Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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NL Notes: Fixing Hanley

Sunday, April 24, 2011

It's not difficult to see why the Padres are 8-13. Their corner players are hitting .104 (Brad Hawpe), .145 (Jorge Cantu), .172 (Will Venable), .194 (Ryan Ludwick) and .227 (Chase Headley), and there are no easy fixes anywhere. It seemed like they're going to try giving Chris Denorfia more of a shot over Venable in right field, but he just went down with a minor injury for the second time in a week. Cantu, who was signed to play first base against left-handers, is getting more time than expected, in part because Headley was down with the flu for a spell, but it hasn't gotten him going.

The real alternatives are likely at least a month away. Kyle Blanks, who is returning from Tommy John surgery, is hitting .276 with no homers in 29 at-bats since beginning a rehab assignment in Double-A. Anthony Rizzo, the 21-year-old first baseman picked up from the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, is tearing it up in Triple-A, having hit .452/.507/.839 with six homers in 62 at-bats. Still, he's never excelled like this before -- he hit .260 with 132 strikeouts between high-A and Double-A last year -- and he was penciled in for a full year in the PCL in 2011.

I doubt think the Padres will turn to Rizzo like the Dodgers did Jerry Sands last week. There's too much downside, especially in light of how difficult it is to hit in Petco Park. Rizzo is an excellent prospect, but this is the first time he's tasted real success. Given his past strikeout rate, I don't think he'd be a good bet to outhit Hawpe over the rest of the season.

National League Notes

- It will be interesting to see if the Diamondbacks opt to shake things up a bit after getting swept by the Mets and falling to 8-12. Their five starters have ERAs ranging from 4.98 to 6.00, and they still have unsettled situations at first base, third base and in left field. I suspect they might move Josh Collmenter into the rotation as a replacement for Armando Galarraga. He's worth watching in NL-only leagues. They have first base and outfield alternatives in Triple-A in the form of Brandon Allen (.309/.409/.473 in 55 AB) and Wily Mo Pena (.420/.473/.820 in 50 AB). Still, they're cobbling together decent production thanks to Russell Branyan and the surprising efforts of Ryan Roberts and Willie Bloomquist. Plus, they still Xavier Nady serving as a seldom-used reserve. They'll probably stay the course when it comes to the lineup.

- The higher leg kick and open stance just aren't working for the .190-hitting Hanley Ramirez. His entire swing is too complicated right now, and he's yet to show any power through 18 games. It's time for him to get back to basics. He's too talented to stay down for too much longer.

- When I called for a Sands promotion last week, I didn't think it would happen the next day. The 23-year-old is off to a slow start, having gone 4-for-26 through seven games, but the Dodgers will give him at least another two weeks before they think about juggling the outfield again. I don't see Sands busting out and becoming a quality mixed-league outfielder as a rookie, but he could hit .260 with 15 homers over the rest of the season.

- Madison Bumgarner always pitched well beyond his years, whether it was during his time working his way through the Giants farm system or when he was excelling as a 20-year-old rookie in the postseason last year. This year, though, he's run in to some mechanical problems. He's already walked 10 batters in 17 innings after totaling up just 26 walks in 111 innings last year, and he's been at his worst while working from the stretch. If Barry Zito were healthy, perhaps the Giants would be weighing sending Bumgarner down to Triple-A for a couple of starts. As is, they're sticking with him. I think fantasy leaguers should do the same. Bumgarner is actually throwing a little harder than he did last year, and I trust pitching coach Dave Righetti to get him straightened out soon.

- The Giants did opt to demote Brandon Belt when Cody Ross came off the DL last week. He's expected to spend most of his time in the outfield at Fresno, potentially setting him up to replace Pat Burrell in left field for the Giants this summer. Burrell isn't off to a bad start, but as everyone knows, he's very prone to extended slumps.

- Drew Storen has taken over as The Man in the Washington pen, a position he figures to hold for at least the next six seasons. Sean Burnett did nothing wrong, but the Nats are better off using him for matchup purposes in the seventh and eighth innings. Barring an injury, Storen should be good for 28-30 saves this year.

- The Braves probably did Freddie Freeman an even bigger favor than Jason Heyward when they juggled their lineup last week. Batting second should help Heyward's fantasy value, since he'll get more at-bats and score more runs. Freeman, meanwhile, is moving into Heyward's old spot. He was a poor bet for both runs scored and RBI while hitting in between Alex Gonzalez and the pitcher. Sixth still isn't great for him, but it's a whole lot better than eighth. If I had believed the Braves would move him up this early, I would have ranked him higher than 29th among first basemen.

- As expected, the Cardinals have gone to Mitchell Boggs in the ninth inning with Ryan Franklin banished to middle relief, though they've been careful not to name him the closer. Boggs went 2-for-2 saving games last week, and he now has a 13/3 K/BB ratio in 11 1/3 innings for the season. I still think Jason Motte is the better bet of the two for the long haul, but he hasn't been at his best at any point since spring training started. Boggs could hold him off all year and save 30 games for St. Louis.

- While he obviously has to be benched at the moment with his ERA standing at 9.82, Jake Westbrook still figures to have some value in NL-only leagues this season. He's having some very unusual control issues, but he's getting as many grounders as ever.

- The Cards will rotate Nick Punto, Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso at second base while Skip Schumaker (elbow) is out for the next few weeks. Maybe someone from the group will get hot, but no one currently rates as a strong play in NL-only leagues.

- Corey Hart will rejoin the Brewers on Tuesday after missing nearly four weeks with a strained oblique. With Nyjer Morgan (thigh) having gone on the DL, Carlos Gomez shouldn't have to worry about losing any playing time initially. Manager Ron Roenicke will have to decide whether to follow through with his original plan to bat Hart second or to keep Gomez there. Gomez hasn't exactly excelled with his .247/.287/.333 line, but he had scored 14 runs in 21 games, and with Yuniesky Betancourt having struggled, the Brewers could use Hart's power behind Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in the order. Obviously, it would be better for Hart's fantasy value if he hits second, particularly since he'd probably bat sixth behind Casey McGehee, rather than fifth, otherwise.

- I guess it should have been obvious weeks ago when Lucas Duda was filling in for Jason Bay, but Terry Collins is not a fan of Scott Hairston. Light-hitting Jason Pridie started in center field all three games against the Diamondbacks after Angel Pagan was placed on the DL with a strained oblique, as Collins bypassed both Hairston and Willie Harris. Perhaps that means Pridie will have a little short-term value in NL-only leagues for the next two weeks, but he's such a lousy hitter that I wouldn't want to count on it.

- Carlos Zambrano's velocity has slipped again, and while he's still getting plenty of swings and misses with his offspeed pitches, he's giving up more hits than usual. I think he'll settle in as an adequate fifth or sixth starter in mixed leagues, but he may not be anything more than that.

- Randy Wells (elbow) and Andrew Cashner (shoulder) went on the DL together on April 8 and began their throwing programs together Friday, but expectations are that Wells will return first from the disabled list, partly because the Cubs have a lot more riding on Cashner in 2012 and beyond. Regardless, neither is going to return this week.

- The Cubs may want to consider sending Tyler Colvin down so he can get regular at-bats in Triple-A. He's stumbling along at .130 for the season, and the Cubs would be just fine without him since they have both Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Pena healthy at the moment. Fukudome, off to his traditional fine start, is hitting .425 with 10 walks in 40 at-bats.

- Johnny Cueto (triceps) got hit hard in his rehab start Thursday, so he'll pitch in the minors at least once more before coming off the disabled list. It's possible that he'll be activated to start next Sunday, but NL-only leaguers won't want to count on it.

- In a minor surprise, it now looks like Homer Bailey (shoulder) will beat Cueto back to the majors. He pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings for Louisville on Sunday, potentially clearing the way for him to come off the DL on Friday. The Reds figure to remove both Mike Leake and Sam LeCure from the rotation once both Cueto and Bailey are back. Edinson Volquez has actually been their worst starter to date, but he should be safe. There's a chance Travis Wood could be bumped, but with a 24/7 K/BB ratio and just two homers allowed in 28 1/3 innings, he's pitching better than his 5.40 ERA suggests.

- Scott Rolen was forced to the disabled list by soreness in his surgically repaired left shoulder. With Juan Francisco also on the DL, it looks like Miguel Cairo will be the Reds' primary third baseman for the next couple of weeks. Edgar Renteria was signed to serve as a utilityman, but manager Dusty Baker doesn't seem comfortable using him anywhere other than shortstop. Even though both Rolen and Brandon Phillips have missed time, Renteria has yet to start at either third or second.

- Jose Conteras got two days off Friday and Saturday after working four of the previous five days, but the Phillies say he's not hurt. Ryan Madson picked up saves while filling in for him both days, but Contreras, who has yet to allow a run in eight innings, will remain Philadelphia's primary closer.

Update:So much for that. Contreras was placed on the DL after Sunday's game, so Madson will pick up saves for another couple of weeks.

- After going 0-for-11 in the first three games of the series, Raul Ibanez was replaced by John Mayberry Jr. in Sunday's lineup against the Padres. He's in line to lose more playing time against lefties if his slump continues. The Phillies should go with a straight platoon in left and maybe give Mayberry the occasional start against a right-hander in right field.

- Logan Morrison's foot injury brought an excellent start to a complete stop. With very little in the way of depth, the Marlins will go with Emilio Bonifacio and Scott Cousins in left field for the next couple of weeks. They signed Gabe Gross to a minor league deal on Saturday, but he was awful last year and worse with the Mariners this spring. Acquiring a legitimate fourth outfielder should have been a priority for the team over the winter, and it'd definitely help if they could pick one up now. Since they're too cheap to do so, Bonifacio is a decent injury replacement in NL-only leagues.

- I'm not quite sure what to make of Dexter Fowler's start for the Rockies. On the one hand, he has a nifty .381 OBP and he's scored 17 runs in 21 games. On the other, he's already fanned 27 times, suggesting he's not very likely to keep it up. He also has just two steals in three attempts, limiting his fantasy usefulness. I thought Fowler would get back to the 30-steal range this year, and I ranked him 51st among outfielders as a result. If he's only going to be good for 15-20 steals, then he isn't likely to be an asset in mixed leagues.

- Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez collectively went 1-for-13 in the series against the Marlins, and they've combined to hit .182 in 110 at-bats for the season. Still, Ian Stewart's Triple-A appears destined to last another full week. The earliest he could return would be Friday. Stewart is 4-for-14 with a homer and two doubles for Colorado Springs.

- After missing a month with a broken hand, Clint Barmes will begin his rehab assignment at Triple-A Oklahoma City on Monday. The Astros should leave him in the minors for at least a week so that he can regain his swing, but it's possible they'll rush him back. They've actually been better off in his absence, as Angel Sanchez has come through with a .291/.330/.372 line and scored 15 runs in 22 games. Sanchez, though, is far from a good bet to keep it up.

- Of course, the Astros do have the option of giving Sanchez time at third base, where Chris Johnson is playing his usual subpar defense and hitting .181/.234/.278 with 20 strikeouts in 72 at-bats. I support giving Johnson a full season to sink or swim, considering that we already know what the Astros will do as a whole, but perhaps Houston will give some of his at-bats to Sanchez, Matt Downs or, eventually, Jeff Keppinger if he doesn't start hitting soon. I don't see Johnson lasting as a long-term regular for the club.

- The Astros plan to stand by journeyman Nelson Figueroa, even though he's 0-3 with an 8.55 ERA after four starts. Chalk it up to a lack of alternatives. Neither Jordan Lyles (4.71 ERA, 11 K's in 21 IP) nor Ryan Rowland-Smith (5.59 ERA in 9 2/3 IP) is off to a great start in Triple-A. Lyles will get his chance eventually, but the Astros would surely prefer to wait until June 1 to call him up.

- The Nationals have to be hoping that Mike Morse finally busted out of his slump when he went 3-for-4 and hit his first homer Sunday. Laynce Nix had been threatening to cut into his time against right-handers. The Nats also need to get Rick Ankiel going or give Roger Bernadina another look in center field.

- Ryan Zimmerman is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday, but his strained abdominal muscle remains a problem. There's only a slight chance that he'll be back for the weekend series.

- Andres Torres (Achilles' tendon) is another player eligible to return Tuesday, but he isn't progressing as quickly as hoped. He's a better bet than Zimmerman to return for the weekend, but NL-only leaguers will probably want to play it safe and keep him reserved.

- With long-term question marks throughout the infield, the Pirates were smart to gamble on Brandon Wood. Pedro Alvarez is nearly certain to move to first at some point and Neil Walker could replace him at the hot corner, so the Pirates don't have one position completely settled for 2012 at the moment. Wood figures to share time at shortstop with Ronny Cedeno for now, and while I doubt Wood will have a lot of short-term fantasy value, those using Cedeno should strongly consider making the switch.

- The Mets' Chris Young (biceps) will come off the DL and start Tuesday against the Nationals, so get him active.

- The Dodgers' Dioner Navarro will return from a strained oblique this week and replace A.J. Ellis as the backup to Rod Barajas.

- Look for the May player rankings next week.

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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