|Can the Royals keep winning without Soria?
Joakim Soria's availability out of the bullpen has been limited all season because of lingering shoulder soreness and the Royals finally placed him on the disabled list Sunday. Soria's injury was described by manager Trey Hillman as "a little bit of a strain in the rotator cuff" and there's no timetable yet for his return, but Soria expressed some hope that he'll be back in two weeks.
Juan Cruz will pick up most of the save chances with Soria out and suddenly has a ton of fantasy value. Cruz has been one of baseball's elite setup men for years and should be a good fit for ninth-inning duties with an overpowering fastball and fantastic strikeout rates. Assuming that Kyle Farnsworth and the rest of the setup men can hand him some leads, Cruz will do just fine closing out wins.
While the first-place Royals try to remain there without a guy who's converted 90 percent of his career save chances with a 2.05 ERA, here are some other notes from around baseball …
* Cruz is taking over closer duties, but Kansas City called up former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar to take Soria's spot on the roster. Hochevar is 25 years old and projects as a mid-rotation starter at this point rather than the possible ace he looked to be coming out of college, although he went 5-0 with a 0.90 ERA in six starts at Triple-A prior to being called up.
With a 30/10 K/BB ratio in 40 innings he wasn't as dominant at those stats imply, but Hochevar induced over 3.5 ground balls per fly ball after previously being an extreme fly-ball pitcher. If that shift is legit it would radically alter his outlook long term, but either way he'll be an upgrade over Sidney Ponson, who was demoted to the bullpen after predictably going 1-4 with a 5.91 ERA in six starts.
* During the offseason the assumption was that Cameron Maybin would lead off in Florida and he seemingly did nothing to change that by hitting .315 this spring, but the Marlins opted for Emilio Bonifacio atop the lineup. Six weeks later they've been equally bad—Maybin has a .590 OPS, Bonifacio is at .609—yet not only is Bonifacio still leading off, the Marlins are reportedly sending Maybin to Triple-A.
The whole situation is confusing, but Maybin struggling is hardly surprising given that he's a 22-year-old with zero experience at Triple-A and he still projects as a superb all-around player eventually. Maybin should benefit from some seasoning at Triple-A and the Marlins will give his playing time to 24-year-old Chris Coghlan after the career .298/.388/.451 hitter batted .344 through 25 games at Triple-A.
* Adrian Gonzalez isn't going anywhere for a while, so the Padres have officially decided to see if massive first-base prospect Kyle Blanks can be palatable in the outfield. At 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds he'd be the biggest outfielder of all time, so history isn't on his side, but Blanks' huge offensive ceiling makes the experiment worth trying and if things go well he could be in San Diego in the second half.
AL Quick Hits: Xavier Nady (elbow) is expected to start swinging a bat next week and said Sunday that he's now hoping to return in mid-June … Jose Contreras is 0-5 with an 8.19 ERA in his comeback from a torn Achilles' tendon and agreed to accept an assignment to the minors, so Clayton Richard will take his place in the White Sox's rotation … Daniel Bard has a 1.47 ERA and 243 strikeouts over 171 innings in the minors since becoming a full-time reliever last year and joined the Red Sox's bullpen Sunday … Nick Blackburn threw seven shutout innings with a career-high six strikeouts Sunday, but got a no-decision when the Twins' bullpen imploded … Kevin Youkilis (oblique) missed his sixth straight game Sunday night and Dustin Pedroia exited the game with a strained groin … Joba Chamberlain again struggled in the first inning Sunday, but bounced back with five scoreless frames for the victory.
NL Quick Hits: Albert Pujols hit his NL-leading 12th homer Sunday and was also walked three times … Chipper Jones went 0-for-3 before leaving Sunday's game with elbow soreness and is considered day-to-day … Jimmy Rollins went 0-for-5 in Sunday's loss, dropping his batting average below .200 … Derrek Lee (neck) sat out his fifth straight game Sunday and is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Monday … Troy Tulowitzki homered Sunday and is now 14-for-43 (.326) with six extra-base hits since his brief benching last month … Justin Upton continued his hot streak Sunday with three hits and three runs … Ivan Rodriguez went 4-for-4 with a homer Sunday, raising his OPS from .705 to .813 … Atlanta smartly used Mike Gonzalez to face three left-handed batters in the eighth inning Sunday, so Rafael Soriano picked up a save … Offseason acquisitions Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn each hit a pair of homers for the Nationals on Sunday.