PLAYING TIME: Buchholz, Lewis on their way back

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Buchholz pronounces himself fit

Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz (RHP, BOS) has pronounced himself fit to rejoin the Boston rotation. He is expected to get his first start next Saturday, July 14. This has been a year of reckoning of sorts for Buchholz, who, when healthy, has heretofore been able to post stats that outpace his skill level, most notably in 2010, when he was 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA, despite a 4.15 xERA.

This season, the pendulum has swung in the other direction, with Buchholz's ERA, at 5.53, more than a full run higher than his xERA (4.38). Nonetheless, given that we are still waiting for Buchholz to hit the magic 2.0 Cmd level, he isn't likely to save the day for too many fantasy teams, even if his luck turns.

Buchholz's return would seem to bump one of two pitchers from the rotation: Aaron Cook (RHP, BOS) or Franklin Morales (LHP, BOS). In the near term, it would not be surprising to leave Cook in the rotation, given that he has kept his team in the three games he has started since being recalled June 24, yielding three runs or fewer in each and needing just 81 pitches in a complete-game 2-hit shutout of the anemic Mariners on June 29. However, to say Cook lacks the ability to miss bats is an extreme understatement, as Cook has registered just 2 Ks in 23 IP this season, something that may catch up to him against stiffer competition.

Speaking of stiffer competition, Morales ran into it and then some July 7, when he yielded 4 HR to the Yankees, bringing to an abrupt halt his string of three straight PQS-DOM starts. Having pitched out of the bullpen most of the early season—and even between starts on July 4—it would not be shocking to see Morales moved back into a relief role... at least until Cook's skills catch up to him.

Colby Lewis on comeback trail

Another pitcher due back after the All-Star break is Colby Lewis (RHP, TEX), with his return currently slated for July 18. Unlike Clay Buchholz, however, Lewis had been excelling this season, with the skills to support that success, including a sterling 1.1 Ctl, very good 8.1 Dom, leading to a stellar 7.5 Cmd. His 3.51 ERA is right on his xERA, raising hopes that, so long as he is healthy, he can be a strong contributor as fantasy owners and the Rangers alike make their drive toward a championship.

With the Rangers' rotation now back at full strength, Lewis' return is likely to prompt the team to send Martin Perez (LHP, TEX) back to the minors for more seasoning. Meanwhile, Scott Feldman (RHP, TEX) is bullpen bound, despite earning a surprising mention in starting pitching analyst Stephen Nickrand's June BPV leaders column. It's just another example of why the Rangers' pitching depth is the envy of many of their competitors.

Iwakuma to join SEA rotation

Reports out of Seattle indicate that Hisashi Iwakuma (RHP, SEA) will join the Mariners rotation after the All-Star break. Iwakuma's skills thus far this season do not exactly portend success (4.06 xERA, 1.5 Cmd, 32 BPV). One main issue is that Iwakuma has not brought to the States the pinpoint control he exhibited in his final season in Japan (1.4 Ctl). On the plus side, Iwakuma has been able to induce ground balls with the Mariners (54% GB%), and his current 24% HR/F should regress significantly.

Making a spot start for an injured Kevin Millwood July 2, Iwakuma posted a PQS-3 (5 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K), and similar keep-the-team-in-the-game starts are not an unreasonable expectation going forward.

Iwakuma will be replacing Hector Noesi (RHP, SEA), who actually had a reasonable 41%/29% DOM/DIS split but who had lost his last eight decisions dating back to May 12. While hurt somewhat by a 26% H% and 61% S%, Noesi did his part to "earn" his demotion (4.73 xERA, 1.8 Cmd, 29 BPV). He now also risks being bypassed by an impressive crop of Mariners pitching prospects on the rise. 

AL short takes

From the Not-So-Fast Dept.: Following up on BHQ analyst Matthew Gelfand's note from yesterday, Carl Crawford (OF, BOS) acknowledged that he will eventually need Tommy John surgery, saying of his injured ulnar collateral ligament "probably at some point it's going to blow out on me." Stash away Daniel Nava (OF, BOS) if you can. He may yet have value...

Pedro Ciriaco's (2B/SS, BOS) four hits, four RBI and stolen base sparked the Red Sox to a much-needed victory in the nightcap of a double header against the Yankees July 8. He was rewarded with another start Sunday night and stole another base, scoring the team's first run. Ciriaco also made waves for the Red Sox this spring and was one of the team's final cuts, batting .419 in 43 ABs and succeeding on eight of nine SB attempts. Prior to his callup, Ciriaco was hitting well at AAA-Pawtucket (.301), though he had only drawn six walks in 282 plate appearances, and his SB success rate (14-for-22) left something to be desired. Nonetheless, with Nick Punto (IF, BOS) offering little (xBA .231, minus-1 BPV), CIriaco may play more than initially expected while Dustin Pedroia (2B, BOS) is sidelined and potentially offer a sneaky little speed source for those in deep leagues...

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Out of exile and into closer role for Oviedo?

There have been a couple of recent developments with regards to Juan Carlos Oviedo's (RHP, MIA) Oviedo's role that indicate the reliever might claim a more prominent role than BHQ analyst Matt Gelfland understandably envisioned yesterday.

One is the pronouncement of manager Ozzie Guillen that he views Oviedo's arrival as akin to a big trade-deadline acquisition. Guillen also envisioned not only Oviedo filling in in the ninth inning when closer Heath Bell (RHP, FLA) is unavailable but days when "we’ll flip-flop each [of Bell and Oviedo] for whatever reason," with Oviedo pitching the ninth even when Bell is rested.

Not too long after Guillen uttered those words, Bell gave him a "reason" to take even a harder look at Oviedo: his sixth blown save of the season (2/3 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K). Bell's season ERA now sits at 6.75 ERA, and the blown save was Bell's second in a week after having gone since May 4 without one (albeit with a few shaky non-save appearances). At this point, it's certainly debatable whether Guillen takes any solace in the fact that Bell's skills have been on the upswing since a disastrous start of the season (176 BPV in June).

Enter Oviedo, at least eventually (July 23 is his target activation date). As Gelfand noted, Oviedo, then known as Leo Nunez, had 36 saves for the Marlins in 2011. Oviedo's skills, however, were not those of a front-line closer, particularly in the second half (xERA 4.38, 44 BPV). As noted in the Baseball Forecaster, Oviedo's 2010 season (2.94 xERA, 54% GB%, 130 BPV) may indeed turn out to be an outlier amid a career marked by 4.00 xERAs and higher fly-ball rates. Nonetheless, with Edward Mujica (RHP, MIA) on the DL and with Steve Cishek (RHP, MIA) having wobbled a bit in June before seemingly righting the ship thus far in July, Oviedo would seem to have little in his way if Bell continues not to be able to get the job done. He's worth a speculative FAAB bid, though perhaps not worth breaking the bank over.

In fact, for those needing to roll the dice a bit to salvage their seasons, all the "noise" about Oviedo and the blown saves might present a prime opportunity to buy ultra-low on Bell. As noted above, Bell's skills have been ascendant despite the recent stumbles, and he will have at least some time to win back his manager's trust before Oviedo arrives. Just don't pay anything close to full price.

What will Astros corners look like in second half?

It hasn't even been a week since the trade of Carlos Lee (1B, MIA), and already there have been some shifting roles among the corner infielders in Houston, perhaps befitting a team in full-blown rebuilding mode.

For one, while newly acquired Matt Dominguez (3B, HOU) was on the active roster, journeyman Scott Moore (2B/3B, HOU) staked a claim to playing time at the hot corner, stroking 3 HRs. (Dominguez was optioned to Triple-A on Sunday.) Moore has collected at least one hit in all nine games he has played this season, and on July 8 found himself hitting third. Even after a 1-for-5 day, Moore's season average sits at .306, albeit through all of 36 ABs. The BaseballHQ.com notes archive indicates that Moore had another similar hot streak in June 2010, though little else in his history suggests he will be able to keep up anything near this past week's performance.

Meanwhile, Chris Johnson (1B/3B, HOU) has shifted across the diamond to 1B, though indications are that he may soon again be challenged for playing time by Brett Wallace (1B/3B, HOU), with Astros manager Brad Mills saying over the weekend that Wallace was "in the mix" for a call-up in the near future.

Though Wallace still has a shaky ct% and Eye, even at AAA-Oklahoma City (0.30 Eye, 72% ct%), the Astros would seem to have little incentive to continue to give playing time to Johnson, who seems to have firmly established that he is unlikely to offer anything more than league-average power from positions teams generally expect a bit better than that.

The question would then become whether Johnson would retain substantial playing time at 3B to ease the pressure on Dominguez, which in the near term may be the case but perhaps not in the long term. But if Moore can somehow keep up his hot hitting, even that opportunity may evaporate for Johnson.

NL short take

The Astros will reportedly go back to using a five-man rotation after the All-Star Break, which will leave Dallas Keuchel (LHP, HOU) on the outside looking in for the time being. The stats Keuchel amassed over four starts (2.45 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) seem reasonable, until one realizes he walked more batters than he struck out (10/13 K/BB). More seasoning seems to be in order for the 24-year-old...


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.