July 30, 2010

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On April 16, Stephen Strasburg made his home debut for Double-A Harrisburg. The game was a huge event for the Pennsylvania state capital, which had just unveiled a newly remodeled ballpark. Violent storms delayed the phenom's start by two hours, and then, just as he was about to take the mound, a power outage turned the lights out on the beautiful new stadium.

As I watched all of this unfold from the first base side bleachers, I kept looking at Senators manager Randy Knorr. Surely, he would be getting a call from Washington asking him to tell Strasburg to hang up his cap for the night. The call never came, and they let the organization's prized possession pitch in less than ideal conditions.

Strasburg rang up the first batter on three pitches, and generally outclassed all the minor leaguers he faced. Don't get me wrong, it was fun to watch, but the entire time I wondered why the Nationals would risk their future ace, the face of the franchise, in that situation.

Three months later, with Strasburg on the Disabled List for the first time in his career, even the most optimistic fan thinks Washington shouldn't risk anything. The shoulder is the most crucial joint in a pitcher's body. By all accounts, Strasburg suffered minor stiffness in his shoulder, and the DL move is extremely cautious. Hey, the Nationals might have put him on the DL if he had an ingrown hair on his shoulder.

Manager Jim Riggleman told the Washington Post that, "He's got to be 100 percent. If there's any negativity that comes out of his voice, from his words, from the doctor, the trainer, Steve McCatty, any information we get that is negative, he's not pitching."

That's 100 percent, not 95, not even 99.9 percent. Strasburg has to be perfect before he takes the mound again. His DL stint is retroactive to July 22, but it appears he'll be out a little longer than that. He was already pitching with a 160-inning limit this season, and with this shoulder situation, I'd be surprised if he gets that far.

Fantasy owners should prepare for an extended absence and an uncertain ending to 2010 for Strasburg. There are some young arms out there who can help. Madison Bumgarner is available in more than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues, and he's won his last four starts. His earned run average through six games is 2.43. Another youngster who's more widely available is Cincinnati's Travis Wood. Owned in only 21 percent of leagues, Wood owns a 2.87 ERA and 33/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 37.2 innings.

While an injury may have dimmed the lights on Strasburg's unbelievable rookie campaign, another injury might have green-lighted the career of one of the league's top hitting prospects.

Shane Victorino, OF, Philadelphia Phillies

Victorino strained his left oblique Tuesday while diving back to first base. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Victorino might not be completely healthy for three weeks, and depending on the severity of the strain, it could be more than a month until he returns. The speedy outfielder was on pace to approach a 25 home run/35 stolen base season.

The Phillies and many fantasy owners have turned to top outfield prospect Domonic Brown to fill Victorino's shoes (side note: Am I allowed to mention Brown without making a lame joke about the second "O" in Domonic?). Brown debuted Wednesday and went 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBI. He's got an ownership rate under 25 percent right now, but by the time this article is published I'm guessing that will jump at least five points.

Bottom line, Brown is legit, and fantasy owners should gobble him up if he's available. With a .327 average, 20 homers and 17 steals in 93 minor league games, Brown puts an extra "O" in offense (Bam! See what I did there?). At the least he's a short-term replacement for Victorino or even a fourth outfielder for fantasy GMs who don't own Victorino. Don't expect beginning-of-2010-Jason-Heyward numbers out of Brown, but he can take some of the sting out of losing Victorino.

Chris Coghlan, OF, Florida Marlins

When talking about future stars, I can't forget to mention the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year, Coghlan, who became the latest in a long line of injured-while-throwing-pie athletes. Seriously, this might be the strangest celebration injury story not involving a Gramatica, and Coghlan could be out six-to-eight weeks if he needs surgery to repair the meniscus he tore while slamming a pie in Wes Helm's face. He's expected to find out Friday whether or not surgery is necessary. If it's not, he could be back in late August.

This isn't a huge fantasy loss. Coghlan has more stolen bases than he did in his rookie campaign, but his power numbers and run scoring were about the same, and his average is down nearly .060 points.

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas Rangers

Wow, that escalated quickly ... I mean, that really got out of hand (Sorry, I still love Anchorman). Kinsler went from taking a day off, to being day-to-day with a sore leg, to being on the DL in what seemed like a matter of hours. This shouldn't come as a surprise, when Kinsler sprained his ankle at the beginning of the season; the severity of the injury seemed to vary every day.

Kinsler's groin strain could keep him out longer than the 15-day minimum. He's eligible to return on Aug. 12, but general manager Jon Daniels said the time frame might be closer to mid- to late-August. The problem fantasy owners face is that injuries to Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia already have sucked the second base free agent market dry. San Diego's Jerry Hairston Jr. is widely available and is also eligible at third base, shortstop, outfield, tight end and running back. (OK, so maybe not the last two, but the Chargers do need some depth behind Ryan Mathews).

The MLB waiting room is full, and these players all spoke to the doctor recently.

What a painful week for the Upton family as Arizona's Justin Upton left Tuesday's game with a sore hip and B.J. Upton is day-to-day with a sprained ankle. It looks like Justin's is the less severe injury, but both players should be back in the starting lineup sometime this weekend. ... Rockies closer Huston Street took a batting practice line drive to the pelvic area and had to be taken to the local emergency room via ambulance. It initially looked like a horrific end to an injury plagued season, but the Associated Press reports that Street is available to pitch Thursday night. ... Newly acquired Angels starter Dan Haren took a line drive to his pitching forearm in his first start with the new club. Like Street, Haren may have avoided a bad situation. His forearm is only bruised and he expects to make his next start. ... Albert Pujols' calf tightened up during extra innings of Wednesday's game against the Mets. The injury isn't serious, but don't be surprised if he takes a day off in the near future. ... Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts is back on the field, but the team is still going to be careful with the former All-Star. He is scheduled to sit out of Sunday's game against Kansas City. ... No new news on Utley. The Phillies second baseman will return from thumb surgery sometime in mid-August. ... Mariners third baseman Jose Lopez strained his hamstring on Tuesday. He's listed as day-to-day and a trip to the DL is unlikely. ... Fantasy owners hoping that Oakland starter Ben Sheets would be traded to a pitcher-friendly situation lost all hope Wednesday when a torn flexor tendon officially ended his season. ... Dustin Pedroia wants to get back on the field, but his broken foot will not let him. The Red Sox second baseman will undergo another CT scan on Friday but it looks like a late August return at the earliest. ... The Tigers took a big blow last weekend when outfielder Magglio Ordonez went down with a fractured right ankle. Ordonez will miss at least six-to-eight weeks. Domonic Brown makes a solid replacement for Ordonez, but fantasy GMs will need to act fast to grab him. Luke Scott is another option. He's a streaky hitter, and right now it looks like he's about to hit a hot streak with five homers in his last 10 games. ... The Justin Morneau concussion saga rambles on. He can resume baseball activities this weekend, but his return date is unclear. ... Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury could be headed to Triple-A Pawtucket this weekend. Out since May 24 with fractured ribs, Ellsbury is inching closer to returning. ... Ellsbury's outfield teammate J.D. Drew had an MRI on his hamstring and isn't expected to hit the DL. The injury is considered mild although he could miss a few more games. ... Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist left Wednesday's game with lower back stiffness. He sat out Thursday, but should be back by the weekend.

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