Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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NL Notes: The Hunt For Saves

Sunday, May 08, 2011

It was a given that Julio Teheran would be one and done after his Saturday start against the Phillies, but it was still a must-watch outing. The 20-year-old showed plenty of life on a 91-94 mph fastball and a changeup he was successful at keeping down in the zone. His curveball didn't prove very useful, mainly because he couldn't get to two strikes to use it as a put-away pitch. Still, even though he was removed in the fifth after allowing three runs, it was a pretty encouraging performance, particularly in the composure department. The Braves certainly won't be scared to go to him again. However, I do think they'd use Mike Minor first if one of their starters were to go down prior to the All-Star break.

Nationals League Notes

- We know what Anibal Sanchez can do when he's on; he took a no-hitter into the ninth against the Rockies last month and then carried one into the seventh inning Sunday against the Nationals. But those are his only two wins this season. My theory is that his arm just isn't particularly resilient and he'd be much better off getting the Pedro Martinez treatment and making most of his starts on five or six days' rest. The Marlins, though, aren't going to go that route, and it's not like Sanchez is hurting them as is. He'll probably have a great month of starts at some point, but I don't think he has to be picked up in mixed leagues right now.

- Whatever was wrong with Yovani Gallardo seemed to get solved Saturday. His velocity has been fine all along, and he really had his slider working against the Cardinals. I dropped him a bit in the rankings last week, but he really should be a top-20 starter the rest of the way.

- The Brewers are likely to be very patient with Casey McGehee after he drove in 104 runs in 2010, but following 33 games this year, he's batting .264/.323/.388 and he's committed five errors while being involved in just three double plays. Mat Gamel's case for a callup would be stronger if he were better defensively, but he is hitting .309/.377/.491 in Triple-A. The Brewers are only getting offense from three spots right now and they badly need more from McGehee and Corey Hart.

- Logan Morrison (foot) appears set to come off the DL on Friday, so NL-only leaguers without full-timers as alternatives might want to activate him. His return will put Emilio Bonifacio back into the mix at third base, where the Marlins have been going with Greg Dobbs and Wes Helms. Bonifacio figures to remain in the lineup most days, so Dobbs could revert to being worthless in NL-only leagues. Helms has never been anything but.

- Brandon Lyon will try to make it back from a partial rotator cuff tear next month, but the Astros should be hoping Mark Melancon runs away with the closer's gig by then. The 26-year-old protected a one-run lead Friday for his first career save and lowered his ERA to 1.62 in the process. Melancon doesn't have top-flight stuff, but his curve is a true swing-and-miss pitch and he's getting more outs with his 91-94 mph fastball this year. If his command holds up, he'll be a fair closer for the Astros. He'd crack the top 30 if I redid the reliever rankings this week.

- Eduardo Sanchez was wild in going for his fourth save on Sunday, so Fernando Salas came in with two outs and notched his third save. Now Mitchell Boggs, Sanchez and Salas all have the same number of saves. Salas, since he throws 89-93 mph, looks less like a closer than the other two, but he has better command than Sanchez and a better breaking ball than Boggs. And we haven't even mentioned Jason Motte yet. Motte's stuff hasn't been as crisp this year as it was last year, but it is getting better and he has a 1.76 ERA anyway. He might yet win out in all of this. In the meantime, no one in the St. Louis pen absolutely has to be owned in mixed leagues. Sanchez is the favorite for saves at the moment, but I still think Boggs has the most value in the group.

- The Jonathan Broxton news was actually pretty encouraging, in my opinion. Yeah, he'll miss the rest of May, but at least there's an explanation for his diminished stuff; he has a bone spur and a bone bruise affecting his elbow. Perhaps the spur will require surgery, but given that he was perfectly willing to pitch through the soreness before the Dodgers made the decision to shut him down, that seems unlikely. Of course, there's no guarantee that he'll return to old form after taking three weeks off, but at least there's a shot.

In the meantime, the Dodgers are going with Vicente Padilla in the closer's role for now. Hong-Chih Kuo will be a factor if he recovers his stuff, but he hasn't looked right since returning from a back strain. Don't forget about Kenley Jansen: manager Don Mattingly doesn't trust him yet, but if he can stay away from walks for a little while, he'll enter the mix. He was 4-for-4 saving games after his callup last year.

- Usually when Ted Lilly struggles, it's because he's giving up homers in bunches. That's not the case this year, but his ERA stands at 4.93 after seven starts. His velocity keeps slipping, and his strikeout rate is way down. I dropped him five spots in the SP rankings last week and probably should have gone further. It certainly hasn't helped that the Dodgers are running out one of the game's weakest outfield defenses with Jerry Sands in left, Matt Kemp in center and Andre Ethier in right. The run and bullpen support isn't much better, so Lilly can be considered expendable in shallow mixed leagues.

- Such an odd start for Jimmy Rollins. One fifth of the way through the season, he has one homer and 19 walks. In his MVP season of 2007, he finished with 30 homers and 49 walks. Rollins' fantasy value has taken a hit with his power numbers down, but he's more valuable to the Phillies with his current .379 OBP. He's also on pace for 40 steals, so he might not end up being too much of a disappointment even if he finishes with fewer than 10 homers and 50 RBI.

- I should have had Braves lefty Eric O'Flaherty listed among the top 70 relievers last week. While he was used pretty strictly as a specialist last year, he's pitching more full innings this season, and with Peter Moylan down, that doesn't figure to change. It makes him a far better bet for wins, and it should give him some lasting value in NL-only leagues.

- The Giants plan to activate both Andres Torres (Achilles' tendon) and Mark DeRosa (wrist) from the DL on Tuesday. Darren Ford and Ryan Rohlinger figure to be sent down. Torres' return will put Aaron Rowand on the bench. Rowand had a nice April while getting a lot more playing time than expected, but he's cooled off since and there's no reason for the Giants to use him over Pat Burrell or Cody Ross. DeRosa is expected to get a look at third base, and since Mike Fontenot has been red-hot while playing shortstop, Miguel Tejada figures to head to the bench.

- I was surprised and encouraged by the Reds' decision to stick with Travis Wood in the rotation and send Mike Leake to the pen. That is the way it was supposed to be before Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey got hurt, but Wood had a 6.21 ERA in seven starts, making a demotion justified.

Wood, though, does have the 34/13 K/BB ratio in 37 2/3 innings. He's also allowed just three homers. I think he'll end up being a solid NL-only starter if the Reds stick with him. Leake would be OK, too, but I like Wood a little more.

The truth is that the Reds can't go too wrong either way. And things are definitely looking up after both Bailey and Cueto turned in strong season debuts. I did have Cueto higher in the May rankings last week. Bailey, though, has made a lot of progress over the last year and could be a factor in mixed leagues if he stays healthy. Watch him closely.

- It might have been too soon to give up on Carlos Pena in mixed leagues. With three homers in five games, he's definitely found his power stroke. Still, I'm not sure how much upside is there. He's probably not going to hit better than .230-.240 over the rest of the season, and he's not going to score a lot of runs while hitting in the bottom half of the Cubs order. He also loses ribbies because of his willingness to take walks. Only those in need of homers over everything else should take him on.

- Angel Pagan's setback with his strained oblique seems to have pretty much reset his clock. He was expected to return Saturday, but now he'll miss an additional two or three weeks. Jason Pridie, an extremely pleasant surprise to date, will continue to start in center field against righties.

- Filling in for Chris Young (shoulder) yet again, Dillon Gee turned in another solid outing for the Mets on Saturday. He'll get the Astros this week, so he's worth playing in NL-only leagues. If he impresses again, the Mets will face a tough decision when Young returns. Both Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese have options remaining, so they shouldn't be taking their rotation spots for granted.

- Joe Blanton (elbow) will come off the DL on Monday, but Roy Oswalt (back) will miss at least one more start. The plan was for Vance Worley to head back to the minors when Blanton returned, but now it's possible he'll stick around and fill in for Oswalt, even though Kyle Kendrick did a nice job in his start Saturday. With no decision having come down yet, Worley is a risky option in NL-only leagues this week. The Phillies could get by without a fifth starter entirely since they have Thursday off, so the smart play would be to reserve Worley.

- No matter how much some fans would like to see it, Chase Utley (knee) won't be rejoining the Phillies on Monday after going 5-for-7 with two homers in an extended spring training game Saturday. The news is encouraging, though, and once he's built up to playing nine innings in the field, the Phillies won't be able to hold him back.

- I'm stunned that the Pirates didn't put Pedro Alvarez on the disabled list, considering that he could use a good week's worth of at-bats in Triple-A anyway. He's been out five days with a strained quad, but it looks like he'll return at some point this week, making him a viable option in NL-only leagues. As poorly as Alvarez has played -- he's hitting .212/.278/.283 with one homer and 34 strikeouts in 99 at-bats -- he should be just one more bad week away from getting optioned to Triple-A. If the Pirates go that route, Brandon Wood would serve as the regular third baseman.

- Six scoreless innings and eight strikeouts for James McDonald on Sunday. Sure, it was against the Astros, but he can't be unowned in any NL-only leagues.

- The Padres lost both Orlando Hudson (hamstring) and Nick Hundley (oblique) to the DL last week, giving Eric Patterson and Rob Johnson some short-term value in NL-only leagues.

- Roger Bernadina will get a chance to win the Nationals' center field job while Rick Ankiel (wrist) spends the next two weeks on the DL. As dreadful as Ankiel has been offensively, he's lucky he lasted as long as he did. I'm not a Bernadina fan, but he is worth owning in NL-only leagues.

- The Nationals picked up Gregor Blanco from the Royals on Sunday, but didn't add him to the major league roster. I think he's just as viable in center as Bernadina, but since he doesn't have much fantasy upside, he's not worthy of an immediate pickup.

- Scott Rolen is likely to miss at least another 10 days with his sore shoulder, but the Reds could get Juan Francisco back as a third-base option next weekend. Francisco, out since mid-April with a calf strain, is set to begin play with Triple-A Louisville, possibly on Tuesday. He'll take at-bats away from Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cairo after returning.

- Unfortunately, Jason Bourgeois was just becoming a real factor in Houston before suffering a strained oblique and going on the DL Sunday. Carlos Lee is back in the lineup now, so Bourgeois wasn't going to keep starting in the outfield. However, he seemed poised to rob Bill Hall of playing time at second base. Hall is safe again now, but by the end of the month, the Astros should have Jeff Keppinger back from foot surgery to battle for starts at second.

- Brett Wallace's average is down to .339 after a 1-for-15 slump, and anyone who picked him up in a mixed league needs to look elsewhere. He's unlikely to hit better than .290 the rest of the way, and the power numbers won't be there to make him an asset.

- Thanks to Nyjer Morgan's broken finger, Carlos Gomez's benching lasted all of two days. Unfortunately, the Brewers have started hitting Gomez eighth now, so he's not worth playing in mixed leagues. He was a much better bet for runs, RBI and steals while batting second.

- Ty Wigginton (oblique) is eligible to come off the DL on Thursday, but the Rockies don't appear especially optimistic that it will happen. It might be for the best if he misses an extra week anyway. The Rockies need to get either Ian Stewart or Jose Lopez going, preferably Stewart. If Stewart has another bad week, he might head right back to Triple-A.

- Expectations are that Josh Collmenter will step into Barry Enright's spot in Arizona's rotation. As a reliever, he's managed to induce grounders with an 86-89 mph sinker and keep lefties off balance with his changeup. Still, I'm skeptical that he'll be able to survive while facing hitters three times per night. I recommend avoiding him in NL-only leagues.

- Willie Bloomquist (hamstring) is set to come off the DL on Tuesday, but he shouldn't make the same kind of impact he did early on. Gerardo Parra is playing well in left field, and manager Kirk Gibson likes Melvin Mora at third base. Ryan Roberts has actually been getting more time at second lately than at either of those two positions. Bloomquist's return will further cut into Roberts' at-bats, but Bloomquist won't be anything close to the full-time player he was during the first two weeks.

- Juan Miranda's first stint as the Diamondbacks' primary first baseman never got off the ground, but he's starting regularly against right-handers this month, leaving Russell Branyan without a role. Branyan has been a horrible pinch-hitter over the course of his career, so it makes one wonder just how much longer the Diamondbacks will continue to have him occupy a spot. He won't be cut to make room for Bloomquist (Josh Wilson will go then), but he might depart before the end of May.

- The Diamondbacks can afford to cut Branyan because they have plenty of options at Triple-A Reno. Wily Mo Pena is hitting .374/.427/.808 with 12 homers in 99 at-bats. Cole Gillespie is batting .361/.444/.611 with seven steals. Collin Cowgill is at .343/.415/.581 with seven steals. All three of those guys are worthy of looks in a part-time role in the outfield. Brandon Allen, who should be next in line at first base if Miranda fails, is hitting .291/.380/.455.

Then there's former top prospect Sean Burroughs, who is hitting .370/.431/.478 in his first 46 at-bats after almost four years off. He needs to keep it going for another 100 at-bats before anyone will take him seriously, but if third basemen keep dropping like flies -- eight NL teams have third basemen on the DL at the moment and Alvarez would have made it nine -- then he might get a shot with someone.

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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