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Placed LHP Ted Lilly on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation), retroactive to 7/21; recalled RHP Justin Berg from Iowa (Triple-A). [7/25]

As tight as the NL Central has become as a four-team race, having to replace three Lilly-quality starts is not laughing matter. However, at least in terms of rotation management it might not be much more than a transitory setback, since Ryan Dempster will be back off of the DL in time to make tomorrow's start, Kevin Hart's given them three winnable ballgames in his three turns during Dempster's absence, and the league's adaptations to Randy Wells haven't made him ineffective as much as ended his status as some sort of latter-day mini-Maddux. The greater problem is the potential impact of staff-wide pitcher usage patterns; Dempster might have to see his initial starts shortened as he gets back into the swing of things, Wells and Hart probably won't reliably deliver six innings or more, and it's hard to know what to expect from Carlos Zambrano in any given start. There's solace to be taken in Rich Harden's streak of three consecutive quality starts, but the danger is that the Cubs will run up against the limitations of their middle relief crew. Aaron Heilman has been an outright disappointment, with a 5.64 FRA, while Jeff Samardzija remains an organization foible looking for a use beyond mop-up duties (8.36 FRA). Jeff Stevens might become something of a dark horse relief asset in this situation, because relying too heavily on the Golden Domers seems like a losing proposition. Berg might be as well, having used his sinker to generate three times as many ground-ball outs as flies for Iowa, but his continued problems against lefties (.421 OBP) suggest he might be best limited to ROOGY-dom (.167/.286/.214 vs. right-handed batters).

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Placed OF-L Jay Bruce on the 15-day DL (broken wrist); recalled INF-R Adam Rosales from Louisville (Triple-A). [7/12]
Optioned RHP Josh Roenicke to Louisville; recalled INF-S Drew Suton from Louisville. [7/17]
Placed C-R Ramon Hernandez on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 7/18; optioned RHP Robert Manuel to Louisville; recalled RHP Jared Burton and C-R Craig Tatum from Louisville. [7/20]
Activated SS-R Alex Gonzalez from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-S Drew Sutton to Louisville. [7/24]
Placed RHP Jared Burton on the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Josh Roenicke from Louisville. [7/26]
Placed OF-L Chris Dickerson on the 15-day DL (bruised rotator cuff); placed RHP Micah Owings on the 15-day DL (shoulder); recalled INF-S Drew Sutton and RHP Robert Manuel. [7/27]

The Reds were already falling into also-ran status because of what they were getting from Bruce and Hernandez, so absenting both or either is less a confession of depth-related issues—which the Reds do have—as a reflection of how terrible the Reds' offense was and will probably remain. Currently 15th in the National League in team EqA (.248) and ahead of only the Giants (.241) and unlikely to add the kind of talent to get much better than that beyond their already getting Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion back from the DL already. The questions that arise from these latest absences instead need to point the team towards 2010. First off, there's the one as to whether or not they'll get to see if Ryan Hanigan can still deliver a good OBP while playing every day, and to a lesser extent if Tatum can caddy for him, because this will be one of those rare years where there are enough non-superstar options in the free-agent catching market to make mulling a money move worthwhile. Losing Bruce was bad news, but happily it hasn't inspired them to move Edwin Encarnacion to the outfield, as they have instead left him alone at the hot corner to do Encarnacion-like slugging (.274/.384/.516). In the meantime, they've instead spread the starts in the outfield corners among Chris Dickerson (before his breakdown), Jonny Gomes, and Laynce Nix, with only Gomes earning the consideration, while Dickerson has to wonder how bad Willy Taveras has to be before the club looks to him as a relative upgrade. As for getting Gonzalez back, since they're effectively stuck with him for 2010 (the option's mutual, and why would Gonzalez turn down $6 million?), it's just as well that they just play him as much as possible from here on out to see if he can get back to where he was in 2007, since it isn't as if Jerry Hairston Jr. is a legitimate full-time alternative. If he is, that's another up-the-middle question mark that becomes less questionable, which will be important since they're going to be stuck paying Taveras, if ideally playing him a whole lot less with Drew Stubbs nearing readiness. As for Owings' breakdown, the interesting question there is whether or not they'll hand his next turn to Matt Maloney; Edinson Volquez's rehab schedule shouldn't put him in the picture, and it would beat doing something like taking a spin with Kip Wells, recently added to the organization on a minor league deal.

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Activated RHP Chris Leroux from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Jacksonville (Double-A). [7/27]

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Activated RHP Chris Sampson from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Chad Paronto for assignment. [7/26]
Outrighted RHP Chad Paronto to Round Rock (Triple-A). [7/27]

The Astros' desperation in an admittedly desperate bid for the NL Central is such that getting Sampson back in action is something of a big deal. Alberto Arias and Jeff Fulchino have been useful middle men as far as getting games to Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins, but with Hawkins' back becoming an item of concern, and Valverde's season already having been punctuated by his own injury issues, it's hard to see how they can't use the shoring up.

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Placed RHP Seth McClung on the 15-day DL (sprained elbow); recalled RHP Tim Dillard from Nashville (Triple-A). [7/25]
Optioned RHP Mike Burns to Nashville; recalled LHP R.J. Swindle from Nashville. [7/27]

With David Bush out until mid-August at the very least, there was no getting around the fact that Burns had long since handed back his opportunity to start for the Brewers. Swapping in organization soldier like Dillard doesn't really represent modest improvement in the fifth starter's slot, but I suppose you can always wish for such modest improvements. (If anything, the problem is that the Brewers have both Braden Looper and Jeff Suppan pitching down to that level while being paid to deliver more, but that was the problem in December as much as now.) Dillard had managed to allow a run every other inning for the Sounds while nevertheless leading the PCL in wins, and had just nine quality starts (one blown after the sixth inning) in 19, so any reluctance to announce that he's going into the rotation tomorrow is understandable. In such a circumstance, adding Swindle to the relief corps to make up for the absence of McClung might provide some modest help, in that at least Ken Macha will now have a second situational southpaw in his pen beyond Mitch Stetter to get overtly tactical, although Swindle's pitched well enough against everybody for Nashville to merit looking at for more than just single-batter outings.

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Placed OF-R Gary Sheffield on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 7/18; recalled RHP Jon Niese from Buffalo (Triple-A). [7/25]

With Sheffield out of action, the Mets' outfield is down to playing Cory Sullivan in left, Angel Pagan in center, and Jeff Francoeur in right. First base is Danny Murphy; shortstop is Alex Cora. Behind the plate, you'll find Omir Santos far too often. Given that kind of supporting cast and the amount of attention lavished upon the state of player care in the Mets' training room, you can't help but think that David Wright's wondering if he's on a neverending rehab assignment. Their playoff odds currently sit at about three percent, and lost two percent last week; to keep the odds even just that long, they'll need to play .500 baseball with that crew for… what, three weeks? And that's before we can realistically start talking about a come-from-behind run at the wild card with? Gear up for aspiring to play spoiler, because that's about what this team has left to gun for.

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Placed RHP Chad Durbin (strained lat) and LHP J.C. Romero (strained forearm, retroactive to 7/20) on the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Drew Carpenter from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A); repurchased the contract of RHP Tyler Walker from Lehigh Valley. [7/23]
Optioned RHP Drew Carpenter to Lehigh Valley; placed RHP Clay Condrey on the 15-day DL (strained oblique), retroactive to 7/23; recalled RHPs Kyle Kendrick and Steven Register from Lehigh Valley. [7/25]

It's important to avoid making the Great War-level operative error and mistake a body count for progress of some sort. Brad Lidge's struggles are already well-documented, but Chad Durbin's reversion to the mop-up man he once was (with a 5.31 FRA this year to last year's 2.90) is one of those facts on the ground the Phillies already had to get used to, and something we suggested before the season they'd have to; not having him around isn't a case of replacing the key contributor of 2008 as much as being able to give thought towards whether or not they might want to trade for someone else who might. As for working without Romero around, they've had most of the year to get used to that experience. As far as the replacements, it's generally interchangeably replaceable, although there are a few suggestions of value: Kendrick's battle with finding something that works against lefties looks like a losing fight (they were still drubbing him at a .281/.348/.508 clip in Triple-A), but he might yet have value as a situational right-hander given his holding his fellows to .226/.268/.299; add in his sinker-baller's virtue of inducing double plays and skill at limiting the running game, and he could be a working piece in a pen. Walker and Register are more nondescript, capable of being able to help from the bottom half of a pen, but also worth replacing with better. Any one of them could do enough right now to stake a claim to keepery down the stretch, but none of them are worth banking on. The real question is whether losing a trio of relievers temporarily encourages the club to deal to improve their penmanship, since that may end up mattering more in October than it will in the immediate future.

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Activated INF-R Rich Aurilia from the Bereavement Leave List; optioned 2B-R Matt Downs to Fresno (Triple-A). [7/4]
Placed LHP Randy Johnson on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); recalled INF-R Kevin Frandsen from Fresno. [7/6]
Optioned RHP Ryan Sadowski to Fresno; recalled OF/1BL John Bowker from Fresno. [7/9]
Placed INF-R Rich Aurilia on the 15-day DL (infected big toe); optioned INF-R Kevin Frandsen to Fresno; recalled RHP Ryan Sadowski and 2B-R Matt Downs from Fresno. [7/21]

The big problem here is that losing Randy Johnson shouldn't seem to be as difficult as it might sound—he was only generating a .479 Support-Neutral Winning Percentage, after all—but it might prove to be. Since the Big Unit broke down, they've gotten one no-hitter and one other quality start from Jonathan Sanchez in his three turns since reinsertion into the rotation, but have endured three straight beatings during Sadowski's subsequent starts. That's what they really should expect from him from here on out; Sadowski's a finesse guy with a high-80s fastball, a slider he can get over for strikes, and the occasional changeup, and that's not the sort of thing that forecasts further scoreless outings, however neat his first two starts might have been. So, even if we buy the proposition that getting bumped for Sadowski was the wakeup call that Sanchez may have needed, they're still shy a starter and counting on Barry Zito as well as Sanchez, and we're still not sure when they'll get Johnson back. Among their possible alternatives, Joe Martinez is back in action trying to come back from the shot to the head he took off of the bat of Mike Cameron, and taking regular turns with Fresno; since he lost his roster spot to injury, you could anticipate some sympathy with the proposition that he'd get some consideration once he proves he's ready to handle a starter's workload. Unfortunately, that may take a few more turns, and beyond him, the Grizzlies can really only boast the seemingly deathless Ramon Ortiz. Then we get into asking whether they'd risk rushing up Madison Bumgarner if Johnson's rehab fails to get him back before September, but we'll have to see what comes of reports on the progress of Johnson and Martinez, and how badly Sadowski does in his next couple of turns, before we get into that kind of consideration.

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Optioned RHP Josh Kinney to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled RHP Blake Hawksworth from Memphis; traded RHP Jess Todd to the Indians. [7/26]

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Fired Manager Manny Acta. [7/12]
Optioned LHP Ross Detwiler to Syracuse (Triple-A). [7/13]
Recalled RHP Garrett Mock from Syracuse. [7/16]
Returned LHP Scott Olsen to the 15-day DL (sore shoulder), retroactive to 7/11; designated RHP Julian Tavarez for assignment; purchased the contracts of RHPs J.D. Martin and Logan Kensing from Syracuse. [7/20]
Placed RHP Jordan Zimmerman on the 15-day DL (elbow), retroactive to 7/19; recalled RHP Collin Balester from Syracuse. [7/23]

Is it a source of strength or relative weakness that the Nats could turn over three-fifths of their rotation and wind up better? I noted that Mock, Martin, and Kensing were all doing really well in my last chat, and while none of them have delivered a quality start since their elevations, they weren't replacing Koufax and Drysdale, and whether a trade pickup like Mock—at long last seemingly healthy—or a decent prospect like Balester or a retread like Martin can make it seems as worthwhile as anything else that they might achieve while Zimmerman's shelved and Stephen Strasburg's uninked. Detwiler hadn't earned his keep, certainly, and Olsen's one of the last, ugly vestiges of the wasted ambitions of the Jim Bowden era of misrule. Martin's perhaps especially worth rooting for, as a minor league free agent who washed up after washing out of the Indians' plans; the former first-rounder saw his career undermined by injuries and has made his way back as a junkballer, although as a low-velocity strike-thrower who generates a lot of fly balls, it would be important to avoid getting too worked up.

As for Acta, I guess I liken his lot to Whitey Herzog's when the White Rat got his first shot at skippering, with the Rangers later made (in)famous in Mike Shropshire's Seasons in Hell. Herzog wasn't going to make those into good teams, and a dysfunctional franchise undermined what good he might have been able to do. I've also made a comparison of Acta to Terry Francona, but I'm not sure Acta needs a "road to Damascus" moment as far as changing over his philosophies on skippering the way that Francona had in the years between his failures with the Phillies and his reincarnation with the Red Sox.