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Maybe it's not a really big deal in the real baseball world, but it is in fantasy. What if the No. 2 home run hitter in baseball went on the DL? Or the No. 2 guy in wins or saves? You bet it would matter!
Juan Pierre left Sunday's game against the Angels after spraining a medial collateral ligament in his left knee sliding into second base on a successful steal. We thank him for that, but the price wasn't worth it, in retrospect. Pierre's 35th stolen base of the year moved him one off the MLB lead, right behind Willy Taveras, but it's his last one for at least 4-6 weeks, after a Monday MRI revealed the extent of the injury.
The Dodgers are already on the wrong side of .500, and losing Pierre shouldn't send them into a deep spiral. That's one of the differences between real baseball and fantasy. Los Angeles called up Jason Repko to play center field and lead off Monday. Andruw Jones will be back soon, along with leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal, so this injury shouldn't ruin the season for Dodgers fans.
Fantasy owners, however, know how tough it is to find stolen bases, especially when one guy is on pace for 74. Consider that Pierre was second in stolen bases last season, with 64, second in 2006 with 58, and fourth in 2005 with 57. Since becoming a regular in 2001, Pierre has stolen 417 bases, more than 100 better than anyone else. Only Ichiro had played in more games. Pierre doesn't have any power to speak of, but being among the league leaders in steals every single season and batting .300 for your career is valuable. He was hitting .277 this season, but offering little else.
Remember when the Dodgers had too many outfielders, and fantasy owners were worried who would sit? Pierre was actually the best one of the bunch on ESPN's Player Rater, edging out Matt Kemp, while Andre Ethier and Andruw Jones were nowhere to be found. Jones was going to reclaim the center field job soon anyway, Joe Torre had threatened, and Ethier was going to share right field with Kemp. Now that won't be necessary, unless Repko hits like a star this week, which isn't likely. On Monday, he struck out four times in five at-bats.
As for Pierre, who hadn't missed a game from the start of 2003 until earlier this season, there are no guarantees he'll be able to steal bases effectively when he returns. His whole game is predicated on speed, beating out bunts and torturing opposing pitchers on the bases. Don't expect him back before August. You might not be able to wait that long for steals.
While Pierre was second in steals for June with 14, he had scored only eight runs and knocked in seven, so he was truly a one-category wonder. Fantasy owners might even find that if they can live without the steals, there are far more balanced individuals available in free agency.
However, some people will be desperate for the steals. Repko stole 15 at Triple-A Las Vegas and, like Pierre for the Dodgers, was hitting .277. Repko played quite a bit in 2005, batting .221 with eight home runs and five steals, and struck out 80 times in 276 at-bats. He's 27, and more likely a fourth outfielder than a starter, so look elsewhere for cheap stolen bases. Same with Delwyn Young, who filled in for Kemp on Monday and had a single in four at-bats, striking out twice. Willie Harris, Rajai Davis and Willie Bloomquist aren't enticing fantasy options, but each did steal four or more bases in June. Plus, new Nationals center fielder Roger Bernadina should be running in his trial period, with Lastings Milledge out. If you're desperate, you might need to look in that direction.
Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
Lohse finished June on a high note, allowing just five hits and one unearned run against the Mets to end the month with a 5-0 record. He's 10-2 this season.
Barry Zito, Giants
Zito again leads the majors in losses all by himself (with 12) after falling to the Cubs. He's the first pitcher since Mike Maroth and Jeremy Bonderman in 2003 to lose 12 before July 1.
Jon Rauch owners entered Monday's game thinking they could sleep a bit easier. And then he pitched. First, it was announced previous Chad Cordero will miss the rest of the season with a torn right labrum. Cordero, who saved 37 games in 2007 but didn't get any in his six outings this year, isn't likely to resurface again until 2010. Then Rauch allowed home runs in the ninth and 10th innings to blow his fifth save, then lose his second game. Rauch doubled his season total of two home runs permitted. He's still a safe closer, and even safer now. ... Eddie Guardado left Monday's outing before throwing a pitch with an apparent left shoulder injury. Guardado is having a very nice bounce-back season as the top setup man to C.J. Wilson, with a 3.18 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. If he's out for a while, Jamey Wright and Joaquin Benoit will again enter the picture for holds. ... Miguel Cabrera, having a disappointing season, left Monday's game early with a strained hip flexor. No word yet on how serious the injury is, but with Magglio Ordonez already on the DL, Gary Sheffield no lock for offensive production, and minor leaguers like Clete Thomas, Matt Joyce, and Ryan Raburn already playing, the Tigers can't afford to lose Cabrera. ... And the injuries keep on coming. Houston's Roy Oswalt grounded out to end the sixth inning against the Dodgers, then didn't come out for the seventh inning, despite throwing only 79 pitches and having a 4-1 lead. Oswalt did lower his ERA from 5.61 to 4.60 in June, and the strained hip he suffered is not believed to be serious. ... The Diamondbacks' Eric Byrnes was off the DL for a week before reinjuring a hamstring. Byrnes limped off the field after attempting to steal third base in the second inning. Don't be surprised if Byrnes is headed right back to the DL. Jeff Salazar could pick up playing time in the outfield, or Conor Jackson could move from first base to the outfield to make room for Chad Tracy.
"The Brewers make the most sense if they can figure out a way to take some of the Ben Sheets money and give it to [C.C.] Sabathia. Two of the best evaluators I know say Milwaukee's Huntsville club is the best prospect team in the minors. Another says Huntsville has five legitimate starting major leaguers, and another club rates Huntsville 'the best prospect team our scout's ever seen.' Doug Melvin may not trade shortstop Alcides Escobar, but when you're talking about a bat like Matt LaPorta and a pure hitter like Matt Gamel [both over 1.000 in OPS], there's lots to discuss."
-- Peter Gammons Full Story
• The Mariners did the wise thing and placed Felix Hernandez on the DL with a sprained ankle. So much for the team saying he wouldn't even miss a start, eh? The move was retroactive to June 24, the day after Hernandez hurt the ankle when the Mets' Carlos Beltran slid into him. Hernandez can pitch again July 8. Relief pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith is scheduled to start Tuesday and pitch a few innings.
• With Hideki Matsui on the DL and Johnny Damon playing most, but not all days, the Yankees made an outfield transaction, sending Justin Christian back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and promoting Brett Gardner, a speedster whose 34 stolen bases led all of Triple-A. Gardner went hitless in three at-bats, but did steal a base in his major league debut. The last Yankee to start his major league debut in the leadoff spot was Roberto Kelly in 1987.
• The Indians added bullpen depth by promoting Thomas Mastny, and placing Scott Elarton on the restricted list. Mastny saved five games for the Tribe in 2005, but he's not close to saves now, despite a 1.71 ERA and terrific strikeout rate at Triple-A Buffalo.
• Meanwhile, the Orioles lost some bullpen depth, as lefty Jamie Walker hit the DL with elbow inflammation. Walker was a part-time closer for the Orioles a season ago, but George Sherrill hasn't been sharing much this year. Even if Sherrill is traded or gets hurt, the Orioles were likely to look at Jim Johnson, Chad Bradford or Dennis Sarfate for saves over Walker. Adam Loewen was activated from the DL to replace Walker.
• Depending on when you check a Francisco Liriano box score for Triple-A Rochester, he's either striking everyone out and looking like he should be with the Twins, or he's struggling mightily. On Monday, Liriano fanned nine Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs over seven innings and didn't allow a run. However, in his two previous starts, he allowed 18 hits and 10 earned runs over 10 1/3 innings. In 14 starts at Rochester, he's 5-2 with a 4.07 ERA.
• The Reds recently signed veteran journeyman Rob Mackowiak to a minor-league deal, and in his second game with Triple-A Louisville, he singled twice, scored three runs and hit an eighth-inning homer off Indianapolis' Franklyn German, who is hoping for a promotion to the Pirates. The Reds could call up Mackowiak soon.
• Potential Orioles third baseman Scott Moore singled and doubled Monday, raising his batting average to a disappointing .242. Moore hasn't emerged at Triple-A Norfolk, with only six home runs and a sub-.400 slugging percentage. First baseman Oscar Salazar, who was up with the Orioles for a few weeks in June, hit a three-run homer and raised his batting average to .314. He should get another chance in the majors this year.
• Clay Buchholz breezed through five scoreless innings, and 60 pitches, for Triple-A Pawtucket at Syracuse. Buchholz has a 1.63 ERA over eight starts, and there doesn't seem to be any reason for him to remain in the minors, other than the fact the Red Sox don't have room in the rotation. Justin Masterson lost Monday's game, walking five Rays, so his spot might not be safe. Incidentally, the pitcher who followed Buchholz to the mound Monday was Mike Timlin, tossing a perfect inning on six pitches, all strikes. He has allowed two hits and no walks in five innings in the minors.