Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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NL Notes: Saves in St. Louis

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ryan Franklin did it again Sunday, surrendering a two-run homer to Matt Kemp to blow his fourth save and take the loss versus the Dodgers. He's allowed runs in five of his six appearances, and he's already given up three homers in just 4 2/3 innings.

The Cardinals stood by Franklin after his first three blown saves, but that probably ends now. Mitchell Boggs, Jason Motte and even Miguel Batista stand as the Cardinals' alternatives in the closer's role. Boggs looks like the favorite to me. He pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday and he's struck out 12 while allowing two runs in nine innings this season.

Motte was supposed to be the heir to Franklin's job, but he's still not throwing like he did last year. His velocity is down a bit, and he's struck out just three batters in seven innings. He's been effective in his last few appearances anyway, but since he struggled all spring, manager Tony La Russa hasn't been using him in close games.

Batista certainly has experience on his side and he's allowed just one run in seven innings to date, but he was signed to pitch in middle relief, which is where he so clearly belongs. NL-only leaguers with free moves could grab him and hope for the best, but Boggs is the one to pick up in leagues in which he's available.

National League Notes

- On the plus side for St. Louis, Chris Carpenter looked better Sunday than he had at any point since suffering a strained hamstring this spring. He struck out six and walked none in seven scoreless innings.

- The Dodgers' offensive woes could lead to an early season callup for 23-year-old Jerry Sands. Sands is pounding the ball at Albuquerque, having already hit five homers in 10 games. He's also struck out just three times. He's worth stashing away in NL-only leagues now in the hopes that the Dodgers won't wait until after the super-two "deadline" to call him up. He'd probably get to take over as their everyday left fielder if promoted.

- Unfortunately, first base is an even bigger problem for the Dodgers than left field. James Loney was awful this spring, and he's hitting .150/.175/.217 in 60 regular-season at-bats. The Dodgers could try Jay Gibbons there if he's able to overcome the eye problems that put him on the DL to begin the year. I'm sure they'll give Loney a couple of more weeks first, and most likely, he'll revert to being his usual below average self. Still, it's becoming increasingly clear that he doesn't belong in the team's plans going forward.

- It's disturbing seeing Wandy Rodriguez sporting a 7.31 ERA after he missed time this spring with a sore shoulder, but it looks like more a case of terrible luck than anything else. His strikeout rate is down a bit, but so is his walk rate and he's allowed just one homer in three starts. He currently has a 3.44 FIP, which is right about where he finished each of the last three years. I'm not seeing anything different in terms of stuff, so my guess is that he'll bounce back soon.

- We're not there yet, but with Pedro Alvarez hitting .193 with no homers and 20 strikeouts in 57 at-bats, an eventual demotion to Triple-A can't be ruled out. Fortunately for him, the Pirates traded Josh Fields, rather than Andy Marte, at the end of the spring. While Marte is off to a poor start at Indianapolis (.222/.276/.407 in eight games), Fields is currently tearing it up with the Rockies' Triple-A club (.333/.387/.667).

- Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton is off to a very interesting start, what with the 1.64 ERA and a 6/12 K/BB ratio in 22 innings. Of course, he also had a strong spring and the fine ERA doesn't look like a complete fluke. He's added sink to his fastball, but he's still throwing it in the 90-94 mph range. So far, he's inducing grounders about two-thirds of the time while relying pretty exclusively on the sinker. I can see him remaining a fair NL-only starter as a sinkerballer. He's not worth grabbing in mixed leagues, though. The Pirates' infield defense is likely to hurt him in the long run.

- I thought Jair Jurrjens' stellar season debut Saturday against the Mets (he allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings) was at least as much about bad hitting as good pitching. Jurrjens is fine to use in NL-only leagues, but I'm skeptical that he'll help in mixed leagues this year.

- Hitting second for the first time this season, Jason Heyward went 2-for-4 with a homer Sunday against the Mets. Unfortunately, the Braves scored just two runs anyway and took the loss. Nate McLouth was getting the day off for the Braves, and the guess is that things will return to normal on Monday (McLouth batting second, Heyward hitting sixth). Still, at least it was nice to see that Fredi Gonzalez is open to batting Heyward second. Batting sixth, Heyward had just six RBI and six runs scored through 15 games, limiting his fantasy value.

- The Reds still haven't solved Edinson Volquez's first-inning troubles. He allowed four more first-inning runs Sunday, bringing his total to 13 for the year. He's allowed just four runs in his remaining 18 2/3 innings of work. Obviously, the stuff is there for Volquez to become a big-time winner. Still, he's displayed especially poor command since returning from Tommy John surgery and he just hasn't found the touch on his changeup yet this year. It doesn't look like he'll be worth using in mixed leagues anytime soon.

- Johnny Cueto (triceps) and Homer Bailey (shoulder) are getting closer to returning to the Reds, though it's not expected to happen this week. Both will need at least one and possibly two more rehab starts before rejoining the rotation at the end of the month. Mike Leake and Sam LeCure figure to be bounced.

- I'm not going to make too much of Aroldis Chapman's disappearing velocity. Command is the bigger issue for him, and he's had problems in that department since the spring. Anyone hoping he might overtake Francisco Cordero early in the season seems likely to be disappointed.

- Brett Jackson will force his way into the Cubs' plans by the middle of the summer if he keeps this up. He's hitting .441/.535/.647 through 10 games for Double-A Tennessee. The Cubs opted to keep him in the Southern League to begin the year, even though he was hit a more-than-respectable .276/.366/.465 in 61 games after his promotion to Tennessee last season. He'll be in Triple-A before much longer, and he may well spend the second half of the season as the Cubs' right fielder.

- John Mayberry Jr. hit five homers this spring, but the Phillies still haven't given him a start through 14 games, even though neither Raul Ibanez nor Ben Francisco is exactly tearing it up. I don't understand that at all. Ibanez is 38, awful defensively and doesn't really do much damage against lefties. Francisco had all of 179 at-bats as the Phillies' fourth outfielder last year. Both of those guys can sit once or twice a week so that the team can see if Mayberry's strong spring was a fluke. For what it's worth, Mayberry is 4-for-8 off the bench so far.

- Just when it looked like Chris Denorfia might get a chance to overtake Will Venable in San Diego's outfield, he left Sunday's game with a bruised forearm. Fortunately, it's likely just a day-to-day thing. Denorfia outhit Venable last year, finishing with a 769 OPS to Venable's 732 mark, and he didn't deserve to be thrown into a reserve role before the spring even started. Venable certainly has the greater fantasy upside of the two players, but the Padres may well be better off with Denorfia in right. Of course, with the way Ryan Ludwick is swinging, he might not be part of the Padres' best outfield either. The team has to get him and Brad Hawpe going.

- Ubaldo Jimenez (finger) will make his return to the Rockies' rotation Tuesday against the Giants. Get him active in all formats.

- Corey Hart (oblique) is another week away. The Brewers will continue to play Nyjer Morgan and Mark Kotsay in right field for now. If Morgan is still hitting when Hart returns, then center fielder Carlos Gomez may find himself on the bench more often than not.

- Donnie Murphy's slow start and recent knee contusion have opened the door for Greg Dobbs at third base in Florida, but Dobbs is so rough defensively that the Marlins probably won't want to stick with him for any length of time. They could use outside help at third base, since both Murphy and Emilio Bonifacio fit best as utilitymen. I think they blew it by not picking Arizona's Tony Abreu up off waivers at the end of the spring. Colorado's Jose Lopez should be available and could help.

- Lopez's name is out there because Jonathan Herrera is running away with the Rockies' second-base job. Besides the .400 average, he has a crazy 3/11 K/BB ratio in 35 at-bats. He's also 4-for-4 stealing bases after going 2-for-4 in 76 games last year. Herrera has no power to speak of, but now that he's learning how to steal bases, it looks like he could have significant value in NL-only leagues. I don't expect that he'll make much of an impact in mixed leagues.

- I can't help but love Chris Iannetta's early line for the Rockies: .229/.449/.543 in 35 at-bats. He's been punished by his managers because he doesn't hit for average, but GM Dan O'Dowd was never willing to trade him, and now that Iannetta doesn't have to worry about his playing time, he's looking like one of the game's top offensive catchers. Hopefully he'll get a chance to move up from the eighth spot in the lineup at some point, but even hitting in front of the pitcher, he has eight runs scored and seven RBI in 12 games.

- There are no minor injuries when it comes to the Mets' Chris Young. Maybe his case of biceps tendinitis will prove to be a two-week thing, but I tend to doubt it. Dillon Gee got the call in his place Sunday and figures to stick around after beating the Braves. Promoting Jenrry Mejia, who is off to a fantastic start in Triple-A, isn't yet an option, but I'd expect him to have some fantasy value come late May or June.

- As for the rest of the Mets' starters… I'm quite worried about Mike Pelfrey, and it wouldn't surprise me to find out his shoulder is bothering him. Chris Capuano is worth holding on to in NL-only leagues in spite of his 8.76 ERA. R.A. Dickey's knuckleball is off because of a cracked fingernail, but I think he'll be just fine. Jon Niese is what he is: he simply gives up too many hits for someone with such a strong strikeout rate. He'll be a useful NL-only pitcher, but he's not worthy of a roster spot in a shallow mixed league.

- Jason Bay (oblique) could be a go for Tuesday, so NL-only leaguers will want him active this week. Mixed leaguers can hold off.

- In need of a shakeup, the Mets finally tried Josh Thole in the two hole Sunday and he responded by going 2-for-4 with two RBI. He'll be a terrific No. 2 catcher in mixed leagues if the Mets leave him there.

- Roy Oswalt isn't currently expected to miss any additional time after leaving his last start with back spasms.

- The Giants are weighing activating Cody Ross (calf) on Tuesday or Friday. With Aaron Rowand playing exceptionally well in Andres Torres' place in center, Ross figures to stay in right field upon returning. Brandon Belt is probably in line for a demotion, with Aubrey Huff moving back to first base, but it isn't quite a given and he may yet have a few more days to heat up.

- Torres (Achilles' tendon) will be eligible to return on April 25, but it seems less than 50-50 that he'll be back then. With Rowand hitting .359, it's not such a concern at the moment.

- Barry Zito's first ever DL stint, the result of a sprained foot, will get Ryan Vogelsong into San Francisco's rotation. Vogelsong pitched briefly for the Giants in 2000 and '01, spent a few years with the Pirates and then toiled in Japan for three seasons. In his two starts with Triple-A Fresno, he struck out 17 while amassing a 1.59 ERA in 11 1/3 innings. I never got a chance to see him this spring, so I'm wary about recommending him. He always had a pretty good fastball, but his lack of an outpitch, combined with mediocre command, doomed him during his time with Pittsburgh. If he has a strikeout pitch now, he could surprise. Still, NL-only leaguers will probably want to see how he fares against the Braves this week before picking him up.

- I'm nowhere near running out of patience with Madison Bumgarner. In fact, he looks like a great buy-low candidate.

- With neither Mike Morse nor Rick Ankiel hitting for the Nationals, there's a good chance Roger Bernadina will get another opportunity soon. He might have been recalled when Ryan Zimmerman went on the DL, except for that he was away from his Triple-A team on a family matter. I think Morse will hit, but I'm less optimistic about Ankiel. Both figure to get one more week and then perhaps a move will be made.

- Zimmerman (abdomen) is eligible to return April 25 and could be ready then.

- The Nationals are one of the teams that should be taking notice of what Wily Mo Pena is doing at Triple-A Reno. He's already slammed six homers in eight games, and he's done it with an impressive 5/5 K/BB ratio through 30 at-bats. The Diamondbacks could opt to give him a look, though with Brandon Allen waiting in the wings, his window of opportunity would likely be very small. If they choose to pass, perhaps another team will come calling next month. Pena has been around forever, but he's just 29 years old and he may yet have a couple of 25-homer seasons in him.

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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