Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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AL Notes: Replacing Feliz

Saturday, April 23, 2011


The Rangers suffered another big loss when closer Neftali Feliz was placed on the disabled list Saturday because of rotator cuff inflammation. It's not believed to be serious, but the decision was made to give him two weeks off anyway.

With Alexi Ogando in the rotation and pitching well, there's no clear alternative to Feliz in the Texas pen. Odds are that manager Ron Washington will go to a committee that includes Darren Oliver, Darren O'Day and Arthur Rhodes. Pedro Strop could also factor in, but while his 1.69 ERA is pleasant, he's already walked six batters in 5 1/3 innings.

I think Oliver rates as the favorite for saves in Feliz's absence. While he has just three career saves to Rhodes' 32, he's the superior option when it comes to facing righties and he's durable enough to work day after day. He's the one worth picking up in all formats at the moment.

American League Notes

- Pitchers have had plenty of time now to figure out how to retire Jose Bautista, and yet here he is with a .371 average and seven homers in 17 games. He's still pulling everything, but since he's not chasing pitches off the outside corner, he rates as one of the game's toughest outs. At this point, something like .280-45-120 (plus a possible league-leading walk total) seems completely realistic.

- The Jays just put Jayson Nix on the DL with a shin contusion and Aaron Hill may follow because of a hamstring strain. Now they also have Edwin Encarnacion nursing a wrist injury, leaving them with John McDonald, Mike McCoy and Chris Woodward as their options at second and third. McDonald figures to play regularly for at least the next week, making him an acceptable stopgap in AL-only leagues. McCoy could have some value too, assuming that Hill lands on the DL.

- It's not just the infield in flux for the Blue Jays; they've blown up their rotation by demoting both Jesse Litsch and Brett Cecil to Triple-A. The suspicion is that Litsch will return this week to replace Cecil, though since he hasn't been down for 10 days yet, that would require some maneuvering. He would be eligible to return as a replacement for someone going on the DL, even if that someone is Hill. I thought the Cecil demotion was foolish, but it's not going to matter much in the grand scheme of things. He'll likely return as a replacement for Jo-Jo Reyes within a few weeks.

- Rajai Davis (ankle) began his rehab assignment at Double-A New Hampshire on Friday and seems set to return from the DL when eligible on Tuesday. Corey Patterson will head back to the bench. The struggling Juan Rivera could also see even less action, though that may hinge on Encarnacion's health.

- Expectations are that the Jays will ease Frank Francisco back into the closer's role. Pitching with the Jays down by three runs, he gave up a solo homer in his first appearance back from the disabled list last week. Jon Rauch has been strong so far, picking up three saves in three opportunities, so hold on to him until Francisco proves he's healthy. Rauch is still as good of a bet as anyone to lead the Jays in saves this season.

- Grady Sizemore showed an impressive power stroke in his first week back from the DL, but Carlos Santana still hasn't gotten it going for the Indians. It's been stunning to see so many popouts and groundouts from him. On the plus side, at least he's not striking out anymore than usual. The line-drive doubles figure to come before much longer. There aren't any holes in his swing.

- The White Sox are finding out that it doesn't really matter who's closing when the offense can't score. Sergio Santos seems destined to get a crack at the job, but the Pale Hose haven't generated a save chance in over a week. I'm not sure exactly what the team is doing with Matt Thornton. Even though there have been plenty of chances for him to pitch in games that weren't tight, he worked just once last week, giving up a solo homer in his lone appearance.

- As for the offense, well, it's not nearly this bad. Adam Dunn's early struggles are no surprise, especially in light of his recent appendectomy. It always figured to take him a while to adjust to the league switch. Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham should snap out of their funks soon enough. The White Sox have tried dropping Beckham and inserting Alexis Ramirez into the two hole, but that's unlikely to help. Benching Juan Pierre and putting Mark Teahen in left field might. However, there's really no chance of it happening. Expect Ozzie Guillen to stay the course.

- After giving up six runs in 2 1/3 innings over the course of three appearances, Jon Nathan had a nice outing in a mopup role Saturday, striking out two in a perfect inning against the Indians. While his velocity isn't what it was pre-surgery, the bigger issue for him right now is command. In that department, Saturday's performance certainly looked like a step forward. He's not going to go back to closing right away, and it wouldn't surprise me if Matt Capps is the better pitcher all season long. Still, I think if Nathan throws quality strikes, he's going to get another chance to reclaim closing duties come mid-May.

- Joe Mauer still hasn't shaken the viral infection that caused the leg weakness that put him on the disabled list, so it doesn't look like he'll return when eligible on Thursday. A May 3 return would seem to be a possibility.

- The Twins did get Justin Morneau (flu) back Saturday, but not Delmon Young (ribs). Young could be back Sunday, and he should be active in all formats this week.

- David Aardsma (hip) pitched better in his second rehab appearance than his first. He's likely to be activated after one or two more outings for Tacoma, but his performance in those appearances could determine whether he's thrust right into the closer's role for Seattle. Brandon League has done well in his absence, converting all five of his save chances. I still think it will be Aardsma's job, but League's showing could make it easier for Seattle to part with Aardsma in a midseason trade.

- Justin Smoak will be activated from the bereavement list on Tuesday, so keep him active in AL-only leagues. Carlos Peguero will probably be sent back to Triple-A unless Milton Bradley's back puts him on the disabled list.

- I still believe Erik Bedard will put it together if he can manage to stay healthy. He's averaging 90 mph with his fastball, and his curve is looking pretty good, though obviously the results haven't been there yet. Of course, it's entirely possible that he'll hurt his shoulder immediately after turning it around, but I'd recommend remaining patient with him.

- The Red Sox are playing far better of late, but they have to be seriously concerned about their catching situation. Jarrod Saltalamacchia looks lost behind the plate on occasion, and it hardly seems to be a coincidence that Red Sox pitchers are faring much better when they're throwing to Jason Varitek. Even though he's off to a 1-for-23 start at the plate, Varitek is on his way to reclaiming the starting job. Salty could find himself off the roster if any quality veterans become available.

- The Angels, on the other hand, are favoring offense over defense behind the plate in going with Hank Conger over Jeff Mathis more and more. It's the right move. Conger lacks polish, but he has the tools to become a quality defensive catcher with Mike Scioscia guiding him. It already seems that Scioscia has more confidence in him than he ever did in Mike Napoli. Conger isn't a starter yet, but with his bat, he's looking like a legitimate No. 2 catcher in mixed leagues.

- As poor as Matt Wieters played this spring, I never would have guessed he'd be the Orioles' best hitter three weeks into the season. I'm not putting too much stock into his hot start, but it is nice to see him with three homers in 52 at-bats. The rest of the lineup is better than this. I wouldn't go dropping Derrek Lee or Adam Jones in a mixed league.

- Evan Longoria feels he'll make it back from his strained oblique during the homestand that runs from April 29-May 5. Given that he's just getting ready to face live pitching now, a Friday return seems exceedingly optimistic. Don't expect him to contribute this week.

- It's no more clear than it was a week ago what the Rays are going to do when Longoria comes back. Felipe Lopez has been their cleanup man of late, but he's in a 1-for-17 slump and he was benched Saturday after failing to hustle on a grounder in Friday's game. He's a habitual loafer, and the Rays may decide they're better off without him once Longoria comes back, though that doesn't really jibe with the way they've been using him. The Rays' other infielders are all struggling: starting shortstop Reid Brignac still doesn't have any extra-base hit, Sean Rodriguez is batting .175 and Elliot Johnson hasn't done much with his 25 at-bats to date. I imagine Johnson would be sent down if he had options remaining, but since he doesn't and both Brignac and Rodriguez do, the Rays could make a bigger change. A Rodriguez demotion is a definite possibility.

- Expect Casey Kotchman to keep stealing more playing time away from Dan Johnson. He's worth grabbing in AL-only leagues.

- With Kyle Farnsworth off to an excellent start in the closer's role for Tampa Bay, those holding on to Jake McGee in non-keeper leagues may want to look elsewhere. It'd be foolish to bet on Farnsworth racking up 30 saves for the Rays, but even if he does implode or if he gets traded in July, there's no good reason right now to believe that McGee would be the choice to replace him.

- The Angels' Joel Pineiro (shoulder) could be activated next weekend after making a rehab start Monday, but the better bet is that he'll make a second minor league appearance instead. As things stand now, Tyler Chatwood seems likely to survive Pineiro's return, with Matt Palmer probably getting bumped to middle relief.

- With Mitch Talbot out for a month due to an elbow strain, the Indians promoted Jeanmar Gomez to take over as their fifth starter. Fans surely would have preferred Alex White instead, but the Indians will want to wait until at least June before calling on the former first-round pick. Gomez shouldn't have any value in AL-only leagues. White would be nice to have stashed away, though.

- Jason Donald, who was rehabbing a fractured finger at Triple-A Columbus, suffered a setback last week when he strained his left groin. A decision on whether to bring him back to the majors appears to be at least another week away. The Indians have to be pleased with Jack Hannahan's play at third base, and with Adam Everett performing well in reserve, it's possible Donald will be optioned to Columbus once healthy.

- The A's continue to go slowly with closer Andrew Bailey, but there's a chance he could begin a rehab assignment towards the end of the week. He's been on the DL since the beginning of the year with a forearm strain.

- It's possible Dallas Braden will miss just two or three starts after being diagnosed with shoulder inflammation. Tyson Ross struggled in his place Friday, so the A's could change course and go to Bobby Cramer next time through.

- With Andy LaRoche in a 1-for-11 slump, the A's have yet to make a switch at third base. However, they have started taking out Kevin Kouzmanoff for a pinch-hitter whenever a solid opportunity presents itself. If LaRoche can get hot again in his bit role, a change could come.

- With a 2.10 ERA after four starts, Brandon McCarthy appears to be worth grabbing in mixed leagues. Just don't start counting on him: he's a pretty massive injury risk.

- Jeff Francoeur in mixed leagues? This is hardly the first time he's gotten off to a fast start. Last year he hit .284 with four homers and an 886 OPS for the Mets in April. Maybe he'll provide value for a couple of more weeks, but given that his power upside is limited, he plays in a poor ballpark for hitters and he's not much of a basestealer, he's still a weak bet.

- The Royals are showing admirable patience with Kila Ka'aihue, even as he's struck out 21 times in 64 at-bats. It certainly helps that they opted for Ka'aihue at first base, rather than DH. They could always move Billy Butler back to first, opening up the DH spot for Wilson Betemit, but they clearly would prefer not to. So, Ka'aihue should get at least a couple of more weeks to prove himself. It will be interesting to see what happens if he's still hitting .188 on May 15. Eric Hosmer, who is hitting .393/.477/.518 for Triple-A Omaha, appears ready for an opportunity, but the team isn't going to want to go to him before June 1 and maybe not then. The Royals could try Clint Robinson. He's also tearing it up for Omaha (.373/.467/.706 in 51 AB), but he's a weaker defensive first baseman than Ka'aihue or Hosmer and probably not someone who is going to stand in Hosmer's way for any length of time.

- Victor Martinez won't be eligible to return from his groin strain until May 5. With Ryan Raburn getting a look at second base, Casper Wells seems to be the big beneficiary of Martinez's absence. He's worth grabbing in AL-only leagues. It's a long shot, but if Austin Jackson is still struggling when Martinez returns, the Tigers could send him down and make Wells their center fielder.

- Because Raburn is getting an opportunity at second, my hopes that Scott Sizemore might receive an early promotion have been dashed. It's still not looking good for Will Rhymes owners, though.

- Julio Borbon found himself on the bench for the third straight game Saturday. The Rangers lose a lot of range by playing David Murphy in center and Mitch Moreland in right, but it really helps the offense and it's not like Borbon is as good of a center fielder as his speed suggests.

- With Taylor Teagarden up as a third catcher, Mike Napoli figures to get quite a bit more playing time. The Rangers had been afraid to use him as a DH because it left them without a backup catcher. Now they don't have to worry about it.

- The Yankees have the option of demoting .140-hitting Brett Gardner, but given that they're 11-6 after beating the Orioles on Saturday, there's certainly no sense of urgency. Giving Andruw Jones some additional playing time in left field makes sense, but Gardner figures to remain the starter. Likewise, the Yankees can use Eric Chavez against more right-handers, but they need to stick with Jorge Posada as their primary DH.

- Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli is expected back from his broken foot this week. Gustavo Molina, who has started just one of the Yankees' 17 games as Russell Martin's backup, will get the boot.

- I'll be posting the May rankings next week.


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