Sunday, July 18, 2004

Injuries never far from discussion


But players such as healthy Walker, Drew can be real fantasy finds

By John Nemo
Enquirer contributor

This week I feel more like a physician than a columnist, given all the "Will he stay healthy?" questions I'm logging. From Larry Walker to J.D. Drew and back, it's time to empty the inbox.

Q: Larry Walker came off the disabled list and was hot, but lately he has really cooled down. Is he still a keeper, or should we look to trade him or pick up someone else? - Jim

A: I was one of the guys who took a late-round flyer on Walker during the draft, knowing he'd miss most of the first half with a groin injury. He has a history of being hurt, so if you own Walker, you know the risks. That said, I'm still a huge Walker fan. He plays in a Colorado lineup stacked with good hitters, and in his first 45 at-bats of 2004, Walker hit .311 with three homers and 10 RBI. But Jim is correct - Walker hit only .231 in the week before the All-Star break, and all three of his homers came in one game against Cleveland in late June.

HOT BOX
Pick him up: A.J. Pierzynski, C, Giants. He quietly has turned around his season, hitting .368 with four homers and 19 RBI over the past month, bringing up his overall numbers to .304-7-45. He's looking more now like the hitter the Giants expected to get when they sent Joe Nathan to the Twins last winter. Expect Pierzynski to keep it up.

Sit him down: Kevin Millwood, SP, Phillies. He has been reduced to complaining that Philadelphia's new park isn't friendly to fly-ball pitchers such as himself. It doesn't seem to matter where Millwood (6-5, 5.15 ERA) starts, though. His home ERA is 5.43, and his road ERA isn't much better at 4.86. It's time to bench him.

Keep an eye on: Jason Marquis, SP, Cardinals. With his numbers this season (9-4, 3.88 ERA, 73 strikeouts), you can't afford to wait much longer or he'll be gone. Marquis is in the middle of a career year for the best team in baseball, yet I was able to snag him off waivers in my 12-team league. You should, too.

Still, I would stick with the 38-year-old Walker at this point. If you drafted him in March and waited this long to get him into your lineup, what have you got to lose? When healthy, he's still one of the better hitters in the National League. I'd give him another few weeks to prove if he still has it, then make a call.

Q: I'm wondering whether or not I should pick up J.D. Drew and (I'd have to) drop Ichiro. How's Drew's health looking? Do you think Ichiro's numbers will pick up on a bad team? - Paul Velten

A: I gambled on Drew this year and I've almost dislocated my shoulder patting myself on the back. The Atlanta outfielder came into the break hitting .312 with 21 homers, 55 RBI, five triples and six steals. He should easily surpass his career highs in homers (27) and RBI (73) by late August, and think about this: Drew is doing all this while teammates such as Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Marcus Giles are struggling at the plate or missing from the lineup. If Atlanta's other big names get healthy and get the bats going, Drew's numbers will get even better. If you need any more incentive, Drew is in a contract year.

As for Ichiro, he's still hitting a healthy .320 with 21 steals and 121 hits. It's hard to knock his performance, especially given how bad Seattle has been. With the Mariners going nowhere and Atlanta heating up, I'd be inclined to go with Drew over Ichiro, though that's not to say I don't think Ichiro can finish with his usual solid numbers. I just think Drew has the edge right now, and if you're willing to gamble on his health, he'll be worth it come September.

Q: Michael Barrett, Pedro Feliz and Mark Bellhorn have slowed greatly. Should I drop them, and if so, whom should I replace them with? - Ryan Turton

A: While Barrett (.290-10-43) has been struggling, dumping him would depend greatly on whom you could replace him with. Are you going to be looking at guys like Charles Johnson (.269-11-37), Toby Hall (.292-5-34) and Mike Lieberthal (.258-11-36)? If so, is it really worth swapping one struggling catcher for another? I'd stay with Barrett for now, unless by some chance a stud catcher such as Johnny Estrada (.328-4-48) or Victor Martinez (.298-15-70) is on waivers.

Feliz (.262-13-52) has had decent power numbers but has been inconsistent. Giants manager Felipe Alou has even sat him off and on - never a good sign. First base is a pretty fantasy-rich position, so I'd hope you could find a guy such as Travis Hafner (.319-11-63), Phil Nevin (.294-14-53) or Scott Hatteberg (.298-10-52) lurking on waivers.

As for Bellhorn (.267-11-50), his 61 walks and 62 runs lead all second basemen, so it's hard to dump him.

---

John Nemo can be reached at nemofreelance@yahoo.com




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