Around the AL: Is Dice-K wearing down?
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: Danys Baez's season is over. The Baltimore Sun reports an MRI exam taken last Friday revealed a partial tear in his right elbow. He'll get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews this week, after which point a decision will be made on whether he'll have surgery or just rehabilitate the injury. If it's the former, Tommy John surgery could be the result, which would almost assuredly cost Baez all of 2008. If it's the latter, he could be ready for spring training, although he'd be at greater risk for a setback next season. Baez finishes the season 0-6 with a 6.44 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, his worst season of a seven-year MLB career. Don't count on him being in the mix to close in 2008. For the next week-plus, Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford will share the save chances, although both players should be relegated to desperate owners. Bradford has a 5.29 ERA and 2.12 WHIP in 19 appearances since Aug. 1, and Walker has been just as bad (6.28/1.74) in 22 games since that date.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox are concerned about Daisuke Matsuzaka wearing down from the long MLB season, so he has been pushed back in the rotation from Wednesday to Saturday. He's 1-4 with an 8.44 ERA, 1.72 WHIP and .283 BAA in his past six starts, and the Red Sox already have played 11 more games (151) than a typical Japanese team plays. The Sox are gearing up for a postseason run, so be prepared for Matsuzaka to be treated with caution the remainder of the regular season. With a year of experience under his belt, though, Dice-K should be better in 2008, perhaps worthy of being considered a top-10 starter. As for Wednesday's game, rookie Clay Buchholz will make his first start since his Sept. 1 no-hitter. It's a favorable matchup for him, worthy of AL-only or deep-mixed consideration. Plus, it'll serve as an audition for him to make the 2008 rotation.
New York Yankees: Ian Kennedy will get another start for the Yankees on Saturday, according to the New York Daily News. It'll be the right-hander's first appearance since last Thursday, when he one-hit the Blue Jays in seven innings of work. Manager Joe Torre said Kennedy is nearly at his innings limit; between the minors and majors, the rookie has thrown 165 1/3 innings in '07. Torre wouldn't say specifically what Kennedy's limit was (175?), but this might end up being his final start of the regular season. Kennedy's 1.89 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and .191 BAA in his three starts for the Yankees are going to make him tough to pass up when it comes to setting the 2008 rotation. Expect him, Hughes and Joba Chamberlain to get long looks for rotation spots next spring.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Manager Joe Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times that rookie Andy Sonnanstine is making a strong case for a 2008 rotation spot. "He's close. He's had a couple tough starts this year, but the other ones have been pretty darned good," Maddon said. "And he doesn't care who he's pitching against; he's going to be the same cat. He's really making a great impression for next season." Sonnanstine beat the Mariners on Sunday with seven innings of six-hit, one-run ball, with eight K's, to bring his record to 4-0 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and .265 BAA in his last five starts. He also two-hit the Yankees over eight innings on Aug. 31, demonstrating his guile against a good offense. Don't be surprised if Sonnanstine kicks off 2008 as the team's No. 3 starter behind Scott Kazmir and James Shields.
Toronto Blue Jays: Troy Glaus underwent nerve surgery on his left foot Monday, and the Toronto Star reports all went well. He is expected to make a full recovery in time for spring training, although it wouldn't be a shock if he's limited once camps open. Check back on Glaus' status in February. Lyle Overbay's season will come to a close on Sept. 25, when he undergoes minor surgery to have four screws removed from his hand. They were inserted when he suffered a broken hand in June. Overbay has batted .229 (49-for-214) with two homers and 17 RBIs in 62 games since returning from the injury, suggesting he might still be affected by it. He's another player to check back on once spring training opens, with the knowledge that he's still a .284 career hitter. He could be a 2008 bounce-back candidate if he can return to health and reassert himself as a respectable corner infielder once again in mixed formats.
Chicago White Sox: John Danks' season -- at least as a member of the rotation -- is over after he lasted only 2 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on three hits and four walks on Sept. 11. If he's not used out of the bullpen, which is very possible, he finishes the year with a reasonable 26 starts and 139 innings pitched, right in line with his 26-140 numbers in the minors in 2006 and 27-156 in 2005. Unfortunately, Danks was ineffective late this season, with a 2-7 record, 7.11 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and .307 BAA in his final 11 starts. He'll need to cut down on the home runs allowed (28) to take the next step in 2008. Keep in mind Danks was considered an elite prospect in his Rangers days, so a career as a No. 2/3 starter is still possible. With a solid spring training, he could be a good late-round mixed sleeper next year.
Cleveland Indians: Jeremy Sowers is back with the Indians after being recalled from Double-A Akron. The left-hander didn't pitch any regular-season games there; he was demoted to pitch in their postseason and fared well (2-0, 0.68 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 11 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings). Before that, he had a 4.10 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and .288 BAA in 15 starts for Triple-A Buffalo, including a 4-1 record and 3.68 ERA in his last nine starts. Sowers will get a spot start in the team's Sept. 26 doubleheader, though he'll likely pitch out of the bullpen otherwise. That won't be enough of a late-season opportunity to earn him a guaranteed rotation spot next season, although he'll be in the mix. Sowers will need to improve upon his career 3.23 K/9 ratio to be an effective fantasy option, though.
Detroit Tigers: Apparently Jeremy Bonderman hasn't been ruled out for a return to the rotation this season because of the Tigers' need for his services. Bonderman, who was recently shut down because of an elbow problem, will attempt to throw early next week, the Detroit Free Press reports, and manager Jim Leyland said the right-hander has no pain. "He's not doing anything but eating cupcakes. If I get some pleasant news, and we're still in it with two or three games to go, I'll pitch him," Leyland said. That still seems unlikely, and it sounds like the best Bonderman could hope for is a start in the regular season's final series (Sept. 28-30 at the White Sox) and then a spot in the postseason rotation. His keeper-league owners probably are hoping the Tigers fall out of the Central Division race and shut down Bonderman. A winter's rest would likely be best for him if he's going to bounce back and become a top-25 fantasy starter next season.
Kansas City Royals: Luke Hochevar, the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings Monday, bringing his total to 6 1/3 scoreless frames in two appearances since his promotion from Triple-A Omaha on Sept. 4. That could be enough to earn him a start or two before the season ends. More importantly, it has helped him make a strong case to break camp as a member of the Royals' rotation next spring. Though Hochevar's minor league numbers this season (4-9 with a 4.86 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and .271 BAA in 27 games between Double-A Wichita and Omaha), left a little to be desired, he remains one of the best pitching prospects in the game. He'll probably endure the typical rookie struggles in 2008, but the right-hander should make a strong case for rookie of the year honors if he can earn a spot in the rotation. Consider him someone to watch during spring training.
Minnesota Twins: Incredibly, the Twins aren't entirely sold on Alexi Casilla as their starting second baseman heading into 2008. Manager Ron Gardenhire told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that veteran glove man Nick Punto is his first choice at the position, perhaps a result of Casilla's frequent mental mistakes and late arrival to the ballpark Sunday. It's hard to imagine Punto actually winning the starting job ahead of Casilla, considering he is batting a horrible .205 with a .290 on-base percentage and .262 slugging in 141 games. But Casilla hasn't been much better (.241/.274/.282 in 50 games). Expect a fierce battle next spring, assuming the Twins add a proven third baseman and eliminate the need for Punto to play there. Casilla has the ability to hit for a high batting average -- he was a .298 career minor league hitter -- and offer a healthy steals total, averaging 62 swipes per 150 games played in the minors. However, he'll have a lot to prove to Gardenhire heading into 2008.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Bartolo Colon experienced stiffness in his elbow Saturday, according to the Los Angeles Times, leaving his start tonight in question. Manager Mike Scioscia might decide to go with Ervin Santana, who fired three hitless innings in his first career regular-season relief appearance Friday. There are postseason implications here, with Colon, Santana and Joe Saunders all in the hunt for the No. 4 rotation spot in October. Of course, if Santana does move back into the rotation, fantasy owners should be wary. Although tonight's start would be at home, his remaining starts would be on the road (at Texas and Seattle), and Santana has been awful away from Angels Stadium this season.
Oakland Athletics: Rich Harden, who has been out since July 7 because of shoulder pain, is working toward returning this weekend. He came out of a simulated game OK on Tuesday and appears in line for a start Sunday in Cleveland and then later in the week versus the Angels. Harden remains one of the highest-risk commodities in fantasy, in that he's injury-prone but pitches well (2.92 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and .200 BAA in 38 appearances since the start of the 2005 season) when healthy. He'd face two good-hitting lineups and probably will be on a pitch count, though, so temper your expectations. Anything Harden offers in those last two starts should be considered as a step toward another rebound attempt in 2008. Any further setbacks, though, might mean surgery.
Seattle Mariners: Finally Horacio Ramirez is out of the Mariners' rotation, although the delay in making that decision -- the lefty has a 8.10 ERA, 1.93 WHIP and .349 BAA in nine starts since Aug. 1 -- might have helped torpedo the team's run at the wild card. Ramirez was one of baseball's most hittable pitchers -- if not the most hittable -- and will have a hard time fighting his way into some team's rotation next spring. He just doesn't have the stuff to be a fantasy factor. Cha Seung Baek, activated from the DL on Monday; Jorge Campillo, 9-6 with a 3.07 ERA in 26 games (24 starts) for Triple-A Tacoma this season; and Ryan Feierabend, 1-5 with an 8.16 ERA in nine career MLB starts, are all candidates to get spot starts in the final week-plus. Not that they're great candidates to pitch well this season or early in 2008, but Baek is at least worth tracking. A strong finish this year and a good spring training could elevate him to a respectable AL-only or mixed-league matchups option in 2008.
Texas Rangers: Kason Gabbard, a late-season sensation for the Red Sox and now the Rangers, has been shut down for the season. He was scratched from tonight's scheduled start because of forearm soreness, and the team feels it'd be better to play it safe and shut him down rather than risk further injury by bringing him back with a little more than a week to go in the season. It's the smart play for the Rangers. After all, he had a 10.80 ERA, .278 BAA and 12 walks in 10 innings in his two September starts. Keep tabs on him heading into 2008 to ensure his injury wasn't anything serious, but AL-only owners should view him as a sleeper if he looks strong in the spring. He had a 7-2 record and 3.24 ERA in 14 starts for Triple-A Pawtucket and then a 6-1 record and 4.65 ERA in 15 combined starts between Boston and Texas this season.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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