D.J. Short

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Nelson Cruz Cruises to History

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Last night's NCAA championship game between Connecticut and Butler was a major letdown, but luckily the six games on the baseball schedule were more than enough to keep us occupied. In fact, there was probably more excitement in this double play by Jack Wilson than anything I saw in the title game. But I digress.

We've seen our share of hot bats in the first few days of the season, but nobody is punishing pitchers quite like Nelson Cruz of the Rangers. He went deep last night against Erik Bedard, homering in his fourth straight game to begin the year. He's just the third player ever to do it and the first from the American League. Willie Mays hit one in each of the Giants' first four games to begin the 1971 season while Mark McGwire did it in his 70-homer season in 1998.

If a hot start from Cruz sounds familiar, you're absolutely right. The 30-year-old outfielder hit five home runs in his first seven games last season and seven over his first 11 before injuring his right hamstring. It ended up being a lingering issue for Cruz, who made three trips to the disabled list and totaled 22 homers and 18 stolen bases over just 108 games.

We're still somewhat worried about Cruz's ability to stay on the field for a full season, but there's little doubt that he has the potential to be one of the game's most valuable fantasy outfielders. If he can stay healthy, 30-plus homers and 20 stolen bases are well within reach.

While we hope Cruz's hamstring issues are a thing of the past, here are some more news and notes from a light first Monday of the regular season schedule.

- The Braves ruined the Brewers' home opener Monday afternoon, getting solo home runs from Martin Prado and Dan Uggla off Takashi Saito in the top of the eighth inning to pave the way for a thrilling 2-1 comeback win. The loss dropped the Brewers to an ugly 0-4 start.

Of more importance to fantasy owners, rookie fireballer Craig Kimbrel got the ball in the bottom of the ninth and struck out the side for his third career save and second of the young season. After an electric performance down the stretch last season (0.44 ERA and 40/16 K/BB ratio over 20 2/3 innings), the 22-year-old right-hander has struck out five out of the first six batters he has faced so far in 2011.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said during spring training that Kimbrel would share save chances with Jonny Venters in the early part of the season, but he told reporters over the weekend that he changed his mind on Opening Day. We don't quite buy his timeline of events, but the important thing to know is that Kimbrel is the main man in this situation and should owned in all formats. No excuses here.

- How about those red-hot Orioles? They took their home-opener Monday against the Tigers by the score of 5-1 and are now 4-0 for the first time since 1997. By the way, that's also the last time the Orioles were in the playoffs.

There's no way they'll be able to keep this up, but including six innings of one-run ball from Jake Arrieta on Monday, Orioles' starting pitchers have allowed just two runs over 26 innings (0.69 ERA) to begin the season. Pretty impressive, especially considering that Brian Matusz is on the shelf for the next few weeks due to a strained intercostal muscle.

It's fair to say that the Orioles' offense is going to be better this season -- after all, they finished second from the bottom in the American League in runs scored in 2010, so it won't take much -- but I think they'll need to see at least two of their young pitchers make a major step forward this season in order to have any realistic shot at contention. I'm still skeptical about their chances, but who knows?

Speaking of their pitchers, right-hander Jeremy Guthrie was diagnosed with a form of pneumonia and will not make his scheduled start Wednesday against the Tigers. Brad Bergesen will start in his place, but the hope is that Guthrie will be ready to start Sunday against the Rangers.

National League Quick HIts: Carlos Pena is day-to-day with a mild sprain of his right thumb … Andrew McCutchen (neck) homered in his return to the starting lineup Monday …Stephen Drew is "getting closer" to returning to returning from an abdominal injury, according to Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson … Chris Narveson tossed six shutout innings against the Braves on Monday, but was handed a no-decision … Carlos Marmol earned his second save of the season Monday, one day after blowing a save opportunity … Charlie Morton tossed six innings of one-run ball in a win over the Cardinals on Monday … The Brewers have no timetable for Corey Hart's return from an oblique muscle injury … Vicente Padilla (elbow) threw 60 pitches in a minor league rehab game Sunday … Jon Garland (oblique) hopes to return from the disabled list this week …The Astros re-signed lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith to a minor league contract … Reds prospect catcher Yasmani Grandal will begin the season with High-A Bakersfield …

American League Quick HIts: Elvis Andrus hit a home run Monday for the first time since September 2, 2009 …The Athletics have flip-flopped their rotation so that Brandon McCarthy will make his season debut Tuesday and Dallas Braden will pitch Wednesday … Erik Bedard gave up five runs -- three earned -- over five innings against the Rangers on Monday in his first MLB start since July of 2009 … Jake Peavy will pitch in a minor league rehab game with Double-A Birmingham on Friday … Brandon Webb (shoulder) hit three batters during a live batting practice session Monday … Jeff Suppan signed a minor league contract with the Royals and will report to Triple-A Omaha … Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez each homered in Monday's win over the Twins … Derek Holland yielded three runs over six innings in a win over the Mariners on Monday … Grady Sizemore (knee) will play for Triple-A Columbus in an exhibition game against Ohio State on Tuesday … Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the struggling Scott Kazmir is on a "short leash" with the Angels …

D.J. Short is a Rotoworld baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. You can also find him on Twitter.
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