This week in fantasy baseball


It wasn't all injuries and bullpen blues for the Orioles this past week, as fans and fantasy owners got their first glimpse of top pitching prospect Hayden Penn.

Penn, the organization's minor league pitcher of the year in 2004, made his major league debut on Saturday with a spot start against the Tigers in place of the injured Erik Bedard. His performance was one of the few bright spots of a weekend the Orioles would otherwise like to forget.

Penn threw 101 pitches in 4 2/3 innings, giving up three runs - one earned - on five hits and four walks. He struck out four and might have stuck around longer if not for an error by first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, which led to two runs and an early exit for the 20-year-old right-hander.

But despite struggling to command the off-speed pitches that compliment his mid-90s fastball, despite the defensive lapse that cost him a chance to earn a win, Penn never appeared frustrated or frazzled on the mound. That's a good sign. It's not hard to see why the Orioles refused to part with Penn and Bedard to bring in Tim Hudson from Oakland this offseason. They like his maturity. They like his composure.

Penn will make at least one more start in place of Bedard, Thursday afternoon in Boston, and probably a few more after that, then likely head back to the minors for now. With just 13 starts at Double-A to his credit, he could use some more seasoning. He probably won't be a fantasy factor until 2006 at the earliest, but it never hurts to look ahead. In this case, you have to like what you see.

And now a hitter-heavy look around the rest of the majors:

Who's hot

M-7 Antonio Perez, Dodgers: Looks like the Dodgers have finally found their man at third base. Not that Norihiro Nakamura, Oscar Robles and Mike Edwards weren't fine options, but Perez has outdone them all by batting .485 (16-for-33) in May with a 1.207 OPS.

M-7 Aaron Hill, Blue Jays: The AL's answer to Perez, Toronto's 3B/DH has 10 RBIs and five multi-hit games in 10 games since being called up to replace the injured Corey Koskie. Hill was the MVP of last year's Futures Game.

M-7 Aramis Ramirez, Cubs: Batting 9-for-17 in his past four games with three HRs and eight RBIs. If the Cubs get this guy going behind Derrek Lee, it won't matter who's pitching - even if it's Sergio Mitre.

M-7 Edgar Renteria, Red Sox: Added 50 points to his average by going 16-for-24 during a six-game tear. That should keep the Boston boo-birds at bay for at least a week.

M-7 Felipe Lopez, Reds: Rich Aurilia is back, but Lopez continues to play - and produce - on a daily basis. His .309 average, six HRs and 19 RBIs in May indicate this one-time Blue Jays prospect could be coming into his own at age 25.

Who's not

M-7 Raul Mondesi, Braves: Lost his job to a guy named Kelly - never a good sign - before being designated for assignment (read: cut). Could catch on somewhere else, but most likely will call it a career.

M-7 Hideki Matsui, Yankees: MVP talk cooled considerably since Matsui hadn't homered since April 8 - a span of 182 at-bats - until hitting one out on Tuesday. At this rate, he's going to get passed by Robinson Cano.

M-7 Bret Boone, Mariners: Just about any Mariners hitter would fit into this category, but Boone (.208, 2 HRs in May) has been particularly bad. At .241 for the season, still ranks 84 points above brother Aaron in the race for the Boone batting title.

M-7 Mike Lowell, Marlins: Lowell's May stat line - .210 average, no HRs, 10 RBIs and one foul pop off the face. And you thought his April was bad.

M-7 Cliff Floyd, Mets: Since beginning the month with eight hits in 16 at-bats, has batted .152 in his past 22 games. Carlos Beltran's return to the lineup should help. A return to form by Mike Piazza wouldn't hurt, either.

This weekend's matchups

American League

Baltimore at Detroit

New York Yankees at Minnesota

Los Angeles Angels at Boston

Toronto at Oakland

Tampa Bay at Seattle

Cleveland at Chicago

White Sox Texas at Kansas City

National League

Florida at Washington

Arizona at Philadelphia

Atlanta at Pittsburgh

San Francisco at New York Mets

St. Louis at Houston

Cincinnati at Colorado

Chicago Cubs at San Diego

Milwaukee at Los Angeles Dodgers

Fantasy mailbag

Josh: I am in desperate need of starting pitching, but have a ton of studs offensively. I recently traded Bill Mueller, Gregg Zaun and Vernon Wells for Erik Bedard, Dan Haren and Dmitri Young. Is this a fair deal? What are your thoughts about Haren?

Answer: This could turn out to be a good move for you down the road, but even if it doesn't, it's not much of a gamble. You're hoping Bedard can continue to pitch the way he did over the first two months of the season. You're banking on Haren getting straightened out and winning some games. And if neither of those things happens, what have you really given up? Looks to me like a low-risk deal with the potential for a big payoff, which is all any of us can hope for.

If you're loaded on offense, you won't miss Wells much, even though he's beginning to heat up. He could blow up the way he did in 2003, when he batted .317, hit 33 homers and drove in 117 runs, but that's not likely. Plus, Young will give you comparable numbers. Zaun and Mueller are pretty much throw-ins.

Bedard's on the DL right now, but he should be back in a few weeks to give your rotation a boost. He's not going to maintain a 2.08 ERA all season, but it's not unreasonable to expect him to end up with an ERA somewhere around 3.50 to go with 15 wins or so. That should help.

Haren won't win a bunch of games, not the way the A's are playing, but his 1-7 record doesn't do him justice. The right-hander puts up good strikeout numbers (46 in 57 1/3 innings) and has a respectable 3.91 ERA over his past four starts. There's a reason he was the key piece of the deal that sent Mark Mulder to the Cardinals. Writing him off because of a slow start would be a big mistake. He'll need some time to mature, maybe a couple of seasons, but he's going to be a top of the rotation-type guy down the road.

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