Commentary

Around the NL: Hamels returns to Philly

Updated: September 19, 2007, 5:40 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

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: Brandon Jones, one of the Braves' top offensive prospects, was promoted from Triple-A Richmond on Sunday. He batted .295 with a .367 on-base percentage, .490 slugging percentage, 19 homers, 100 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 138 games between Double-A Mississippi and Richmond this season, and his .300 batting average in 44 games for Richmond demonstrates the higher level of competition didn't faze him. The lefty slugger has started in left field the past two days, batting eighth against right-handed pitchers. Expect him to assume that role (platoon versus RHPs) for the remainder of the year, making him worthy of NL-only consideration. Keeper-league owners should find Jones the most appealing, though. He's a potential five-category stud, and even if he winds up in a left-field platoon, he could hit just enough homers and steal enough bases to help NL-only and deep-mixed owners. Expect Jones to get a long look during spring training.

Florida Marlins: Sergio Mitre, who surprised as a solid starter the first four months of the season, might not pitch again this year. His second-half struggles and lack of zip on his pitches led to the team's decision to skip him Thursday against the Mets. Mitre is 0-3 with a 9.59 ERA, 2.37 WHIP and .423 BAA in his last six starts, which is perhaps explained by fatigue. Mitre is still a strong bet to break camp in the Marlins' rotation next spring, and he shouldn't be a bad NL-only or mixed-league draft option if he fares well in spring training. Daniel Barone will step in for Mitre, not that he's fantasy-worthy.

New York Mets: Orlando Hernandez was scratched from his scheduled start Monday because of a bunion on his right foot, a further indication that the Mets are playing it safe with their key postseason starters. They recently decided to go with a six-man rotation to give both Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez an extra day of rest. Expect Hernandez to return next week, more as a preparatory outing before an anticipated start in the NL Division Series. Considering how well he has pitched much of this season, and the fact that his final start likely will come against either the Nationals or Marlins, he should be a useful NL-only option. Still, owners of Mets starters will have to keep in mind that the Mets probably are more concerned with getting their rotation set up for the Division Series than for significant regular-season results, meaning scheduled starts might be moved and pitch counts will be monitored more closely.

Philadelphia Phillies: As long as the Phillies remain in a playoff chase, Cole Hamels should be able to get two more starts after returning to the rotation Tuesday in St. Louis. Even better, it appears both of those starts would be against the Nationals. Though owners shouldn't expect Hamels to be the same pitcher he was before suffering a strained left elbow, the lefty is talented enough even at less than 100 percent to be a must-start for his owners. How he fares might have an impact on the opinions of his keeper-league owners, many of whom probably preferred he shut it down for the season. Regardless, barring a catastrophic setback, he should be an elite starter again in 2008.

Washington Nationals: The Nationals claimed Enrique Gonzalez off waivers from the Diamondbacks on Monday, adding yet another potential starter for 2008. The right-hander disappointed at Triple-A Tucson this season, with an 8-10 record, 5.15 ERA, 1.61 WHIP and .300 BAA in 27 starts, but keep in mind that the PCL is a hitter-friendly league. Plus, Gonzalez is only 25 and brought a 3.20 minor league ERA into this season. Don't expect any more starts from him this season, but he'll get a shot at the No. 4 or 5 starter job next spring. Keeper-league owners shouldn't bother with him -- or any of the Nationals' starter, for that matter -- but should consider him if he looks good in spring training.

National League Central

Chicago Cubs: Steve Trachsel's stay in the Cubs' rotation didn't last long. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the right-hander likely will pitch out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season after posting a 1-2 record, 7.62 ERA, 1.92 WHIP and .377 BAA in three starts since being acquired from the Orioles. With two off days in the Cubs' final 12 days of the regular season, the team likely won't need a fifth starter, instead using Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Rich Hill and Jason Marquis exclusively in their battle to lock down the NL Central title. Don't count on a start from Sean Marshall, either, unless the team locks up the title before the season's final series (at Cincy) and elects to save one of their top four options.

Cincinnati Reds: Homer Bailey will return to the Reds' rotation Thursday in San Francisco after pitching a successful simulated game Saturday. He'll replace Kirk Saarloos, presumably for the remainder of the season, and should be able to get two final starts (the second one next Wednesday versus the Astros). Despite the two favorable matchups, Bailey isn't a trustworthy fantasy option, considering his 6.99 ERA, 1.76 WHIP and .282 BAA in six starts for the Reds earlier this season and the expected rustiness after missing extended time because of a strained groin. He'll have to earn a rotation spot with the Reds next spring, and while he has ace potential, he'll need to show us something in spring play to be considered a breakout candidate for 2008. ... Manager Pete Mackanin told the Cincinnati Post that Jared Burton would be his closer should the team decide to rest David Weathers for the remainder of the season. There are no signs that Weathers is ready to shut it down, but in the event he does, Burton wouldn't be a bad NL-only or deep-mixed pickup. He earned his status as the team's fall-back closer option by registering a 1.21 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and .158 BAA in his last 23 appearances.

Houston Astros: Adam Everett was activated from the DL on Sunday, but he'll serve only as a late-inning defensive replacement as the 'Stros close out the season. He missed more than three months with a broken right fibula and shouldn't warrant any fantasy attention  this season or next. ... According to the Houston Chronicle, Woody Williams agreed to shift to the bullpen upon the Astros' request so the team can look at a few of its young starters. It's a curious event, considering Williams is just 12 1/3 innings from reaching a contract bonus for pitching 200 innings. Williams won't have any fantasy value pitching out of the bullpen, but he should be able to nail down a starting spot again next spring. Felipe Paulino, who had a 3.62 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and .238 BAA in 22 games (21 starts) for Double-A Corpus Christi, will get the first chance to pitch out of Williams' rotation spot, but don't bother with him or any unproven Astros starter. Even if their youth doesn't bite them, the lack of run support will.

Milwaukee Brewers: Prince Fielder set a new franchise record for homers in a single season by blasting No. 46 recently. He's on a major tear in September, batting .396 (21-for-53) with seven homers and 13 RBIs in 15 games, and since Aug. 1, he has 16 homers in 40 games. This late-season surge brings to mind Ryan Howard's extraordinary sophomore campaign in 2006. Fielder's numbers (.291/.388/.618 and 46 homers in 146 games) don't quite stack up to Howard's (.313/.425/.659, 58 homers, in 159 games) from a year ago, but the comparison can be made. Plus, Fielder is three years younger than Howard was in 2006, and he strikes out far less. Fielder should make a strong case for first-round consideration in 2008, and at age 23, he's about as solid a keeper as they come.

Pittsburgh Pirates: In his first appearance since returning from a back injury, Paul Maholm was hammered for 10 runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Astros on Sunday, tarnishing what had otherwise been a respectable bounce-back season for the left-hander. Before the outing, Maholm had a 4.32 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and .279 BAA in 27 starts, and he was actually 8-5 with 3.49/1.25/.265 numbers in 14 starts from June 15-Aug. 28. We're guessing Maholm is still limited by his back troubles, and it wouldn't be surprising if he's shut down for the season after this setback. He's not a future ace, but he has the makings of a future No. 3 or 4 big-league starter that NL-only owners can use and mixed-league owners can consider based upon matchups.

St. Louis Cardinals: Mark Mulder might undergo an MRI exam later this week to determine what is causing his struggles since returning from the DL. He has lost all three of his starts since his return from shoulder surgery, posting a 12.27 ERA, 2.64 WHIP and .440 BAA. Cardinals head athletic trainer Barry Weinberg said Mulder experienced soreness in the front of his left (pitching) shoulder in Sunday's outing, which is hardly promising. It's not out of the question the left-hander could need another operation to cure what ails him, so expect much from in 2008. Mulder will enter spring training having to prove he's healthy enough to pitch, then earn a spot in the rotation. We wouldn't bother with him.

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks: Chad Tracy will undergo season-ending surgery on his right knee Thursday, only four days after being activated from the DL. He had a pinch-hit RBI single Sunday in his first game back, but his knee hasn't responded well since. On his team's Web site, manager Bob Melvin said an MRI revealed some loose fragments in the knee but said the team still isn't quite sure what's all wrong with him. His status for 2008 is unknown. Check back on him in February, although his appeal has been diminished for next season.

Colorado Rockies: Seth Smith was promoted Sunday after racking up impressive numbers after posting .317/.381/.528 numbers, with 17 homers, 82 RBIs and seven steals in 129 games, for Triple-A Colorado Springs. His minor league track record (.309/.368/.496 numbers in 324 games) is just as good. Smith, not considered a prospect by most scouts, should serve as a pinch hitter and reserve outfielder, perhaps picking up a spot start or two before season's end. He'll be in contention for a bench spot next spring, although fantasy owners shouldn't expect much with Jeff Baker and Ryan Spilborghs higher up in the pecking order.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Jason Schmidt spoke publicly last week for the first time since his June shoulder surgery, telling the Los Angeles Times he hopes to be ready for the start of spring training. Schmidt will need to be closely monitored by fantasy owners once camps open in February, and his velocity will be the most telltale sign of his health status. He had trouble hitting the low 90s on the radar gun this season, and he'd need to be consistently in that range (or better) to be anything close to the option he once was. Don't be shocked if he's a little behind the other pitchers next spring. ... Rafael Furcal told the Times he no longer intends to undergo surgery on his ankle after the season. His decline in steals might be attributed to his ankle woes, although his eight steals in his last five games, and 12 in his last 13 contests, seem to have eased those concerns. With a winter's rest, Furcal could return to his traditional 40-steal levels in 2008, and since he's only 29, he remains a quality keeper option.

San Diego Padres: Brett Tomko stepped up with six shutout innings of four-hit baseball in his first start for the Padres on Saturday, perhaps earning himself three more starts for the team, two of which are favorable matchups. Currently, he's in line to start Thursday's game against the Pirates, the Sept. 25 game in San Francisco and the Sept. 30 regular-season finale in Milwaukee. Only the Sept. 30 contest is imposing; the other two could be useful for owners in NL-only or deep-mixed leagues. Tomko has a 1.64 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and .220 BAA in 11 innings since joining the Padres, so consider him as a stopgap if you're hurting for pitchers.

San Francisco Giants: The Giants' Web site has confirmed that Brad Hennessey has been demoted to a setup role. He has a 13.50 ERA, 3.00 WHIP and .400 BAA in seven September appearances, and worse, he has six walks in 4 2/3 innings of work during that span. Hennessey's control problems open up the closer role to Brian Wilson, the team's best in-house candidate for the role in 2008. Wilson has a 0.98 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and .159 BAA in 19 appearances since being called up Aug. 11, demonstrating vastly improved control after posting 21 walks in 30 innings as a rookie in 2006. Wilson warrants immediate NL-only and deep-mixed consideration, and NL-only owners in keeper leagues should look at him as a sleeper for 2008 if he begins the season as the closer.

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

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