his appealing two-start week. With scheduled starts against the Angels and Astros, neither of which is much better than an average offense, his schedule was looking somewhat favorable. Unfortunately, Millwood was forced from his return start on Monday in the second inning when he aggravated his left hamstring, after having allowed four runs in 1 2/3 innings of work. He might be headed back to the DL, having looked less than healthy even before his removal from the game. Hamstring problems do have a way of lingering longer than you might expect for pitchers, so Millwood's owners should be prepared to be without him for a few more weeks. For a good comparable, consider that the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang missed the first three weeks of the season with a similar injury, meaning the Rangers were probably rushing their ace right-hander back in activating him from the DL so soon.


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