Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Don't Tinker With Bell

Monday, May 13, 2013

NL Notes


- The odd thing about Jon Niese giving up 15 runs over 8 1/3 innings his last two starts is that his velocity is better now than it was while he posted a 3.31 ERA in April. His strikeout rate has collapsed, though; after three straight years of 7.3-7.9 K/9 IP, he's at 4.6 right now, with more walks than strikeouts. I've never been particularly high on Niese -- I don't think his abnormally high hit rates are a function of luck -- but I also don't see these recent trends as likely to continue. Niese battled a sore back last month and it's led to some erosion of his mechanics. I suspect that he'll figure it out soon and return to being a reliable starter in NL-only leagues and a fringe pitcher in shallow mixed leagues.


- It came against a struggling Mets offense, but Francisco Liriano's season debut Saturday was quite encouraging. Throwing 92-95 mph and mixing up his pitches well, he struck out nine while allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings. Health and command issues have always plagued Liriano, but his other problem is that he gives up too many hits on his fastball. It's why he's posted ERAs over 5.00 three of the last four years. On Saturday, his changeup was very effective, giving him eight swings and misses on 18 pitches. With the changeup working, just 41 of his 90 pitches were fastballs. There's no doubt about Liriano's slider, so if can keep that change going, he should be of use in mixed leagues, at least for a little while.


- Already down Giancarlo Stanton, two starting pitchers and their top three first basemen, the Marlins placed their first- and second-string second basemen on the DL just one day apart last week. That led them to jump another prospect from Double-A to the majors, with Derek Dietrich getting his chance and homering in just his second game up. Dietrich, acquired from the Rays for Yunel Escobar over the winter, was hitting .282/.405/.505 in Double-A, a nice improvement over his .279/.338/.457 line from high-A and Double-A in 2012. His defense at second base is an issue, which is one reason the Marlins had given him eight starts at third in the minors.


If Dietrich keeps hitting, the Marlins will have an interesting choice to make when Donovan Solano (intercostal strain) returns at the end of the month. Solano is the better defender of the two, but he's never going to be much offensively and he might be more useful in a utility role anyway. On the other hand, as little as Placido Polanco has showed so far, one could make a case for Dietrich at third and Solano in second. Still, that would only make sense if the Marlins were willing to give up on Dietrich at second. Most likely, Dietrich will find himself back in the minors with the Marlins still trying to figure out his long-term role. In the meantime, he has some value in NL-only leagues. Even if Dietrich does stick, it's hard to see him contributing in mixed leagues, since he has little stolen base ability (five steals is his career high) and he hits in an awful lineup.


- Brandon League is living dangerously in Los Angeles after giving up runs for a third straight appearance on Sunday. Then again, it probably doesn't help matters that those are his only three appearances in the last 14 days. League is used to getting plenty of work -- he made 74 appearances last year -- but the Dodgers haven't presented him with a save situation since April 28. League is actually 7-for-8 saving games this year, but since he took losses in a couple of tie games, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly gave some thought to pulling him from the closer's role. I don't think that makes much sense; the Dodgers are better off using Kenley Jansen the way they are now than they would be saving him for leads in the ninth (if they ever have one again). Consider than Jansen has made seven appearances while League has made three the last two weeks. If Jansen were the closer and League was the setup guy, those totals might be reversed.


Of course, all that said, League probably will be yanked from the role if he does blow a save this week. Jansen is the obvious replacement. It'd be much better for the Dodgers if it doesn't come to that, though.


- The Diamondbacks' Adam Eaton (elbow) has played nine games on his rehab assignment, but since he's still limited to DH duties, he remains at least 10 days away from rejoining the team. Things are going to get awfully crowded in the Arizona outfield after he comes back. A.J. Pollock was supposed to be the odd man out, but he leads the Diamondbacks with 14 doubles and five steals and is second with 14 RBI. Then there's Gerardo Parra, whose .848 OPS is easily the best in the group. Arizona's two expensive outfielders, Jason Kubel (.758) and Cody Ross (.709), lag well behind. Those two are also the worst defenders in the group. It's going to be interesting to see how it all shakes down. On merit, the best answer would be a Kubel-Ross platoon in left and a Parra-Pollock platoon in right, with Pollock also occasionally subbing for Eaton in center. But that arrangement seems unlikely. Pollock is going to have to keep applying pressure while Eaton continues his rehab.


- Michael Cuddyer's poorly timed neck injury will put Charlie Blackmon and Eric Young Jr. in right field for the Rockies. It could turn into a strict platoon, given that Blackmon is a left-handed hitter and Young, a switch-hitter, has typically been better against lefties. Blackmon was hitting .336/.452/.545 with three homers and five steals in 110 at-bats for Colorado Springs. That's a favorable offensive environment, but Blackmon had actually hit all three of his homers on the road. He's not going to show quite as much power for the Rockies, but he makes for a great short-term add in NL-only leagues. He can also be a spot starter in mixed leagues when the Rockies are at home.


- Burch Smith's dreadful debut for the Padres -- he gave up six runs in an inning against the Rays -- won't prevent him from getting at least one more start. The 2011 14th-round pick throws in the mid-90s, but the rest of his arsenal is lackluster and he's destined to end up in the pen unless he comes up with a better changeup to go along with his curve. With Petco Park on his side, he's a sleeper in NL-only leagues. I don't expect big things, though.


- Frank Francisco's elbow setback Saturday gave Mets closer Bobby Parnell's fantasy value another little boost. Not that Parnell should have had all that much to worry about anyway. Parnell has been getting more wins than saves lately, but he's allowed just two runs in 15 innings on the season.


- Break up the Cubs: Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva both rank in the top 25 in the NL in ERA, but one of the two is going to be sent to the pen later this month when Matt Garza (lat) comes off the disabled list. Garza is slated to make two more rehab starts first, so something might give before the Cubs have to make a difficult decision. Right now, Villanueva seems the likelier victim.


- Back already from a broken left collarbone, Zack Greinke will start Wednesday against the Nationals. Those disappointed that Carlos Quentin wasn't suspended for the duration of Greinke's absence can take heart; he's certainly done more harm than good since returning from an eight-game suspension. The Padres would have been better off with Kyle Blanks in left field. They still might be.


- John Gast is up to make two starts for the Cardinals with Jake Westbrook on the shelf due to an elbow injury. As you've probably heard, Gast was one of the PCL's best pitchers so far this year, going 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA and a 35/13 K/BB ratio in 38 2/3 innings. This comes after he posted a 5.10 ERA in 20 starts in his intro to Triple-A last year. Gast is probably a fifth starter at best, and the Cardinals have a much more interesting prospect in Michael Wacha potentially ready to make the jump should a long-term spot open up. That said, it'd still be worth it for NL-only leaguers to grab Gast for these two spot starts and see what happens.


- The Nationals figure to rotate Roger Bernadina, Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore in the outfield with Jayson Werth (hamstring) out, so none gets much of a value boost. All have struggled with the bats to date, though that's partly due to a lack of consistent playing time. Bernadina, nominally the fourth outfielder, started just two games in April and finished the month 1-for-18.


- Jason Heyward (appendix) could be activated as soon as Monday, but given the way he struggled in his first couple of rehab games, it wouldn't be a bad idea for shallow mixed leaguers to leave him reserved this week. NL-only leaguers will want him active.


- The Reds' Chris Heisey (hamstring) is scheduled to come off the disabled list on Friday, but he'll probably do so as a part-time player. Donald Lutz and Derrick Robinson have both played well in limited action, but one of those two will be sent down to make room.


- With the Pirates' Neil Walker (finger) on his rehab assignment, fill-in second baseman Jordy Mercer hit a pair of homers Saturday. Walker is going to get his starting job back, of course, but perhaps the Pirates will decide to keep Mercer and let Brandon Inge go when Walker is activated early this week.


- Russell Martin (neck) avoided a trip to the disabled list and appears safe to start this 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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