Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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NL Notes: Heyward Takes A Seat

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My one big concern about Jason Heyward entering his sophomore season wasn't his spot in the lineup. Though I did remark a few too many times about what a bad idea it was to hit him sixth.

No, what had me concerned was his tendency to get banged up and then play through the injuries rather than take some time off. I'm nearly positive that led to his June swoon as a rookie and then again when he struggled in late September and in the NLDS against the Giants.

Apparently he did it again this year, hurting his right shoulder in the spring and deciding to tell no one about it until finally being forced from the lineup last week. It's admirable, for sure. And whether they want it or not, athletes who play through pain often get the hero treatment in the press. But it can also be awfully stupid. Certainly, Heyward hasn't been a liability this year like those who play through injuries often are, but he also hasn't been himself and the Braves may well have been better off if he would have sat down for two weeks and returned at 100 percent.

As is, Heyward has missed five days because of what is being termed inflammation. Signs point to him returning to the lineup early this week, so fantasy leaguers will want to keep him active.

In the future, Heyward has to realize that it's not always the right thing to play the hero. The Braves can live without him for a couple of games or weeks at a time.

National League Notes

- The following NL teams will play three games in AL parks when interleague play kicks off Friday: Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Washington.

The Braves will be facing nothing except right-handers in all three games in Anaheim, so expect to see plenty of Eric Hinske. He could start in left field, with Martin Prado at third base and Chipper Jones DHing a couple of times.

If the Cubs choose to keep Tyler Colvin around, he'd seem to benefit most from the DH. Jeff Baker is also probably looking at any extra start.

Scott Rolen should get some DH time in an effort to keep him healthy. The Reds will likely play Paul Janish at third base and Edgar Renteria at shortstop a couple of times.

The Astros have no one in Triple-A worth calling up, so they'll likely play Jason Michaels in left field, with Carlos Lee shifting to DH.

The Dodgers should use the DH spot to rest Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp since they can ill afford to give either regular time off. Tony Gwynn Jr. will be a decent play in NL-only leagues as a result.

Fernando Martinez is looking good for the Mets, so they'll probably want to stick with him in the outfield and go with Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay at DH. I expect that Martinez will head back to the minors when Angel Pagan (oblique) returns, but he has short-term value in NL-only leagues.

The Cards still have Mark Hamilton up. Perhaps they'll finally give him a start at first base and use Albert Pujols as a DH. That only figures to happen once, though. Lance Berkman could DH the other two days to open up right field for Jon Jay.

The Nationals have been giving Laynce Nix more playing time in left field at Mike Morse's expense. Both will likely play next weekend, though the Nats should make room for Matt Stairs once anyway.

- The Marlins need to move on from Javier Vazquez, but their sixth and seventh starters, Alex Sanabia and Sean West, are shut down with elbow injuries. I'm kind of surprised they didn't try stretching Burke Badenhop out after sending him down to Triple-A New Orleans, but he's back in the major league pen now. They have stretched out reliever Jay Buente, and he's been a nice surprise with a 1.91 ERA and a 32/6 K/BB ratio in five starts for New Orleans. He'd probably be the choice if Vazquez gets bumped this week. He wouldn't be worth an immediate pickup in NL-only leagues, but it'd be a good idea to keep an eye on him. Tom Koehler is their other option. A Kevin Millwood signing would make sense for Florida.

- Roy Oswalt (back) will rejoin the Phillies rotation on Tuesday, but it doesn't look like he'll be doing so at anything close to 100 percent. Carlos Ruiz made it very clear that his velocity was down while he was giving up three runs and seven hits for Single-A Clearwater on Thursday. I think the smart play for mixed leaguers would be to keep him reserved this week.

- The Phillies haven't announced a return date for Chase Utley (knee), who has played three out of five days since being assigned to Clearwater. He's gone 4-for-10 with a homer in those three games. Utley is expected to be moved up to Double- or Triple-A for a few games before being activated, and expectations are that he's still at least a week away.

- Jose Contreras (elbow) will begin his rehab assignment Wednesday, but it looks like he'll rejoin the Phillies as a setup man. Ryan Madson has done a great job in the closer's role, and the team won't want to mess with his confidence by taking the ninth inning away from him now. All bets are off once Brad Lidge (shoulder) returns, but Madson is the Phillies' best reliever and he just might end up with 25 saves this year.

- Shane Victorino doesn't think his hamstring injury will put him on the DL, but it should give John Mayberry Jr. a little extra value this week. It also shows the Phillies' vulnerability in center field with Jayson Werth gone. Rule 5 non-entity Michael Martinez has started the only two games that Victorino hasn't this season.

- The Phillies may have called up Domonic Brown as a response to Victorino's injury, but he's on the shelf in Triple-A with a sprained thumb. Fortunately, he's only expected to miss a few more days. Brown is hitting .353/.425/.588 with two homers in 40 at-bats since returning from a broken hamate. With Ben Francisco down to .222 for the season, there's a good chance the Phillies will make a change somewhere around June 1.

- The Dodgers are looking at a midweek return for Rafael Furcal (thumb) after he went 2-for-3 in his first minor league game Saturday. The team just called up Juan Castro to take the spot of Ivan De Jesus, so it appears that Russell Mitchell will get the boot next. Jamey Carroll will likely play second base most days over Aaron Miles until Casey Blake (elbow) returns and Juan Uribe moves back over from third.

- There's no telling whether Hong-Chih Kuo (yips) will return as an effective reliever anytime soon. Seeing Kenley Jansen bail out Vicente Padilla in a save situation demonstrated how the Dodger pen best sets up at the moment. Jansen has been wild, but that 6.19 ERA he's carrying is the result of two ugly appearances and he's struck out a whopping 28 in 16 innings. Padilla remains the Dodgers' closer, and he may well prove adequate. It's just that Jansen can be so much more. Mixed leaguers may want to stash him away.

- I do believe that the Braves should have gone forward with the idea of using Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel as co-closers. But manager Fredi Gonzalez simply isn't that adventurous. While Kimbrel has been shakier of late after an outstanding start, I don't expect that the walks will become such a problem that he'll have to be removed from ninth-inning duties. Venters is the better pitcher right now, but as many tight games as he's pitching in, he's just as valuable to the team in his current role as he would be working the ninth.

- The Braves have off days on May 23 and 26, so they're not looking for a full-time fifth starter to replace the injured Brandon Beachy (oblique). Indications are that Julio Teheran will come up and make another spot start Wednesday and then get sent right back to Triple-A. He's fine to use in NL-only leagues this week. Beachy figures to miss at least four weeks, so the Braves will need to dip back into the minors for a starter on May 31. It could be Teheran again, but Mike Minor is at least as likely to get the call.

- Eduardo Sanchez picked up the Cardinals' lone save since we last checked in on the team's closing situation a week ago, but after he blew an opportunity Thursday, pitching coach Dave Duncan indicated that the team would back off him for a bit. I think that makes Fernando Salas the current favorite for saves in St. Louis. At least, he's worth trying in mixed leagues. Mitchell Boggs is mostly mopping up of late, and Jason Motte may have ruined his chance to emerge as a save candidate by giving up runs in four straight appearances.

One thing is for sure: Ryan Franklin isn't a factor. After getting nine days off, he gave up six runs in 4 1/3 innings last week.

- Colby Rasmus doesn't believe he has another hernia, but he is suffering from pain in that area. He'll be examined Monday, and mixed leaguers with strong alternatives should consider sitting him this week, even though it sounds like he'd prefer to play through the soreness.

- It's hard to believe how quickly the Cubs' Ryan Dempster turned it around after his meltdown April 28. Since giving up seven runs in one-third of an inning that day, he's allowed five runs over 20 innings in three starts. He looks like a solid enough mixed-league starter again, even with his ERA still inflated at 6.71.

- Randy Wells (elbow) will make the first of two or three rehab starts on Tuesday. The Cubs are being a bit more careful with Andrew Cashner (shoulder), so he's probably still at least three weeks away. Wells figures to take Casey Coleman's rotation spot once he's ready. The newly added Doug Davis should hang on until Cashner's return, if not longer, but he's not a great choice in NL-only leagues.

- Koyie Hill will likely play more, but Wellington Castillo is still the more interesting option in NL-only leagues with Geovany Soto on the DL due to a groin strain.

- Pat Burrell was out of the lineup in four straight games before getting a start against a left-hander Saturday. He was due to play again Sunday, but only because Nate Schierholtz was scratched. If Burrell is an 800-OPS guy and Schierholtz is a 750-OPS guy, then it'd certainly make sense for the Giants to play Schierholtz because of his defense in right field. I don't think it's really that close (though Burrell is at 775 so far this year), but I'm still not sure the Giants gain anything by playing Burrell.

So it's worth wondering are going to do with Burrell when Brandon Belt comes back. Belt is hitting .400/.534/.585 in 21 games since being sent down. Versus righties, he's a crazy .469/.594/.633 with a 9/18 K/BB ratio in 49 at-bats. They could set up a strict platoon in left field, with Burrell playing against lefties, but while that might work for a little while, I'm skeptical Burrell would succeed in such a limited role. He might end up getting released at some point.

- Mike Fontenot has cooled off in a hurry, going hitless in four straight, and Mark DeRosa is without a hit in 10 at-bats since coming off the DL, so let's not pencil Miguel Tejada into a bench role just yet. No one from the group seems poised to contribute a whole lot. The Giants, though, might as well give Tejada a few more weeks of semi-regular playing time to determine whether he'll be worth hanging on to after Pablo Sandoval returns from a broken hamate bone. If Tejada doesn't step it up, then the Giants will have to go get a real shortstop. Jose Reyes would be great, of course, but just grabbing a defense-first guy like Cesar Izturis would work.

- I thought the right move for the Reds was to demote Edinson Volquez after he walked five more batters in four innings Wednesday against the Astros. Instead, they sent Mike Leake down to make his minor league debut. They could always change their minds this week if Volquez struggles again and elevate Sam LeCure to the rotation. Volquez's stuff is fine, but he's walked 33 in 42 1/3 innings for the season. Something needs to click before he'll again be a factor in mixed leagues.

- Homer Bailey has to be picked up in mixed leagues after another sterling effort in his second start of the season. He is a candidate to break down again, but he's a much better pitcher now than he was two years ago. He should be especially strong in strikeouts with the way his slider has developed into a swing-and-miss offering.

- The Brewers' Randy Wolf, on the other hand, needs to be dropped in mixed leagues. He had the strong April, but he was never a great bet for this season.

- Jeff Keppinger, who is on the way back after offseason foot surgery, is 4-for-11 with a homer through three games on his rehab assignment with Double-A Corpus Christi. He'll likely spend another week or so in the minors, but then the Astros will have to make a decision on whether to cut Angel Sanchez or Matt Downs for him. Sanchez did a great job filling in for Clint Barmes last month, but he's been ice cold since. Downs has quietly hit .275/.348/.500 in 40 at-bats. I'm guessing Downs goes, but he's out of options and there's a good chance he'll be claimed by one of the NL teams down a third baseman.

Once Keppinger goes come back, he'll be a threat to steal major time away from Bill Hall at second base. Hall is hitting just .227/.285/.345 and he's fanned 42 times in 119 at-bats. Hall could return to the utility role that he was much more effective in last year with Boston.

- Sunday's five-RBI outburst was something of a fluke, but I've always been rather fond of Justin Turner's bat. He's making a strong case to remain the Mets' second baseman after Ike Davis returns from a sprained ankle. Daniel Murphy will keep playing first base for now, but he might find himself in a reserve role once Davis is activated. Turner is worth adding in NL-only leagues. Unfortunately, that would have been easier to do in many leaves with a quieter game Sunday.

- The Diamondbacks don't have anyone to replace Armando Galarraga now after just subbing Josh Collmenter in for Barry Enright at the back of the rotation. Zach Duke, though, appears on track to replace Galarraga at the end of the month. He's likely to make his first official rehab start this week after missing two months with a broken hand.

- Here's what I wrote about Collmenter last week before he pitched six scoreless innings against the Dodgers on Saturday:

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.

Of course, Collmenter's act worked just fine versus L.A. He pounded the strike zone with his sinker and threw enough changeups to keep hitters guessing. Collmenter has no strikeout pitch, and I think that's going to catch up to him. Still, he's going to be picked up in every NL-only league this week and I'm not going to argue against it.

- Willie Bloomquist (hamstring) never thought he needed a DL stint in the first place, but as it turned out, he didn't recover as hoped and he wasn't ready to return when eligible a week ago. Maybe he'll return within the next few days, but there's not enough optimism to make him worth activating in NL-only leagues now.

- The Padres' Orlando Hudson (hamstring) is ready to play now, but he can't come off the DL until Thursday and he might not be activated until Friday. Nick Hundley (oblique) is eligible to come off the DL on Saturday and might be ready then.

- Chase Headley should play Monday after suffering a mild ankle sprain Saturday. NL-only leagues can keep him active.

- Cameron Maybin had a great run during the Padres' road trip, but now isn't the time to activate him in mixed leagues. San Diego plays eight of its next 10 games at home, and Maybin is hitting miserably at Petco Park (.213/.298/.320). Similarly, while Brad Hawpe is clearly heating up at the plate, there's just no good reason to grab him in mixed leagues right now.

- Rick Ankiel (wrist) isn't expected to return from the DL when eligible on Wednesday. It looks like Roger Bernadina is going to remain the Nationals' primary center fielder anyway, so Ankiel will have to fight Nix and Morse for at-bats when he does come back. I don't think it's all that likely, but the Nats could just opt to designate him for assignment.

- Pedro Alvarez was 4-for-22 with two doubles and a 9/2 K/BB ratio in his first six games back after missing much of the previous week with a strained hamstring. I'm still in stunned disbelief that the Pirates didn't put him on the DL so that he could attempt to regain his swing in Triple-A for 7-10 days. They might yet option him out if he doesn't step it up this week.

- The thinking was that Ryan Doumit could get some work at other positions while playing behind Chris Snyder this year, but even though he's hit and Lyle Overbay hasn't, Doumit still hasn't started anywhere other than catcher. The veteran has experience at first base and in right field. He's not necessarily an upgrade from Overbay at first base, but the Pirates might as well give him a couple of starts per week there while he's hot and Overbay's not.

- After sending Ian Stewart back to Triple-A, the Rockies figure to give Ty Wigginton a shot to capture the starting job at third base. That doesn't make him worth adding in mixed leagues, though.

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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