Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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NL Notes: Franklin's Follies

Sunday, April 10, 2011

National League Notes

- So much for co-closers in Atlanta. But given Fredi Gonzalez's history in Florida, it was obvious that he'd much rather have set roles for everyone rather than try to anticipate matchups and use players to the best of their abilities. Right now it looks like Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are both going to pitch so well that it won't matter at all what order they're used in. Kimbrel is the clear closer as long as he keeps his walk rate in check. That he's issued just one free pass in four innings so far is a very pleasant surprise.

- The Braves have scored just 32 runs in nine games, and their one offensive outburst -- an 11-2 win in D.C. -- was largely fueled by an ugly defensive day for the Nationals. Hopefully it won't be much longer before Gonzalez moves Jason Heyward up to the two hole and drops the slumping Nate McLouth. Heyward has already walked eight times while hitting ahead of Alex Gonzalez, fueling his .415 OBP. No one else on the Braves has more than three walks, and Brian McCann is the only other player in the team with an OBP over .333.

- I wasn't very concerned anyway, but Cole Hamels' performance against the Braves on Sunday (seven scoreless innings, eight strikeouts) was nice to see. The velocity spike he experienced last year has carried over to this season, and I think he has a great chance of finishing the year as a top-15 fantasy starter.

- With five steals and two homers, Jose Tabata has been a fantasy stud through a week and a half. I do believe the power outburst is a bit of a fluke: he may surface as a 15-20 homer guy someday, but not at age 22. He could steal 30 bases and settle in as a top-30 fantasy outfielder, but he'll also be a sell-high candidate if this keeps up for the rest of the month.

- I'd fully support a closer switch in St. Louis if Jason Motte were throwing like he did last year. Motte, though, hasn't appeared right at any point since the spring started, and he'd probably take a backseat to Mitchell Boggs if the Cardinals decided to yank Ryan Franklin following his third blown save on Saturday. The sad thing is that Franklin remains the Cardinals' best option in the ninth. He's not their best reliever, but he'll get it turned around and go back to being his usual boring self. Boggs is worth having stashed away, but I think Franklin remains the best bet for the short-term. Ideally, Motte would turn it around and challenge for the job by the middle of the summer.

- Brian Wilson's return from a strained oblique hasn't gone as planned (as the 33.75 ERA attests), so the Giants may have to give him a couple of appearances in middle relief this week. It's not going to be a long-term issue, and there's no need to reserve him in any format.

- Brandon Belt didn't start Saturday and he went 0-for-3 on Sunday, dropping his average to .161. For all of the hype, he didn't exactly tear it up in spring training: a .282/.338/.479 line is nothing special for a Cactus Leaguer. He could avoid a late-April demotion with a hot streak, but my guess is that he'll be sent to Triple-A when Cody Ross comes off the DL. Besides just the cold bat, it hurts Belt's case that Aubrey Huff has looked awful in the outfield.

- The Marlins' acquisition of Javier Vazquez looked like a nice gamble at the time, but it's shaping up as a bust. Not only has Vazquez failed to regain much of the velocity he lost last summer, but his command is gone too, possibly because he's overthrowing in an effort to hit 90-91 mph on the gun. I wouldn't drop him in an NL-only league just yet, but I would reserve him if possible.

- Yes, the Padres almost always one of the game's easiest teams to run on, but it was still great to see Matt Kemp go 5-for-5 stealing bases over the weekend. He was just 19-for-34 last season, and he was thrown out so often early on that he got gunshy as the year went on. Since he's on the prowl again, he's looking like a legitimate 30-30 threat. I ranked him 4th among outfielders entering the season, and I'd push him above Carl Crawford into the third spot now.

- Jonathan Broxton still isn't his dominant former self, but he's saved five games in five opportunities anyway. I think he'll find his way and contribute in ERA and strikeouts in the end, but the important thing now is that he's avoided the kind of start that might have gotten him replaced by Hong-Chih Kuo.

- Here's something I don't get: if the Diamondbacks are willing to play Willie Bloomquist over Gerardo Parra in left field, why aren't they using Russell Branyan over Juan Miranda at first base? I think Miranda can hit right-handers, but Branyan was red-hot all spring and is 4-for-9 so far this season. He's the best option right now.

- As for Bloomquist, just enjoy it while it lasts. If he ends up getting 300 at-bats for the Diamondbacks this season, then Kirk Gibson will not have done his job very well.

- With Randy Wells (elbow) and Andrew Cashner (shoulder) landing on the disabled list, the Cubs have filled their rotation by calling up Casey Coleman and shifting James Russell from the bullpen. Coleman had a nice run in the rotation at the end of last season, but his stuff is below average and he doesn't possess much upside. I don't see a lot of value there. Russell's slider-heavy arsenal probably won't translate well at all.

- Jason Bay tested his strained intercostal muscle by taking batting practice Sunday. Barring a setback, he could be ready to go in a week. The Mets demoted Lucas Duda after Sunday's game, so Willie Harris and Scott Hairston will share time in left field this week.

- I believed Adam LaRoche would play through his shoulder tear with few ill effects, but it no longer looks as through that will be the case. He says it's not a problem when he swings the bat, but because it is an issue in the field, it kept him out of action Saturday. Since the first cortisone shot he had seems to have worn off already, it's possible he'll opt to shut it down and undergo surgery at some point. If that happens, the Nats would probably shift Mike Morse to first base and call up Roger Bernadina to play left.

- Sean Burnett figures to keep getting the save chances for the Nats in the short-term, but Drew Storen has sorted out his mechanics and is again looking like a legitimate late-inning guy. He'll probably be the team's sole closer by May 15.

- Mat Latos (shoulder) will make his season debut Monday against the Reds, probably throwing 80-90 pitches. Since that start is at home and he'll get the Astros on the road on Saturday, he needs to be activated in all formats.

- With Latos back, it doesn't look like we'll see Cory Luebke join San Diego's rotation this month. However, he's worth owning in NL-only leagues in the hopes that he'll start games eventually. He's already struck out eight in 5 1/3 innings of relief.

- Jair Jurrjens (oblique) is set to rejoin Atlanta's rotation on Saturday, so he should be active in NL-only leagues this week. Mike Minor has been demoted back to Triple-A.

- Ubaldo Jimenez (finger) could have returned next Sunday, but now it looks like he'll rejoin the rotation on either April 18 or 19. Keep him reserved.

- That Todd Helton's back flared up just a week into the season is pretty discouraging. He already has more three-RBI games in 2011 than he did all of 2010, but, of course, he didn't have any last year. There is the chance that Helton could reemerge as a viable option in mixed leagues as the Rockies' No. 5 hitter behind Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, but that's not going to happen if his availability is going to have to be determined on a day-to-day basis going forward. NL-only leaguers should go ahead and sit him this week.

- Jonathan Herrera outplayed Jose Lopez all spring, but he was held out of the Rockies' first five games before starting all three games against the Pirates over the weekend. With Lopez shifting to third to replace an ailing Ian Stewart, Herrera went 5-for-10 with a whopping seven walks versus Pittsburgh. He also stole his first base. Herrera has plenty of speed, but he stole just two bases in 76 games for the Rockies last year, which is a big reason why he wasn't viewed as much of a fantasy sleeper entering this season. Herrera doesn't seem likely to become a full-timer in the short-term -- not with Lopez having driven in seven runs already -- but he could take over the job as time goes on and he does have a little value in NL-only leagues.

- One last Rockies note: Esmil Rogers seems to have improved his changeup quite a bit, giving him a nice weapon against left-handers to go along with his 93-96 mph fastball. I don't know if he'll be consistent at all, but he does have some upside. He's worthy of a pickup in NL-only leagues.

- Hanley Ramirez is aiming to play Tuesday after missing a couple of starts with a leg contusion.

- Jon Garland (oblique) appears set to come off the disabled list to face the Cardinals on Friday. John Ely will likely be sent down to open up a spot. Garland will be worth using in NL-only leagues most of the time, but he's far from a must-start this week.

- It's taken a little longer than expected, but Corey Hart (oblique) seems on the right path now. He could begin playing in minor league games before the weekend and return April 18 or soon thereafter.

- Returning first for the Brewers will be catcher Jonathan Lucroy (finger). He's expected back from the disabled list on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see who gets demoted to make room. Wil Nieves looked like the clear favorite to serve as Lucroy's backup this year, but George Kottaras has started five of Milwaukee's nine games so far. Kottaras is certainly the better bet from an offensive standpoint.

- The Pirates are about to activate Chris Snyder (back), but they have Ryan Doumit off to a nice start at the plate and they'll probably continue to give him more playing time than originally anticipated. It's no secret that they'd like to move his contract, and Doumit is helping his trade value. Not only has he hit .273/.304/.500 start through eight games, but the Pirates' pitching staff has been faring well while throwing to him.

- Jeff Karstens, who has opened the season by throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings out of the pen, is expected to replace the injured Ross Ohlendorf (shoulder) in Pittsburgh's rotation. He's too vulnerable to the home run ball to be of use in NL-only leagues.

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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