Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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AL Notes: Punting Pierre

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Rangers lost center fielder Julio Borbon to a hamstring injury Friday, but their outfield situation is about to get a whole lot better. Nelson Cruz (quad) is expected to begin a rehab assignment Monday and come off the DL on Friday, while Josh Hamilton could return soon thereafter.

Hamilton will have a CT scan on his broken humerus Wednesday. If it shows the bone is healed, he'll begin a rehab assignment a day or two afterwards. The Dallas Morning News speculates that he'll return as a DH for the series beginning May 27. My guess is that he'll be activated four days earlier -- a week from Monday -- if he gets off to a fast start in the minors.

With Borbon out, the Rangers are looking at an outfield of David Murphy in left, Endy Chavez in center and Mitch Moreland in right for the next few days. When Cruz returns, the Rangers will give Murphy time in center and Moreland starts at first, costing Chavez and Mike Napoli at-bats. If Hamilton returns as a full-time DH for a week or two, then Michael Young will be the full-timer at first base, leaving Napoli with little to do. Chris Davis could be demoted at that point.

American League Notes

- The first taste of interleague play comes this weekend and the following AL teams will be playing three games in NL parks: Detroit, Minnesota, Oakland, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Texas.

The Tigers will probably start Victor Martinez twice and Alex Avila once behind the plate next weekend.

The Twins will move Jason Kubel to the outfield. Michael Cuddyer will probably sit at least once, but he will shift to second base for a game or two.

The A's will likely give Hideki Matsui one start in left field over Josh Willingham, but he's a weaker play than usual.

The Mariners will sit Jack Cust at least twice.

The Rays figure to shift Johnny Damon to left field. It's a good excuse for any mixed leaguers holding on to Sam Fuld to move on now.

The Rangers, as mentioned, will play Young at first. Napoli is likely to get one start behind the plate.

- Tampa Bay decided against giving Brandon Guyer a real shot, even after he homered in his major league debut. I can't imagine they'll stick with Fuld for much longer, as he's all of the way down to .245/.300/.361 for the year now. Desmond Jennings is hitting .300/.414/.492 in Triple-A, and the Rays wouldn't lose anything defensively by going to him in left. Guyer would be a downgrade, though he's far from bad out there. I really think Jennings will get the call within a week or two.

- Writing this Saturday night while the Red Sox and Yankees are dueling, I'm not exactly sure what to make of the Jorge Posada news at the moment. There's talk of back stiffness, but Yankees sources believe he refused to play against Boston after manager Joe Girardi informed him that he'd bat ninth for the first time in 12 years. No one seems to think Posada will choose retirement, though it sounds like plenty of Yankee fans would love to see him replaced by Jesus Montero. I still think Posada is going to hit this year. With his power and patience, he only needs to bat .250 or so to be a solid DH. He's at .165 right now, so, yeah, that's not working. But I'm not giving up on him, and I don't think the Yankees were ready to do so either. If they do now, it's because Saturday's actions forced their hands.

- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen badly wants Juan Pierre to succeed in left field, but the team still has to be weighing a change. Jordan Danks, John's younger brother, has been showing big-time power at Triple-A Charlotte and is up to .245/.341/.557 with eight homers and 25 RBI in 106 at-bats. Dayan Viciedo is playing left field for Charlotte most days and is hitting .304/.345/.486 in 138 at-bats. According to reports, Viciedo, who signed with the White Sox as a third baseman, hasn't displayed much range in left field, so he'd be a clear downgrade from Pierre defensively. Danks would probably be an upgrade there, but he does have big issues making contact (33 strikeouts in 31 games) and I don't think he'd hit for average in the majors. It still wouldn't be a bad idea for the White Sox to give Danks a try, but they'll probably give Pierre a couple of more weeks first.

- Sergio Santos may not be getting many saves, but he's up to 18 scoreless innings for the season. Although I like the way Matt Thornton is throwing now, it doesn't look like there will be much reason for the White Sox to switch closers anytime soon.

- I dropped some hints on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, but now I've officially soured on Wade Davis. His ERA is down from 4.07 as a rookie to 3.47 this year, but his velocity and his swings and misses are well down too. He's averaging just 90.2 mph with his fastball, according to Fangraphs, down from 92.3 mph last year, and he's still not showing the plus curve that helped make him a force in the minors. As a result, he's struck out just 23 batters in 49 1/3 innings for the season. He's kept the ERA down by avoiding the home run ball, but that changed on Saturday, as he allowed his third and fourth bombs of the season. There was no reason to think it'd last anyway, as he's getting fewer grounders than he did when he gave up 24 homers in 168 innings last season.

I'm not saying there's no hope for Davis in 2012 and beyond, but unless he regains some velocity or comes up with a better breaking ball, his 2011 ERA is going to keep climbing steadily.

- J.P. Howell is likely to come off the DL this week after missing more than a year with shoulder problems. The left-hander saved 17 games for the Rays in 2009, so he could emerge as a contender for saves if (well, when) Kyle Farnsworth implodes. He might be a liability in the short term, but he'd be nice to have stashed away in AL-only leagues.

- With Kendrys Morales (ankle) out for the season, Mark Trumbo has a real shot at finishing with 20 homers and 80 RBI. Still, I think he's a sell-high candidate. I remain skeptical that he's going to make enough contact to maintain a decent average. He rarely walks, so even with his power, he's going to be a major liability if he turns out to be a .240 hitter. The Angels shouldn't have any immediate plans to replace him, but they might be able to find a cheap upgrade at first base in July.

- Vernon Wells' at-bats are going to Alberto Callaspo as a result of the shift of Howie Kendrick to left field. Wells will miss another full week with his groin strain.

- Hank Conger is taking a seat against the current string of lefties the Angels are facing. Although Conger is a switch-hitter, manager Mike Scioscia has used him only against righties to date. Hopefully that will change at some point. Jeff Mathis isn't exactly feasting against left-handers with his .143/.172/.179 line in 28 at-bats.

- Jordan Walden is looking pretty shaky as of late, having blown two save chances and surrendered runs in three of his last five appearances. Fernando Rodney certainly isn't taking advantage, though, as he's allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings this month. If Walden's command issues cost him the gig at some point, it might be Scott Downs who takes over the Angels' closer. However, Walden remains the best bet in the team's pen.

- Luke Scott is slumping since the announcement that he has a partially torn labrum in his shoulder, and while he doesn't want to go on the disabled list, his bat may make the decision for him if he can't regain his power stroke. The Orioles would go with Felix Pie their primary left fielder in that event. Nolan Reimold has done nothing to justify a callup while hitting .226/.321/.365 in Triple-A.

- The Tigers put Magglio Ordonez (ankle) back on the DL on Friday and called up Andy Dirks, but they chose not to give Dirks a start in his first two days on the roster. It'd certainly make sense for them to give the left-handed-hitting Dirks a try against righties, considering that he was hitting .348/.386/.576 with five homers and eight steals in 92 at-bats against them in Triple-A. It doesn't come as much of a surprise that Ryan Raburn has struggled against righties while playing regularly for the first time in his career, and if Dirks plays up to his ability, he should have a chance of lasting as a platoon outfielder following Ordonez's return. He's worth owning in AL-only leagues.

- The Red Sox are standing by John Lackey after his ERA ballooned to 8.01 on Wednesday. He actually deserved better that night, and I have no idea what Terry Francona was thinking in letting him give up five runs in the seventh inning, bringing his total for the night to nine runs. I still don't see why Lackey can't turn it around and reemerge as the adequate third starter he was last year. Obviously, though, his head isn't really in it right now (and for good reason). There's no alternative left but to bench him in AL-only leagues. If he struggles again this week, the Red Sox will probably stash him on the DL and give his rotation spot to Tim Wakefield for a little while.

- Minnesota got Delmon Young back Friday, but it doesn't look Joe Mauer (knee), Jim Thome (oblique) or Tsuyoshi Nishioka (leg) will return this week. Fourth outfielder Jason Repko (quad) is expected back, possibly on Friday. He'll likely replace Ben Revere on the roster.

- Even with Adam Lind (back) out of action all week, the Blue Jays stuck with 13 pitchers. There's simply no one from the group they want to demote. It looks like Jayson Nix will come off the DL on Monday, so either the Jays will finally dismiss that extra pitcher or David Cooper will get the boot. Cooper is batting just .121 and he made an error that led to a run Saturday, so even if he does survive Nix's return, it's hard to imagine him lasting much longer.

- We can assume that Cooper won't be replaced by Travis Snider right now. Snider had a great first week at Triple-A Las Vegas, but he's hitless in his last four games and he still doesn't have a homer in 55 at-bats. Las Vegas is an outstanding environment for power hitters, so that Snider has managed just a pair of doubles in 10 home games isn't a good sign.

- Tommy Hunter's setback with his strained groin means both Derek Holland and Matt Harrison are safe for a little while longer. It looks like he's probably going to miss another month. The Rangers have decided to try Scott Feldman (knee) as a starter as he begins his rehab assignment this week, and if he impresses, he could be inserted into the rotation at the end of May. I still have hopes for Holland, but he does need to step it up. Saturday's quality start against the Angels was just his fourth in eight tries. Harrison is 5-for-7 in that category.

- While so much has gone so right for the Royals this season, Joakim Soria's struggles are of definite concern. His fastball is down about two mph, and he's getting only about half as many swinging strikes as usual. The Royals say it's mechanics and that they've spotted the flaw in his delivery. If that's the case, maybe things will get better over these next two weeks. I don't suspect that he'll pitch badly enough to lose his job at any point, but an injury can't be ruled out. Aaron Crow and Jeremy Jeffress would be the candidates to step into his role. If the Royals needed to switch closers tomorrow, Crow would probably be the choice. However, I do like Jeffress's chances of overtaking him as time goes on.

- With Dallas Braden done for the season because of a torn shoulder capsule, the A's are now looking at Tyson Ross as a permanent fifth starter. I was a bit skeptical, in part because he didn't show a changeup as a reliever last year. However, the change is proving to be a legitimate third pitch for him. Also key is that he's throwing just as hard as a starter that he did while airing it out for a couple of innings at a time last year. I'm not sure he's a mixed-league starter, but it looks like he'll be quite an asset in AL-only leagues.

Since these are the A's, it's worth trying to figure out who is next on the depth chart, too. Bobby Cramer, who is getting stretched back out in the minors after opening the season in Oakland's pen, has a 4.60 ERA in four starts for Triple-A Sacramento. Josh Outman, who I really liked as a sleeper as he completed his comeback from Tommy John surgery, has struggled for the River Cats, walking 24 and amassing a 5.28 ERA in 30 2/3 innings. If the A's were to lose a starter within the next few weeks, my guess is that they'd go to Guillermo Moscoso. The 27-year-old Moscoso has pitched 12 scoreless innings his last two times out and has a 40/10 K/BB ratio to go along with his 3.13 ERA in 37 1/3 IP for Sacramento. He'd be worth trying in AL-only leagues if he gets the call.

- I've been focused on Kevin Kouzmanoff since day one, but how much more Mark Ellis can the A's take? After another 0-for on Saturday, he's down to .177 for the season. He's also walked just four times and driven in all of six runs in 130 at-bats. With Jemile Weeks tearing it up in Triple-A (he's hitting .343/.438/.510), the A's have a better fallback at second base than they do at the hot corner. I think they'd prefer to see Ellis turn it around, given that he's still a top-notch defender. However, if he's still slumping when June 1 comes around, they're not going to have much choice other than to make a switch.

- Andrew Bailey (forearm) reportedly looked good in his extended-spring training outing Saturday, so it looks like he'll begin a rehab assignment this week. He's getting closer.

- I gave my thoughts on new Mariners callups Carlos Peguero and Michael Wilson over at HardballTalk. Franklin Gutierrez (stomach) is expected to come off the disabled list early this week, necessitating that someone get dropped from the roster. It looked like the Mariners were making a commitment to Michael Saunders when they dropped Milton Bradley and Ryan Langerhans from the roster on the same day, but Saunders is batting just .171/.225/.270 after 111 at-bats. While I'm guessing that Peguero goes, leaving the Mariners with a Saunders-Wilson platoon in left field, it wouldn't be shocking if Saunders is dropped instead. The right-handed hitting Wilson is the one of the three least likely to have a future with the Mariners. However, since Peguero and Saunders are left-handed hitters and would benefit from playing regularly, it'd make no sense to keep both.

- Brandon League's horrible week hasn't cost him closing duties yet, but he has to be just one more blown save away from losing his job, presumably to Jamey Wright. Of course, Wright is no one's ideal closer, but he's the best option in the pen with prospects Josh Lueke and Dan Cortes looking nowhere near ready. I don't know if League is hurt after the hefty early-season workload, but it is a real possibility. He's always been terribly inconsistent, but that's usually a result of poor control. He's never gotten hit like this.

- Grady Sizemore was out of the Indians lineup for a fourth straight day Saturday because of a sore knee. There's still no word when he'll be back, but barring a negative report Sunday, he'll have to be kept active in all but the shallowest formats.

- Jack Hannahan is just 5-for-29 with one RBI this month, and the Indians held him out of Saturday's lineup in favor of Adam Everett. If Hannahan continues to slump, there's the chance we'll see Lonnie Chisenhall before the end of June. Chisenhall's overall .285/.373/.446 line at Triple-A Columbus doesn't really stand out, but the left-handed hitter is batting .326/.421/.500 in 92 at-bats against righties. Stick him in a platoon role and he might be a big contributor as the Indians try to maintain their surprising early pace.

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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