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Designated LHP Dontrelle Willis for assignment; recalled LHP Jordan Norberto from Reno (Triple-A). [7/4]
Released LHP Dontrelle Willis. [7/6]

Is this the bitter end for Dontrelle Willis? After a quality start the first time out, he took four flavors of beating before the Snakes gave him a shot in relief. On July 3, in just about as low-leverage as a situation as you might imagine: sixth inning and down by 11, he tacked three more runs onto that deficit, and that ended his Arizona career. When previous management picked him up, it was a worthwhile risk to take considering the non-expense of adding him, but having seen him put 54 of 114 batters on base, you can understand if the newly-forged brass decided to opt out quickly. All this experiment they conducted cost them was the chance to employ Billy Buckner, so that’s not so terrible.

That bad bullpen game was Willis’ first work for newly-minted manager Kirk Gibson, and was all he needed to see to decide to bring the team back to its default selection for left-handed relief help, Norberto. Norberto has turned around in-season after a rough start at Reno, allowing just two unearned runs in 13 1/3 June innings with 17 strikeouts, but eight walks. He’s been even better of late, retiring 21 of his last 23 batters in four games, striking out 10 while allowing just two walks. Armed with a fastball that averages around 93 mph, he’s a much harder thrower than most lefty relievers, but at Reno he wasn’t being used in a situational role, and in his first couple of assignments in his return engagement, Gibson didn’t just hock him up for LOOGY use, letting him face right-handed persons, and using him in closer games.

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Optioned RHP Jeff Stevens to Iowa (Triple-A); recalled RHP Justin Berg from Iowa. [7/5]
Placed RHP Brian Schlitter on the 15-day DL (shoulder), retroactive to July 3; recalled RHP Mitch Atkins from Iowa. [7/7]

As much as the Cubs have had to turn over their bullpen, this is almost a matter of change for change’s sake, veering from one hot hand to the next, where all it might take to be a hot hand in this crew is a pocket to put it in, or a pulse. Stevens had a couple of bad ballgames after his recall? Then he’s gone, zero tolerance, more corn country for you! Schlitter wasn’t the best body to have around, so his setback isn’t exactly the ballclub’s. In their place, it looks like Berg will move into a right-handed situational role, while Atkins is getting kept around as the latest token right-handed long-relief guy, and while they’re plausible replacement parts, this sort of fitful reshuffling is more a symptom of frustration than well-considered necessity.

Berg was an initial choice for retention and remains a decent one going forward, but he wasn’t doing much better getting his off-speed stuff over for strikes against lefties in Iowa (walking eight of 44), and he walked the first one he saw upon his return to The Show. Atkins is an interesting addition to the pen in light of the fact that he’d spent the last two months in Iowa’s rotation, repairing his reputation as a modest prospect after a disastrous 2009 campaign. He’s not any less of a hittable back-end staff-filling type, but he’s been more successful at it this season, allowing four runs per nine, generating more fly balls than grounders, and modest rates of 6.3 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9.

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Placed RHP Aaron Harang on the 15-day DL (lower back), retroactive to 7/1; recalled LHP Matt Maloney from Louisville (Triple-A). [7/6]
Placed C-R Ramon Hernandez on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 7/5; activated C-R Ryan Hanigan from the 15-day DL. [7/9]

Losing Harang provokes the interesting question of what the Reds might do with their rotation, because between Travis Wood‘s immediate flirtation with greatness, Maloney’s spinning a quality start and a pair of useful ballgames, and Edinson Volquez‘s imminent return from the DL, the Reds have a remarkable collection of options for self-improvement, one where you might carried away and think that the best-case scenarios involve no more Haranging among their starters. But let’s take a quick look at the performances so far this season:

Arroyo 18 120.1 10 2.4 .535 4.04 5.06
Cueto 18 110.2 9 2.8 .554 3.42 4.31
Leake 17 109.2 13 2.2 .524 3.53 4.45
Harang 17 100.1 10 0.9 .452 5.02 4.20
Bailey 9 50.2 3 0.3 .429 5.51 4.37
Wood 3 20.2 2 0.9 .702 2.18 3.59
15 98 11 NA NA 3.12 NA
Maloney 2 11.2 1 0.3 .559 3.09 5.72
15 82.1 6 NA NA 3.50 NA
Volquez ’09 9 49.2 4 1.1 .504 4.35 4.38

As is my wont, I’m using runs instead of earned runs to judge what’s a quality start; relying on the official scorer’s opinion on what might have been an error or a hit is a matter of crediting an opinion where we only ought to be worrying about how effectively the starter kept the other team off the scoreboard. I’m also crediting starters with quality starts logged through the first six innings but subsequently blown (BQS), by his bullpen because he ran into trouble, or by his skipper leaving him out there, and for whatever reasons, good or bad, might have gone into those decisions; I figure that if a guy does his job through the first six innings, he’s delivered a winnable ballgame, and the context of his team’s scoring that day, or the ballclub’s logistical need for additional innings because of a tired pen, a no-hitter or shutout, or whatever else are matters that help make any subsequent outcome a matter of managerial discretion.

Looking at the rotation’s likelies in the second half, obviously getting more of Wood and Cueto and Leake makes sense, although with Wood and Leake, the worry over their total workloads would trouble management in other organizations. For better or likely worse, that may be less of a consideration here, especially with a shot at the division to take. Volquez is unhurriedly coming back into the mix, and Maloney’s somebody you can safely delegate to the second rank in this crew.

Put that way, you’re left with a choice to make between Bailey and the two veteran workhorses. Setting aside Bailey since he’s on the DL and is a month away or so from becoming a live sprig on this particular decision tree, this really boils down to Bailey or Harang. In this context you can almost understand why Bronson Arroyo turned down an offer to restructure his deal with an eye towards a long-term extension; given a choice between Harang and Arroyo, SIERA and quality starts suggest that the choice isn’t quite so cut and dried for who you’d want to keep running out there. And as Arroyo noted, he’s been burned before after supplying his employer payroll certainty, and with both veterans carrying $2 million price tags to buy out their 2011 options for $11 million (Arroyo) or $12.75 million (Harang), you have to figure one of them’s gone regardless.

As for losing Hernandez, between the break and the retroactive move, this may not hurt them much more than it already has. He’s a non-threat at the plate outside of the Gap, and Hanigan handles his responsibilities behind the plate when it comes to squelching the running game as effectively as Hernandez does. As ever with thumb-related issues, you can worry about Hanigan’s bat control, but he’d managed three multi-hit games in his last four rehab efforts, so between his value as a receiver and his patience at the plate, they shouldn’t miss much of a beat. Once they have Hanigan and Hernandez, they’ll have the happy circumstance of a pair of catchers they can use interchangeably, so to the extent that Walt Jocketty’s concern for catching depth in the offseason has paid off, the team has been able to weather injuries to both of their backstops.

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Placed 1BL Todd Helton on the 15-day DL (sore back), retroactive to 7/5; purchased the contract of 1BR Brad Eldred from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [7/7]
Activated LHP Jorge De La Rosa from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Esmil Rogers to Colorado Springs. [7/9]

Helton’s breakdown is more of an emotional setback than one for the lineup. The fading face of the franchise has been awful this season, he’s been effectively useless since June 1, so the proposed troika of the equally immobile Jason Giambi, hulking Brad Eldred, and utilityman Melvin Mora in his place is progress. Focus on what they can’t do, and you might see Brajamel Giamordred as a bad alternative: Giambi can’t move around the bag or the bases, Eldred needs altitude to help his contact rate and his dangerousness for anything other than sombreros and solo shots, and the question of what Mora is for has fewer satisfactory answers than it used to.

But focus instead on what they can do: Giambi is still good at getting on base. Eldred might be a specialized assault weapon best employed at home, but limited to spot duties against lefties or Suppan-grade right-handers outside of that, and he could yet deliver his Joey Meyer moment of immortality. And Mora? Well, he’s in demand at the hot corner after Ian Stewart‘s weak June performance, but rotating him to first base remains one of Jim Tracy’s tactical options to beat his opponents with. Add in Brad Hawpe as someone they could rotate in from the outfield to make sure the other four start-worthy outfielders get their at-bats, and Helton’s absence creates the opportunity to spread around playing time in a way that guarantees a number of better ballplayers playing time, all the better to deal with Tulo’s extended absence.

Meanwhile, the additional good news comes in the rotation with De La Rosa’s return to action. His first start wasn’t pretty, but it was in Coors and involved errors and a few non-caught fly balls. The decision to bump Jhoulys Chacin to the bullpen in light of De La Rosa’s return might seem surprising, given the performance of the rotation overall, but with Aaron Cook, De La Rosa, and Jeff Francis all performing poorly, it isn’t like they have a single veteran who makes for an easy bumpee from starting, and there’s always Chacin’s final innings tally to think about. I wouldn’t consider Chacin’s demotion as final as much as a matter of being the threat to hold over the heads of the veterans, to encourage all three to do something more like their past performance, lest the biggest loser lose his job to the kid.

It’s worth wondering if Chacin’s bid for Rookie of the Year is dead before it might have begun. Not just because of some of the other high-profile rookies in the game, but because he’s had to deal with Coors Field, and that has gone a lot less well than you’d wish: his road ERA is 2.45, with 42 strikeouts in 36 2/3 IP, with a lone homer allowed, against a 5.58 ERA and six homers allowed in 40 1/3 IP, with 38 strikeouts. You can take this argument only so far, of course; concerns with sample size inevitably intrude, plus worries about how effectively Chacin could deliver those kinds of rates in a full season seem reasonable. But his home park isn’t his friend, obscuring a season that deserves more attention than it has gotten in the shadow of the season of Strasburg, or Heyward.

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Optioned RHP Chris Volstad to New Orleans (Triple-A); recalled RHP Burke Badenhop from New Orleans. [7/7]
Optioned RHP Tim Wood to New Orleans; re-purchased the contract of LHP Dan Meyer from New Orleans. [7/9]

No doubt suitably chastened by their demotions, Badenhop generated grounders but wasn’t especially that much more effective, but he was a bit more aggressive going after the inside corner. Meyer wasn’t really any more effective against minor-league lefties than he had been against the big-leaguers, and he’s merely keeping Taylor Tankersley company as token southpaws in the pen. You might think that they don’t have a lot of lefty options left: Hunter Jones is out for the year, and they’ve ditched Renyel Pinto (he washed up in Memphis, where he can hope to be the next situational apple of La Russa’s wandering eye). But this may be last-chance sweepstakes for Meyer, because Dan Jennings is looking pretty good down in Jacksonville.

As for Volstad’s demotion from the rotation and the majors, I wouldn’t get too bent out of shape about it just yet if he’s on your fantasy roster. His SIERA is slightly lower than Anibal Sanchez‘s (4.42 against 4.51), he immediately provided a reminder that he’s a quality pitcher by spinning six shutout frames for the Zephyrs, and with the break, it’s noteworthy that they didn’t promote a starter in his place, letting Alex Sanabia lead off a pen start on Sunday against the hopeless Snakes instead. Admittedly, Volstad’s .449 SNWP is nothing special, but he was optionable where Nate Robertson (.375) was not, and unless the rot at the top among the fickle Lorians hasn’t produced outright dementia, you’d have to figure that Volstad will be back, even with Sean West starting to round into shape in Triple-A.

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Acquired SS-R Angel Sanchez from the Red Sox for C-R Kevin Cash. [7/1]
Optioned OF-R Jason Bourgeois to Round Rock (Triple-A); designated OF-R Yordany Ramirez for assignment. [7/2]
Placed INF-S Geoff Blum on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 7/2; recalled OF-R Jason Bourgeois from Round Rock; purchased the contract of C-R Edwin Bellorin from the Royals, and assigned him to Round Rock. [7/4]
Outrighted OF-R Yordany Ramirez to Round Rock. [7/9]

At this stage of the season, who plays shortstop for the Houston Astros is being determined with almost as much care as how Abe Lincoln was picking generals, the dude looks good wearing a star, and that’s gotta be worth something, right? Happily, Sanchez carries a good-glove rep, so at least he’ll do the pitchers some good, although that was the original intent with Tommy Manzella, and the Red Sox were happy to exchange the fulfillment of someone else’s desperate need to answer their own behind the plate. As for reshuffling the bench in Blum’s absence, Jason Bourgeois should be useful as an early-inning pinch-hitter, leaving the late-inning RBI opportunities to Jason Michaels, since neither figure to cadge many starts from the starting outfield trio.

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Placed LF-R Manny Ramirez on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 6/30; optioned RHP Ramon Troncoso to Albuquerque (Triple-A); recalled RHP Travis Schlichting and OF-L Xavier Paul from Albuquerque. [7/3]
Placed RHP Ronald Belisario on the Restricted List; activated RHP Carlos Monasterios from the 15-day DL. [7/7]
Optioned RHP John Ely to Albuquerque; recalled RHP Jon Link from Albuquerque. [7/11]

His Manny-ness’ absence from his day-to-day responsibilities as a mere mortal features at least the benefit of some lessons learned: no more Garret Anderson starts in the lineup, as the Dodgers have eventually come around to the proposition that if you’re without the big guy, you don’t employ the formerly famous, you go for the kid with talent, in this case Paul. Unfortunately, Paul delivered up an Anderson-esque .214/.267/.214, but conveniently enough Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Rafael Furcal have all heated up in the meantime, fueling a better effort that delivered 5.6 runs per game in July’s first-half contests. Manny has already begun his rehab, making two starts but going 0-for-6 with four strikeouts. Manny being Manny, we can probably expect that’s just the backstory before a torrid second half; certainly the Dodgers will be hoping so.

Meanwhile, there’s the latest bit of turnover in the pitching staff to sort out. Belisario’s disactivation adds to the early-season setback involving his visa, which you can heap on top of their already resolved dissatisfactions with Ramon Troncoso, plus reasonable fear over using George Sherrill, leaving you with an unhappy scenario where a pen that should have been well-stocked now seems short-handed, and reliant on extra bodies like the Illustrated Man and Schlichting.

In contrast, the rotation issues seem to be small beer. Ely had managed to deliver eight quality starts in his last 12, but consecutive disasterpieces cost him his slot. At the same time, this denouement seems like a symptom of a guy the league is catching up to; his strikeout rate has dropped from one per frame in his first four turns to 5.7 per nine in his last 10, while his walk rate has jumped from below one per nine to 3.7. He’s no less employable as a back-end starter now than before, but it’s important to not get carried away with his introduction to the league, and accept that he only has so much to offer as a decent strike-thrower. Since he’ll have to sit out the 10-day period (barring any injuries), he’ll miss the next opening for the rotation’s fifth slot, generating jabber about Claudio Vargas or James McDonald getting the next slot’s next turn against the Giants next week, or perhaps a Monasterios start. If it’s just one start, you can afford to roll the dice, but only McDonald offers anything like upside.

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Outrighted C-R Angel Salome to Brevard County (High-A). [7/2]
Placed RHP Yovani Gallardo on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 7/5; activated LHP Doug Davis from the 15-day DL. [7/6]

To call the Brewers‘ situation desperate would be an understatement: with their playoff odds already shrunk below a full percentage point, they’re down their only above-average starting pitcher. With initial estimates indicating that Gallardo won’t be back for a month, you can consider this the end, as Doug Melvin’s master plan for world domination joins yet another crystalline design shattered by contract with the bludgeon of reality.

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Optioned RHP Ryota Igarashi to Buffalo (Triple-A); recalled 1BR Nick Evans from Buffalo. [7/9]
Optioned OF-L Jesus Feliciano to Buffalo. [7/12]

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Activated LHP J.A. Happ from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [7/6]
Optioned LHP Mike Zagurski to Lehigh Valley; outrighted INF-R Brian Bocock to Lehigh Valley; designated OF-L Quintin Berry for assignment; activated RHP Ryan Madson from the 60-day DL. [7/8]
Activated C-R Carlos Ruiz from the 15-day DL; designated C-R Dane Sardinha for assignment. [7/10]

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Activated RHP Charlie Morton from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [7/2]
Purchased RHP Sean Gallagher from the Padres. [7/7]
Activated RHP Sean Gallagher; optioned RHP Daniel McCutchen to Indianapolis. [7/8]
Optioned LHP Justin Thomas and C-S Jason Jaramillo to Indianapolis; activated LHP Zach Duke from the 15-day DL. [7/12]

Adding Gallagher might seem smashing, but everything loses its luster over time, and it’s now several seasons since the prospect status of the former Cubs farmhand was a growing concern. That said, the Pirates are about as desperate for pitching help as a team can get, to the point that the Padres’ worst reliever might not be such a bad add in light of his posting the same FRA as notional staff ace Octavio Dotel, 5.82 to Dotel’s 5.83. That said, the Pirates’ pen isn’t entirely a nest of iniquity and failure, since they do boast at least a quartet of employable relievers, from All-Star Evan Meek to lefty Javier Lopez to righties Joel Hanrahan and D.J. Carrasco. That’s still only good for a 22nd-place ranking in relief-only FRA, but hey, that’s better than the uttermost basement, right?

As for dispatching Jaramillo, that’s a matter of absolutely awful performance as a part-time player. He wasn’t hitting a lick, to the point that not even gunning 38 percent of opposing stolen-base attempts could save him. Whether this ends up being an opportunity to reward minor-league veteran Erik Kratz his first taste of the majors in his age-30 season after nine seasons in the minors (not least for his slugging .550 at Indy after a .470 season in 2009), or to add Jaramillo-lite in the form of journeyman Luke Carlin, at least Jaramillo will get a chance to refresh his hitting skills with everyday play. Carlin would be the better-throwing option, which might be a key consideration considering the reservations over Ryan Doumit‘s defensive work, but perhaps the Pirates are run-hungry enough to just skip that and employ Kratz and get runs, even on Doumit’s days off.

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Placed OF-L Will Venable on the 15-day DL (strained lower back), retroactive to 7/2; recalled OF-R Aaron Cunningham from Portland (Triple-A). [7/3]
Sold RHP Sean Gallagher to the Pirates. [7/7]

Losing Venable is only expected to cost him a brief stretch beyond the break, so the disappointment of losing one of the few Padres outfielders producing any kind of offense need not be born for long. Indeed, the happy break here is that this means they have another opportunity for Cunningham, who has responded by swinging a hot bat to make his case for sticking around after Venable’s return. That would almost certainly come at the expense of Oscar Salazar or perhaps Chris Denorfia, but barring a belated move to add a much-needed bat, that’s about the best option they have in play.

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Placed LHP Dan Runzler on the 15-day DL (dislocated patella); recalled RHP Joe Martinez from Fresno (Triple-A). [7/9]

Because Runzler is going to be out for at least six weeks, perhaps two months, he may well be close to done for the year, because by the time he’s ready to return to action, only an accelerated timetable would leave him with any minor-league action to rehab in; if he’s pushed back towards a September return, can the Giants really invest a lot of trust in him as their situational lefty? Complicating matters as far as obvious in-house solutions, Alex Hinshaw hasn’t been entirely effective with Fresno, allowing 25 runs in 35 1/3 IP while walking 24 and hitting another four. However, he’s still overpowering people, striking out 40, while also limiting PCL lefties to a .106/.317/.128 clip. That said, he’s obviously walking them as well, with 12 freebies and three hit batsmen among his 69 faced, while striking out just 17. The Giants could turn back to him easily enough, but don’t be surprised if they shop around for a veteran rental to add at month’s end to employ down the stretch, because the only fall-back option in-house beyond Hinshaw is Andy Sisco, and the Sisquatch isn’t pitching all that well at Double-A.

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Optioned RHP Fernando Salas to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled INF-R Tyler Greene from Memphis; outrighted RHP Josh Kinney to Memphis. [7/2]
Placed OF-R Ryan Ludwick on the 15-day DL (strained calf), retroactive to 6/26; recalled OF-L Jon Jay from Memphis. [7/3]
Placed RHP Adam Ottavino on the 15-day DL (sprained shoulder), retroactive to 7/4; recalled LHP Evan MacLane from Memphis. [7/7]

Disabling Ludwick was merely a matter of acknowledging an accomplished fact: the man has been hurt for a while now. The schedule helped minimize the damage, drawing the Brewers and Astros among their last three series certainly helped, but a sweep at the hands of the Rockies when all three games were winnable suggests how narrow the margins have gotten for this team’s stars/scrubs proposition. The news hasn’t been all bad in Ludwick’s absence, since Jon Jay seems to have renewed his bid to stick as the club’s best fourth outfielder by ripping five extra-base hits in eight July games, but Nick Stavinoha seems to be following the lead of Allen Craig and Joe Mather in handing back his Opening Day invitation to stick around.

Losing Ludwick might also have contributed a catalyzing effect to doing something about the middle infield’s punchlessness, because his disabling coincides with a decision to punt Skip Schumaker from the leadoff spot down to the ninth slot behind the pitcher as the notional “second leadoff man,” and Brendan Ryan from the lineup altogether. That has left Felipe Lopez leading off while playing third and Tyler Greene getting the starts at shortstop and batting in front of the pitcher. While Ludwick is expected back shortly after the break, I wouldn’t expect that to renew any faith in Ryan and Schumaker; once third baseman David Freese comes back from the DL later this month, Schumaker may well join Ryan on the bench, with F-Lop taking over at second base while remaining in the leadoff slot.

As for seeing Ottavino break down, this doesn’t directly impact their rotation as much as it limits their already limited options. Reliance on Jeff Suppan and Blake Hawksworth in the last two slots has predictably involved hooks before the sixth inning and too much damage is done. With Brad Penny‘s rehab pushed back yet again, and Kyle Lohse not making rehab starts yet, until the Cards make a move, this is effectively what they’re left with. Swapping in P.J. Walters or even MacLane would represent nothing more than variations on a theme, so you can bet that the Cardinals will be shopping for a starting pitcher before concerns over Jaime Garcia‘s workload exacerbate the issue.

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Optioned RHP Luis Atilano to Syracuse (Triple-A). [7/9]
Recalled OF-R Justin Maxwell from Syracuse. [7/10]

Nothing more extraordinary here than a matter of dealing out a back-end rotation starter over the break so that he can take a turn in the minors in the meantime. I wouldn’t automatically infer any status shift in this for the Hun per se, even with Scott Olsen looking like he’ll be ready to come back from the DL in a week or so, and with Jordan Zimmermann already back out on minor-league mounds to fire up what should be a full-length rehab campaign. In the meantime, J.D. Martin has more experience pitching as a reliever, and could be used in long relief or an emergency immediately after the break as needed, while Craig Stammen got knocked around in his subsequent pair of starts after an first good turn after his reinstallation in the rotation.