PLAYING TIME: ATL turns to Ben Sheets


Sheets to join ATL rotation

Ben Sheets (RHP, ATL) reportedly will make his first MLB appearance in two years on July 15, In two Double-A starts since signing with ATL, he has allowed six ER in 10.2 IP, with 10 K/1 BB. Sheets has a strong skills history, though his Dom and Cmd faded in recent years as he battled a series of injuries. He has made only 20 MLB starts since 2008, all coming in 2010 before his surgery to repair a torn right flexor tendon. His first elbow flexor tendon surgery prevented him from pitching in 2009. Sheets could be effective if he regains either the elite Dom or the pinpoint Ctl he flashed at his 2004-2006 peak, though durability is a concern.

Jair Jurrjens (RHP, ATL) has allowed only six ER in four starts, spanning 25.1 IP, since returning from an early-season minor-league demotion. While Jurrjens has recorded only 10 K in those four starts, he has issued only five BBs, flashing better Ctl than ever. His history suggests he is unlikely to maintain that pinpoint control over the long haul and will need some Dom growth to assure sustained success.

Sheets is likely to replace one of ATL's inconsistent young starters in the rotation. Both Randall Delgado (RHP, ATL) and Mike Minor (LHP, ATL) have struggled, their performances inhibited by shaky Ctl/Cmd and endurace issues (each has averaaged fewer than six IP per start). Delgado has a 42 BPV and 4.06 xERA in 86 IP, while Minor has a 45 BPV and 4.42 xERA in 92 IP. Minor's handedness and more extensive MLB experience could give him an edge.

Closer-by-committee in Miami

MIA manager Ozzie Guillen plans to use a closer-by-committee approach as play resumes after the All-Star break. analyst Kris Olson speculated in a recent PT Today column that incumbent closer Heath Bell (RHP, MIA) might be replaced soon after Juan Oviedo's late-July return from suspension, but Guillen seems to have already made a switch.

Guillen's decision comes after Bell's NL-leading sixth blown save July 8. Bell had seemingly overcome his early-season woes, with a 176 BPV in June, but has recently experienced a return of his early-season issues of walks and multi-run innings. Bell has had three multi-run inning blowups since his streak of 10 straight appearances without allowing an earned run was snapped June 25.

Steve Cishek (RHP, MIA) seems the most likely alternative until Oviedo returns. Cishek recorded a save when Bell was previously removed from closing duty.  He has a 73 BPV and 3.59 xERA, but the sidearmer has conspicuous platoon splits. He has limited RHB to .175 BA and .568 OPS, but LHB have compiled .298 BA and .844 OPS against him in 2012. His career splits (.197 BA , .545 OPS vs. RHB; .246 BA, .719 OPS vs. LHB) are less pronounced, yet show considerably more effectiveness vs. RHB.

Randy Choate (LHP, MIA) also recorded an early-season save, and might be used in combination with Cishek depending on matchups. Choate has an 87 BPV and 3.13 xERA. His 22 IP in 39 appearances, and opposing LHB's 59 plate appearances compared to only 34 RHB PA against him, illuminate  the limited nature of his role as a lefty-specialist. 

Speculation on these options might yield a handful of saves, but it's unlikely anyone currently pitching in a MIA uniform will displace Bell over the long haul. The impending committee arrangement seems to open the door even more widely to Oviedo eventually filling the role.

NL short take

Drew Storen (RHP, WAS), who has yet to pitch in 2012 due to April elbow surgery, has made three minor league appearances, and could soon join the WAS bullpen. WAS manager Davey Johnson has already committed to retaining replacement Tyler Clippard (RHP, WAS) as closer, but Storen has value as a likely eighth-inning setup reliever and backup closer, provided he displays his previous skills. Storen compiled 43 saves in 2011, with 120 BPV and 3.01 xERA.  While he might not be a saves factor in 2012, he still looms as the team's long-term closer, giving him considerable future value ...


Ellsbury returning, Crawford resumes rehab assignment

Jacoby Ellsbury (OF, BOS) will reportedly be activated from the DL Friday. Ellsbury has been DL'd since April, and his activation will likely result in BOS deploying a regular OF with Ellsbury in CF, Cody Ross (OF, BOS) in RF, Daniel Nava (OF, BOS) in LF, at least until Carl Crawford (OF, BOS) returns from his minor-league rehab assignment later in July. 

Crawford has resumed a rehab assignment recently halted by a left groin strain. Crawford has missed the entire season after his off-season wrist surgery.

It's unclear whether RHB Ross will remain a regular when Crawford returns, as he could slip into a platoon or time-share with LHB Nava. Ross has provided the better production, with .537 SLG and .880 OPS. Nava's superior plate skills, including 13% bb% and 80% ct%, have yielded a strong .371 OBP, though a paltry 5% hr/f has limited him to three HR in 171 AB, despite above-average 116 PX.  Ross' power and Nava's emergence as a solid contributor have been key components of a potent BOS offense, despite the OF being a virtual revolving door throughout an injury-marred season.

Adding Ellsbury and Crawford potentially provides stability, though backups Ryan Sweeney (OF, BOS) and Brent Lillibridge (IF/OF, BOS) are likely to see PT reductions.

BAL to activate Chavez , Teagarden

BAL plans to activate Endy Chavez (OF, BAL) and Taylor Teagarden (C, BAL) from the DL after the All-Star break. Both Chavez and Teagarden will resume reserve roles, with Teagarden's return threatening Ronny Paulino's (C, BAL) roster spot. Paulino might even be headed to the DL, as he's been playing through a toe fracture in recent weeks. Teagarden is a defense-first backup catcher who should be avoided in all formats.

It's unclear who might be cleared to make room for Chavez, though his return likely means reduced PT for Xavier Avery (OF, BAL), if Avery avoids demotion. While Chavez' speed and contact skills typically provide limited value, he has struggled miserably to-date, with a .225 xBA and .162 BA in 105 AB. 

AL short take

OAK released ex-closer Brian Fuentes (LHP, OAK).  While Fuentes collected five saves his 6.84 ERA and 1.60 WHIP eventually proved untenable. Fuentes' 36 BPV and 4.63 xERA indicate that while he has not pitched well, he has not been quite so bad as his stats. Severe gopheritis, reflected in his 16% HR/F and 1.8 HR/9, doomed Fuentes. A 60% strand rate also contributed to his dismal performance. Fuentes could latch on elsewhere, but should be avoided unless he again displays the vintage skills unseen from him since 2008 ..



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