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Saturday 21st Oct 2017

It’s hard to say goodbye, sometimes. For a fantasy player it can be even harder when it comes to a favorite player who is entering the twilight of their career.  We face a similar situation each and every year at the draft table when once reliable cornerstones suddenly tumble down draft boards to depths previously unknown to them.  In doing so, our champions of fantasy glory past, often present a quandary for the heart and mind.  For me, this year, that player is Ichiro Suzuki.

Ichiro and I have been together since his rookie year in 2001.  I still remember drafting him in my local league that year, not really knowing what to expect.  He took the Majors by storm and was a dynamo hitting .350, scoring 127 runs and stealing 56 bases.  He helped lead my team all the way to a title that year and so began the relationship between player and drafter.  He always found his way onto at least one of my yearly teams.  He was so good, exciting and most of all consistent.  When you picked him you wrote his numbers down in ink and moved on with the rest of your draft.

As seasons passed, he was like an old friend, waiting for you right after the big power guys and shortstops were off the board, ready to bolster your batting average, runs and stolen bases.  He never missed a game and the biggest question was if he could squeeze double digit HR or 60 RBI into the equation as a bonus.  You’d tune into his games to see him slap the ball off the turf and race down the line, legging out yet another hit.

We saw the first chinks in the armor in 2009. He missed time due to injury for the first time in his MLB career.  He still hit .352, but he failed to score 100 or steal 30 bases for the first time in the Majors.  He made up for it a bit with an unexpected power surge, but with no one in the lineup to drive him in, his value sagged a bit.  It was more of the same the following year.  While he was as good as ever, his runs total dropped to a career low 74. Then finally, in 2011, the unthinkable happened.  Ichiro hit .272.  He still delivered 40 SB’s, but for the first time Ichiro failed to hit .300.

For the first time that I can remember, Ichiro comes into the season outside the Top 100 players on most pre-season draft lists.  Most lists I’ve seen have him somewhere around 140.  In 15 team drafts, this means that he’s basically a 9th or 10th rd pick.  Unthinkable, but that’s the truth.  And so we have our quandary.  And sure enough I faced it in my first draft of the season.

Picking near the turn at the end of the 9th round of the ongoing JBL draft, I found myself with only one OF.  It was time to add another one, and when my pick came I saw my old friend Ichiro sitting there.  All the names around him on my list had already been crossed off, meaning that I was not the first one in this draft to have to make this decision.  There were a couple other younger jack-rabbits on the board who I liked and since I was picking again shortly,  I grabbed another starter and delayed the inevitable. Four picks later, I thought long and hard about Ichiro.  I told myself he had a bounce-back year in him and was a steal in the 10th rd.  Then I asked myself, what if his game slips even more?  I wrote his name down and erased it twice and then, with a touch of sadness, hitched myself to a new wagon and selected Cameron Maybin.

Two picks later, Ichiro was taken.  When it happened, I was angry for a moment and perhaps somewhat guilty that I hadn’t taken the plunge one last time.  Cameron Maybin?  Why did I do that? What was I thinking?  It’s hard to say goodbye in fantasy sometimes.  We want to believe our favorite stars can stave off the inevitable march of time. At least I know one thing.  I got a lot more drafts coming up soon, and most likely I’ll go out of my way to squeeze Ichiro on to at least one of them.  Just in case I’m wrong.

Andrew Miller has been lurking in the Minor Leagues all season for the Red Sox, trying to rediscover the ability that led to such a successful career at North Carolina, where he was teammates with fellow Sox pitcher Daniel Bard.

And according to several reports, Miller will be re-united with Bard on Monday, when he’s activated to pitch against the Padres – not a bad way to break back into the Majors.

All year in Pawtucket, the strong left-hander – who has sported an incredible mustache in the past, by the way – has had a ton of life on his fastball, though command has always been his issue.

He’s had no problem getting outs all season, but his walks were out of hand at one point. Miller has put it all together the past few weeks though, walking just three batters over his last 25 1/3 innings.

This season in Triple-A, Miller has struck out 61 batters and walked 35 in 66 2/3 innings, with a 2.47 ERA.

The initial plan will be to stretch the pitching staff into a six-man rotation, with John Lackey, Tim Wakefield and Miller rotating in the final two spots. But if Miller can have success, Wakefield will likely be eased back into a relief role.

So what’s this mean for your fantasy teams? Well, Miller definitely deserves a chance. With strikeout numbers that high, if he can harness his command, there’s no reason he can’t be successful. The Red Sox have done that with pitchers before (ahem, Rich Hill, who was once pulled by Lou Piniella in the first inning after walking four straight batters), and Miller's recent success with the strike zone is definitely encouraging. If he pitches well, he’ll stick around, and he could win a handful of ball-games with a great lineup behind him.

Ryan Raburn will at least get a chance to play through his season-long slump, as he’s been playing nearly every day at second base since the Tigers traded Scott Sizemore to the Athletics. And there’s likely a reason for that: I can’t say for certain, but I don’t think Jim Leyland saw much in the Tigers’ prospect and had enough of him on his team. Rather than demote him again (he might have been out of options anyway, I’m not sure if he had any left), Detroit said pack your bags and head to Oakland.

Leyland has always had a lot of faith in Raburn, but he knows success comes in bunches with the streaky hitter. He’s struck out 68 times to 8 walks this season, hitting .203 in 192 at-bats. When I talked to Raburn in May, he said he usually doesn’t start feeling it till mid-June. Well, yesterday marked the mid-way point for the month, and you can bet Raburn isn’t going to hit .203 all season.

He’s probably available in your league right now, and his second base eligibility is a big plus. It might be the perfect time to grab him.

Speaking of the Tigers, Magglio Ordonez is back and his ankle fully healed, allowing him to push off when he swings, something that he couldn’t do earlier in the season, at least according to their head trainer. And though the 37-year-old outfielder has had his ability questioned, his teammates seem to think he’s got plenty left in the tank, and I don’t see any reason to disagree with them.

He was plugged into the sixth spot in the order when he returned from the DL, and while some view it as a negative thing, as if Leyland doesn’t trust Ordonez in his customary No. 3 spot, I actually think it’s the right move. Brennan Boesch has been hitting the heck out of the ball lately. The Tigers haven’t really had a true No. 3 hitter this season, but the way Boesch has been swinging the bat, there’s no way you can take him out of that spot.

And, moving Magglio to sixth allows the pressure to be off while he tries to find his timing. He was healthy a few days before being activated, but the club wanted him to take some at-bats in Triple-A and let him make the decision when he was ready. Ordonez has been an oft-forgotten man in fantasy baseball, given his ability to seemingly disappear for weeks at a time. But each time he turns invisible, he always finds a way to come back into the spotlight, with his .300-plus batting average and RBIs to boot. His time is coming where he’ll no longer be productive, but I don’t think we’re there yet, and he’s certainly worth a shot.

 

UPDATE: Thanks to Bodhizefa who pointed out Miller has never had Tommy John surgery, as that was edited from the story. I was having a discussion with a friend in the press box last week and, for some odd reason, we were both under the assumption that he did. Always double check your facts, Exhibit A. Sorry all, thanks Bodhizefa.

As for Miller, the only injuries he's ever sustained, as far as I can see, is an oblique in 2009, knee tendinitis in 2008, and a thigh strain in 2007. But as with the Red Sox pitching staff this season, no man is safe!

Having a hard time taking Jarrod Saltalamacchia seriously? You’re not alone.

But he finally deserves it. The 26-year-old catcher – who seems like he’s been in the league forever – is really starting to mature as the weather’s gotten warmer. After a couple months with his new team, and grooming behind catching-genius Jason Varitek, it finally looks like Saltalamacchia deserves to be a Major League backstop.

The West Palm Beach native has always been an incredibly strong kid. He’s hit a few balls over the Green Monster this year that still haven’t landed.

The first month of the season, I truly feared for his career. Baserunners were stealing at will whenever he was catching. Every at-bat seemed to end in a late swing six inches over a breaking ball. Salty never lost his poise, but you could sense a lack of confidence.

That’s gone. He’s all smiles in the clubhouse, the pitchers have overwhelming trust in him behind the plate, and every at-bat is actually exciting to watch again. His approach is completely different than it was in April. He attributes it to spending extra time in the cage and simply having a better feel at the plate.

But it’s bigger than that.

It’s a kid who was drafted out of high school with mountain-high expectations that were impossible to match. It’s a five-year Major League veteran who’s only 26. It’s a catcher who was traded three times and his ability continuously questioned.

And it’s a brand new team with World Series hopes that’s finally started to turn it around, and Salty’s been a key, yet underrated part of that. He’s settled into his role on this team, and for the first time, I really think he believes he deserves to be there.

“Things have started to slow down for him,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said over the weekend.

Since May 15, Salty is 14-for-48 (.292) with five home runs and 10 RBIs. He’s walked five times to just eight strikeouts. Before that point, he fanned 24 times to four walks. He’s no longer an easy out, and actually, he’s been quite the spark at the bottom of the lineup.

And the biggest difference I’ve seen, since the power has always been there, is that Saltalamacchia is actually hitting line drives. He’ll take a pitch low and away and send it to right field. He’ll shoot a liner up the middle, a sign you’re timing is perfect.

This is no longer the young, nervous, over-hyped catcher. This is the new Salty, and one that worked really hard to get here. And he’s not going back down without a fight.

Baffled in Baltimore

You own Mark Reynolds. He goes 0-for-4 four straight games and you say, ‘Enough of this, I’m benching him.’ He goes 1-for-3 with a home run the next two games. You swear and say you’re never drafting Mark Reynolds again.

Trust me, we’ve all been there.

But Reynolds actually isn’t doing that bad. His batting average is right around where it was last year, but you expected something close to that. The encouraging news, and perhaps a sign that dividends are to come, is that he’s walked 32 times to 61 strikeouts in 193 at-bats. That means he’s on pace for his lowest strikeout total and highest walk total of his career.

Usually, that points to better results. And since we know he has a ton of power, anything else he decides to give us is a bonus. You didn’t draft him to hit .250, if you did, you were too optimistic. But he’ll hit his 30-plus home runs and steal some bases, and if this damn-talented Orioles’ offense can ever get healthy and put it together, they’ll have to score some runs at some point.

Hey, maybe their new leadoff hitter, J.J. Hardy, can spark things a bit. Hardy hit leadoff for the first time in his career, smacking the second pitch he saw out of the park to start the game with a home run.

Hardy’s been swinging the bat quietly well since returning from a strained oblique a few weeks ago. He’s raised his average 40 points in the last 10 games, with three homers in his last six. Not the stereotypical leadoff hitter, but the O’s shortstop has had a decent season and it might only get better. Buck Showalter said Hardy’s starting to get comfortable at the plate and has swung the bat well, so perhaps he sticks in the leadoff spot for the time being, at least when Felix Pie doesn’t play.

Like the old saying goes, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Just ask Corey Patterson.

Not to take anything away from what he’s done this season, which was highlighted with a nine-hit weekend, including two home runs. But there’s a lot to be said about the impact of being slotted in the No. 2 hole, directly in front of the best hitter in baseball.

The journeyman outfielder continues to shine this season, hitting .294 with 28 runs, four homers, 26 RBIs and seven steals over 180 at-bats.

Hitting in front a player like Jose Bautista can do wonders for a 31-year-old with a career .255 batting average.

"I'm pretty much in the driver's seat there," Patterson said last week. "They don't mess around with me too much because they don't want Jose coming up with men on base."

Seeing a steady dose of fastballs, Patterson has become the perfect No. 2 hitter. He doesn’t walk much, but he doesn’t have to. He’s got gap power and great speed, and nearly matched his doubles output from last season (16) in half the games.

But for some reason, Patterson seems to be available in a lot of mixed leagues I play in. I’m not sure if people just don’t trust that it will continue or if his old age and mediocre track record turn them off, but Patterson is a five-category guy with a great opportunity and it’s time more people start taking notice.

Just look at Jon Jay.

Even as Albert Pujols continues to “struggle,” hitting .267 with 31 RBIs this season, his presence in the No. 3 spot in the order makes Jay’s job in front of him a lot easier.

Alexei Ramirez has hit .295 out of the two-spot for the White Sox, collecting another four hits Tuesday as Carlos Quentin continues to provide protection behind him.

Ramirez has had multiple hits in four of his last six games, and his strikeout-to-walk rate of 20:31 is extremely encouraging. He’s not running the bases like he’s done before, but with his awful career stolen base percentage, that’s probably a good thing. If he can continue to avoid striking out and Quentin stays healthy out of the No. 3 spot, Ramirez could have himself a season.

Eric Hosmer is no Carlos Quentin, but since Kansas City moved Eric Hosmer to third in the order on May 11, Melky Cabrera has hit four home runs and driven in 11 RBIs. Cabrera has been a very productive two-hitter for the Royals and, like Patterson, hasn’t gotten much love in the fantasy world this season.

Everyone knows Curtis Granderson is having a great year, but he’s hit 12 of his 16 home runs out of the No. 2 spot, seeing a lot more fastballs while swinging silly over breaking pitches in the dirt a lot less often. He’s walked 16 times to 28 strikeouts in front of Mark Teixeira, as opposed to five walks and 19 strikeouts everywhere else in the order.

So, take this all for what it’s worth. But most pitchers won’t waste their time trying to dodge a No. 2 hitter just to get to No. 3.

Hitting in front of a great player can do wonders for your career, and more importantly for us, your fantasy stats.

Guys like Patterson, who likely went undrafted in all but deep mixed or AL-only leagues, become not only relevant, but extremely productive.

Now we just hope Bautista stays healthy.

Joakim Soria said he wanted to rid himself of his spunky nickname before the 2011 season began.

Little did he know he would also lose his ability to throw strikes.

As the Mexicutioner has lost its cache, the precise accuracy and punch-out ability has fizzled off just as fast as the nickname.

Soria coughed up another Royals lead last night, entering in the ninth inning with his team ahead 3-2 before giving up two doubles and an Adam Jones walk-off home run.

Picking up his third blown save of the season, the usually reliable Soria has already matched his blown save total from the entire 2010 season. The problem has been command, and he’s already walked 10 batters in 19 1/3 innings as opposed to walking 16 in 65 2/3 innings all of last year.

"I've tried to figure out what I'm doing different from the last couple of seasons and there's nothing," Soria said, according to MLB.com. "I think I need to get confident in myself again and try to help my team win."

Royals manager Ned Yost will surely give his All-Star closer a long leash, but while the Royals don’t get many chances to win games to begin with, one has to wonder just how long that will last.

Soria has been astoundingly bad, allowing 11 earned runs this year to just 13 in each of the past two seasons. And his strikeouts are down to 6.1/9, after averaging well over a punchout per inning the last two seasons.

He insists nothing is bothering him physically, and manager Ned Yost echoed that, saying "If he wasn't healthy, he wouldn't be pitching. He's healthy."

Yost said he had not thought about removing Soria from the ninth-inning role, as to be expected for one of the most consistent closers in the game the past few seasons. But with his uncharacteristically bad performances this year pointing to a possible injury combined with the fact that he could be traded to a contending team as July rolls around, Soria has seen better days as a fantasy contributor.

He’ll likely have to blow a couple more games before the Royals either make up some mysterious left calf injury that sends him to the DL or give his responsibilities to someone else.

If that does happen, which wouldn’t be all that crazy, Aaron Crow appears to be the leading candidate to take over a job Soria has held consistently over the past four years.

A first-round draft pick in 2009 and native of Kansas, the 24-year-old Crow has not only done well in his first season with the Royals, but quickly earned Yost’s confidence as he’s pitched in high-pressure situations for most of the season.

Crow has pitched scoreless outings in 19 of 20 appearances this year, striking out 24 over 23 2/3 innings with a 0.76 ERA and .200 batting average against.

Interestingly enough, Crow was a starter in his first full year as a professional last season, striking out 143 batters in 163 1/3 innings with a 5.73 ERA between Single-A and Double-A.

But his success has quickly transferred to a bullpen role, and the tall right-hander hasn’t shown any reason why it can’t continue.

Expect Soria to keep running out there in the ninth inning, but he’ll have to turn it around fairly quickly before the Royals are forced to make a change.

Meanwhile in Oakland, the A’s are having issues of their own in the ninth inning. Brian Fuentes became the first pitcher to lose seven games before June 1 since Gene Garber did it in 1979.

After losing his fourth straight game Monday night, Fuentes sounded off to reporters about his displeasure with Bob Geren’s “unorthodox managing style” and poor communication. Fuentes was sent out for the eighth inning in a tie ball game vs. the Angels and promptly gave up the game-winning run, sending his season ERA to 5.06.

The next day, Fuentes was informed he’d no longer be the team’s closer going forward.

That’s what happens when you bad-mouth your manager to the media after blowing four straight games.

Grant Balfour will be the new ninth-inning man for the A’s, and the Aussie has been as good as advertised in his first season with Oakland. He’s struck out 26 batters over 21 2/3 innings with a 2.08 ERA and .192 batting average against, working mostly in the eighth inning.

While his role-reversal with Fuentes is allegedly just temporary, if Balfour has success as a closer, which he’s proven capable of doing in the past, he could take over for the time being, at least until Andrew Bailey returns from a strained right forearm, which could be soon.

But the A’s might want to work Bailey back slowly before running him out with the game on the line, and often it takes a few weeks before a relief pitcher returning from injury can throw comfortably on back-to-back days, leaving Balfour with some value for at least the short-term.

 

 

I had the good fortune of sitting in Buck Showalter’s office today and listening to him talk about his Orioles and simply the game of baseball for awhile.

Buck is a really endearing guy. He’s nice, but at the same time demands respect.

The thing about him that I really loved, though, is that he doesn’t treat reporters like reporters. He treats them like fellow scholars of the game of baseball. He cares so much about the game, and knows so much, that he can ramble about whatever happens to be on his mind and it will be the most entertaining conversation you’ll ever have.

But there’s something he said today that really struck my interest.

He said that in today’s game, pitchers don’t get hitters out anymore. Hitters get themselves out.

Showalter said there are 10 guys in each league who actually throw strikes consistently, and the rest of them are living out of the strike zone, but hitters chase themselves out of at-bats.

It’s an amazing theory to think about, and the more I did, the more I really started to agree with him.

I’m just trying to figure out why.

Maybe it’s because hitters have such a limited opportunity to make something of themselves these days. When guys like Kila Ka'aihue, who prove all they can by dominating the Minor Leagues over multi-year periods, barely get 80 at-bats to prove what they can do in the bigs, of course they’re going to be trying too hard.

They’re up at the plate to get hits, big ones, and drive in runs. They want to show that they deserve to be there. But very seldom do they simply just try to get on base.

I was talking to Luke Scott today, and he’s a guy who has really struggled to get anything going this season. But he walked four times yesterday. He said "You know what? You’re lucky if you get one pitch over the course of the entire game that’s worth hitting. The rest of them are junk."

And it’s true. Hitters are under so much pressure to make something happen, they’ve made pitchers’ jobs a lot easier over the years. I just wonder who is going to catch up to the trend first and simply make getting on base the only priority.

Billy Beane has tried to do it in Oakland, but maybe he’s just not assembling the right cast to make it happen? Or maybe every other club knows the A’s philosophy and takes advantage of it.

But that’s the beauty of baseball. The game never stops changing.

Oh, and a quick piece of fantasy advice too. Pick up Jake Fox. I really don't know if he's going to be the guy who fills in for Derrek Lee, but he might, and if he starts to get everyday playing time, look out.

Koji Uehara doesn't make a bad add either. Buck deflected any questions about Koji's role change, but he's been the most consistent arm in that bullpen, and once he can throw multiple innings and back-to-back days with consistency, he'll be the guy.

And Adam Jones was slated to hit third today in Lee's absence. Jones has played well this year and is stealing more bases than ever before. Having Showalter's confidence doesn't hurt either.

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I had the good fortune of sitting in Buck Showalter’s office today and listening to him talk about his Orioles and simply the game of baseball for a while.

 

Buck is a really endearing guy. He’s nice, but at the same time demands respect.

 

The thing about him that I really loved, though, is that he doesn’t treat reporters like reporters. He treats them like fellow scholars of the game of baseball. He cares so much about the game, and knows so much, that he can ramble about whatever happens to be on his mind and it will be the most entertaining conversation you’ll ever have.

 

But there’s something he said today that really struck my interest.

 

He said that in today’s game, pitchers don’t get hitters out anymore. Hitters get themselves out.

 

Showalter said there are 10 guys in each league who actually throw strikes consistently, and the rest of them are living out of the strike zone, but hitters chase themselves out of at-bats.

 

It’s an amazing theory to think about, and the more I did, the more I really started to agree with him.

 

I’m just trying to figure out why.

 

Maybe it’s because hitters have such a limited opportunity to make something of themselves these days. When guys like Kila Ka’aihue, who prove all they can by dominating the Minor Leagues over multi-year periods, barely get 80 at-bats to prove what they can do in the bigs, of course they’re going to be trying too hard.

 

They’re up at the plate to get hits, big ones, and drive in runs. They want to show that they deserve to be there. But very seldom do they simply just try to get on base.

 

I was talking to Luke Scott today, and he’s a guy who has really struggled to get anything going this season. But he walked four times yesterday. He said you know what? You’re lucky if you get one pitch over the course of the entire game that’s worth hitting. The rest of them are junk.

 

And it’s true. Hitters are under so much pressure to make something happen, they’ve made pitchers’ jobs a lot easier over the years. I just wonder who is going to catch up to the trend first and simply make getting on base the only priority.

 

Billy Beane has tried to do it in Oakland, but maybe he’s just not assembling the right cast to make it happen? Or maybe every other club knows the A’s philosophy and takes advantage of it.

 

But that’s the beauty of baseball. The game never stops changing.

Jose Iglesias is surely the shortstop of the future for the Boston Red Sox, but let’s clarify what exactly future means.

The 21-year-old is the youngest shortstop to wear a Red Sox uniform in 40 years. Some scouts have said he could win a Gold Glove in the major leagues right now. He’s a small, quick and agile Cuban defector with a great arm and a better glove.

But the bat is where the problem lies.

Boston’s No. 1 prospect has had a hard time figuring out the strike zone at the Triple-A level, as he admits. It’s a work in progress, certainly, but 17 strikeouts and two walks in 87 at-bats isn’t a great sign, and Iglesias had yet to pick up an extra-base hit in 24 games before his call-up.

“Triple A was a little bit of an adjustment for him,” manager Terry Francona said. “Coming here, if we wanted him to play every day, that might be a little bit of a stretch right now.’'

It would be a big stretch.

With Marco Scutaro on the 15-day disabled list nursing a strained oblique – something he thinks won’t be a long-lasting problem, but could keep him out as long as 6-8 weeks – the Sox would have liked to call up Yamaico Navarro, who spent some time with them last season, but he’s currently on the DL.

So Iglesias is only a short-term option, there simply to provide infield depth, a defensive switch or pinch running duties, as he did for starting shortstop Jed Lowrie Tuesday night.

The youngster has some speed though, and could be somewhat useful in picking up a steal or two while scoring some runs as a late-inning replacement. Just don’t go nuts trying to obtain him for now. He’s still at least a year away from being able to carry himself at the plate in the majors.

“We all think he’s got a really bright future here,” Francona said. “I don’t think right now is his time to be our starting shortstop,’’

It’s funny watching Francona and the Sox handle Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K has been pushed back a few days, yet again this season, so that they wouldn’t have to watch him labor at Yankee Stadium this weekend.

Dice-K has long been a box of chocolates each time he takes the mound, sprinkling in a few gems along the way. But you have to wonder how long of a leash the right hander has. That combined with the struggles of John Lackey – who could no longer throw in the 90’s after the third inning during his last start, despite insisting he was fine – provides a need for a possible replacement in the rotation, perhaps sometime soon.

The most valuable guy of the bunch might be Felix Doubront, a young and talented left-hander who the Red Sox like so much they used in a bullpen role earlier this year though not at 100%. Doubront noted that he was at 80 percent when on the hill, yet continued to be effective and is now being stretched out as a starter with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Dourbont has some great stuff, signaled by his 11.9 K/9 with the PawSox this year and 8.1 K/9 over two levels last season. He might still need a few more weeks to get loose or before the Sox need him, but I would be shocked if he wasn’t starting with them sometime this summer.

When he was sent down, Francona said part of that reason was to have him available out of the rotation should they have a need, and Doubront could have some instant success on a high-scoring team.

Vin Mazzaro is back with the Royals, and here’s a scary thought: His first start with Triple-A Omaha this year was a 2 1/3 inning-affair that included five earned runs and seven walks. Vintage Mazzaro.

But, while his control has always been spotty, his strikeout potential continues to make Mazzaro an attractive option. His above-average slider has kept hitters off-balance at every level, but the former Athletic needs to sharpen up all his pitches and throw consistent strikes before making a jump to the next level.

Either way, he’s certainly worth a look while Bruce Chen is on the DL, and if he pitches well, Mazzaro could finally have himself a firm big-league job.

Alfredo Simon may very well be a murderer, and here at Mastersball, we have a very strict anti-killing policy. But Simon is being stretched out as a starter in the Orioles’ farm system and is at least worth a look in deeper AL-only formats.

He actually wasn’t bad as a starter in Triple-A back in 2008, going 7-2 with a 2.67 ERA. Simon's time before that wasn’t pretty, but he wasn’t regarded as much of a prospect. Now at 30 years of age, Simon is heading back to the Dominican for a few days to take care of his legal issues (he didn’t shoot anyone, he swears).

Simon should be back shortly and will resume throwing in the minors, but with the Orioles rotation, it wouldn’t be crazy to see him up with the club by mid-summer. Hey, stranger things have happened.

When the Red Sox were 0-6 they all told us not to worry. Even when they had won just twice through their first 12 games, the manager and players insisted they would come around.

It was a slump every team goes through, and they happen multiple times throughout the season. We knew we should ignore it, but we couldn’t. The numbers were too bold; the ERAs too high and the batting averages too low.

But they came around. As it always seems to happen in baseball, the game made its full rotation and has started to sit upright again. A team so full of talent couldn’t continue to struggle with runners in scoring position, seemingly leaving men on base every inning, and saving their worst at-bats for the most important moments.

When the Red Sox couldn’t get timely base hits for the first few weeks, Adrian Gonzalez told us what the rest of the team reiterated: Relax, they will come.

“When they start to fall and we keep getting more and more hits, it’ll get to a point where we’re going to be hitting .500 for a period of time, getting in scoring position and scoring runs,” the first baseman noted mid-April.

Well, that time is just about here. Gonzalez led the NL with a .407 batting average with runners in scoring position last year, and he’s starting to make his mark in the AL doing the same thing.

The lefty entered Tuesday’s game hitting .364 and 15 RBIs with RISP, and then added a two-out single up the middle to score Jacoby Ellsbury from second and tie the game in the sixth inning. The first baseman’s hit seemed to open the gates for Boston, as the Sox put up seven runs in the final three innings.

It’s funny how everyone can tell us slumping players will turn it around, but we won’t believe it. As long as there have been slumps, there have been players to never get out of them. They’re few and far between those who do, but we don’t want to get duped on that one again.

Hitting with runners in scoring position is such an interesting thing. Some players have managed to sustain a high average with RISP over their career, but for the most part it seems to be something that’s just a matter of luck and timing. Can players really turn it up every time a teammate is standing on second base? I don’t think so, but far more advanced studies have been done on clutch hitting, and I’d direct your attention there.

But Gonzalez and the Red Sox can teach us a valuable lesson, especially when you’re wondering why Jayson Werth has just seven RBIs this season (he’s hitting .190 with RISP).

Hitting with runners in scoring position tends to come and go. It’s easy to start discounting some guys who just aren’t driving in runs right now, but it’ll happen. Just give it time.

With that, here are a few players who have been a victim of some untimely hitting, and whose numbers should pick up once they sort that out.

 

Average with RISP

2011 RBI

Magglio Ordonez

.063

1

Michael Cuddyer

.083

4

Derrek Lee

.091

6

Adam LaRoche

.116

10

Derek Jeter

.143

6

Ian Kinsler

.154

13

Adam Dunn

.158

12

Alexis Rios

.160

7

Jay Bruce

.167

13

Torii Hunter

.171

13

Nick Markakis

.174

9


                                       

It’s always fun around this time of year to see which high-caliber players are the first to go after a slow April.

Actually, in leagues that use waivers to pick up released players, this is usually when I jump in, scooping up a quality player whose original owner didn’t have the patience to keep through a slump.

The culprit this time? Mark Reynolds.

It reminded me of 2005 when a league-mate, Matt Larson (who actually won the whole thing three straight years), dropped Eric Chavez after a rough first two months of the season. The third baseman had just four home runs and was hitting somewhere around .210.

What followed was four months of incredible production that included 25 home runs and 77 RBI. I wasn’t complaining.

Slow starts and impatient fantasy owners have been a match made in heaven since the beginning of rotisserie baseball. The key, of course, is identifying the right players to give up on – and the right time.

For example, I’m seriously thinking about releasing Carlos Pena in a 12-team mixed league if I can find a viable replacement. He’s an aging slugger playing on a one-year contract in a new league with a variety of nagging injuries. He’s yet to smack a home run and is hitting .169.

I mean, the guy did go to a really good school (the lone Northeastern University representative in the bigs), but once I find someone worthy of taking his spot, Pena will likely be gone.

And that’s not to say he won’t put together a productive season this year, but in a league that shallow, there’s only so much time I can give to a 32-year-old average-killer who isn’t hitting home runs.

Reynolds, on the other hand, should not be getting dropped. He’s just 27, and has hit 28 or more homers in each of the past three seasons.

The O’s third baseman has just 13 hits so far, but eight of them have been for extra bases. And surprisingly, he’s only striking out once per game on average, compared to about 1.5 times per game the last two years.

Reynolds hit a three-run blast on Sunday to break an 0-for-22 skid, and afterward he said he’s finally got his confidence back.

From Brittany Ghiroli at MLB.com: "It's all mental," O's hitting coach Jim Presley said of the third baseman, who entered Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Yankees in 11 innings batting .177 in 19 games. "He wants to show people he can play. It's not mechanical -- it's the way he thinks."

The good news is that Reynolds is healthy, which he wasn’t all of last season, and I always like to give players one month on a brand new ball club (like Pena) before making judgments. I know they’re still playing the same game, just in a different uniform, but there’s something to be said for the adjustment that needs to be made from moving you and your family to a completely new city.

There are new routines, teammates, coaches and a completely new lifestyle. It’s not an easy transition. Just ask Carl Crawford.

But I think Reynolds, along with Crawford, is going to put together a real solid year.

And surprisingly, the Orioles haven’t been scoring much. I thought for sure the new lineup would have no problem putting up five runs a game, but Baltimore is 26th in the Majors with 81 runs scored through 21 games.

Adam Jones, Derrek Lee, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy aren’t going to hit .225 or lower all season, which they’re all doing now. Once one or two of them can get going, the O’s will have a tough order for any pitcher to deal with, one through nine.

And Reynolds has 13 RBI already with just two homers. There’s nowhere to go but up from here.

One year after the Toronto Blue Jays led the Majors in home runs with 257 – 46 more than any other team – they’re leading the league in a different category.

With two more steals against the Yankees Tuesday, the Jays have stolen a Major League-best 23 bases through the first 17 games.

To put it in perspective – Toronto stole 58 all of last season, good for dead last in the AL.

If John Farrell took one thing from his time in Boston as the pitching coach, apparently it was to be aggressive on the basepaths.

The Jays stole nine bases in a four-game series with the Red Sox this weekend.

“That’s what they’re going to do and we’ve known that,” said Boston catcher Jason Varitek. “They stole what 30, 40 bags this spring?”

If there’s one guy I’m listening to, it’s Jason Varitek. The guy does his homework. And he’s right, the Jays swiped 36 bags in Spring Training, and Farrell has said from the get-go that he’s going to be aggressive with this team.

Travis Snider has yet to get it going with the bat this season, but he has five steals, one short of his career-high set last year – in 82 games. The Jays don’t seem too committed to getting Juan Rivera in the lineup though, so Snider should get plenty of time to see if he can finally hit Major League pitching.

Now that he’s running, and successfully at that (5-for-6 in SB attempts), he becomes an intriguing buy-low option, though there is certainly some risk involved there.

Aaron Hill already tied his career mark with his sixth steal on Tuesday night, but apparently it was too much for the second baseman, who had to leave the game with a tight hamstring immediately afterward. That isn’t a good sign, but Hill too gets a huge bump in value if he’s stealing bases.

He’s listed as day-to-day, but if he comes back without any problems and continues at this pace, we’re talking about 25-25 potential. I don’t care what his batting average is, he’ll drive in runs and be en extremely valuable player at second.

If Hill is out for extended time, don’t be afraid to go get John McDonald, who is actually swinging a decent stick this season and has attempted to steal twice, though he’s been caught both times. Or Mike McCoy, who has shown a ton of speed in the Minors and can play a variety of positions.

Corey Patterson is another guy to watch. Playing on his fifth team in six years, the 31-year-old has been swinging a decent bat, but his value comes from his legs. He’s been given the green light by Farrell and the Jays and is 3-for-4 stealing bases already in just eight games. He’s been hitting second in the order and makes a nice add in deeper leagues.

The ironic thing: Rajai Davis has just one steal thus far. That’s mainly because he’s been nursing an ankle sprain, and through seven games he had been on first base just four times and attempted to steal twice. When healthy, he will be running. A lot.

 

 

I hate to be just another AL East homer, but I’ve spent the last four days at Fenway Park with the Yankees and Rays in town, and there’s actually a lot to get to.

Jed Lowrie has gotten himself in the lineup for the third time in four days and is hitting well enough to cause some chatter of a shortstop controversy. Lowrie turns 27 later this week and has seen action at first, second, and shortstop. He’s 7-for-16 in seven games and making the most of every opportunity to get in the lineup.

His approach has been solid; a quick swing with most of his hits firm line drives that drop in the outfield. He continues to display good patience at the plate, and manager Terry Francona felt comfortable slotting him in the five-hole against Rays’ lefty David Price on Tuesday.

Lowrie cranked a double to left-center in his first at-bat, and after falling down 0-2 his third time up, he fought back make the count full and poked a 97 mph heater to the right field gap.

It looks like he’ll keep making somewhere around two or three starts a week for now, with pinch-hitting appearances when appropriate, and I believe that schedule will probably stick for a little while. Marco Scutaro isn’t playing great, hitting .185, but he’s gotten two big-time hits for the Sox and those are the things managers remember. Francona has said all along Scutaro will continue to be the shortstop, and unless his struggles continue for a few more weeks, Lowrie won’t be getting a ton of at-bats.

With that said, one injury to anyone in the Sox infield and that all changes drastically. With every-day playing time, he can be quite useful.

Mike Cameron is probably going to see the same treatment, as long as J.D. Drew continues to play good baseball. Drew is hitting .308 in 28 at-bats, but he’s been sitting against tough left-handers, yielding way for Cameron to take some swings. Cameron looked great in Spring Training, but if Drew stays hot, his action will be limited.

The biggest question, I think, is what the Red Sox do at the catcher position. Jason Varitek can still hit the ball with some authority, and there’s no question he’s still a big-time leader in the Sox clubhouse. He works so well with the pitching staff, and after he caught Josh Beckett for his eight-inning shutout gem against the Yankees Sunday, striking out 10, speculation about Tek being his personal catcher has continued to rise.

Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe reports that Beckett’s ERA with Boston is 3.90 in 731 IP with Varitek, compared to 5.33 in 201.2 IP with other catchers.

Add to that Jarrod Saltalamacchia has looked incredibly uncomfortable at the plate – though his defense has been exceptional, specifically controlling the running game – and Varitek could start sneaking in the lineup more and more. Salty is 4-for-26 this season with 11 strikeouts and two walks. He’s had a hard time laying off low breaking pitches. Salty should have a long leash, but I do think Varitek could get himself 200-plus at-bats this season and make them count.

Kevin Youkilis owners are getting worried. His swing doesn’t look right and he doesn’t appear comfortable at the plate. The good news though, is that he’s leading the AL in walks and still has the same approach he’s always had. I’m sure he’ll find his stroke soon – it’s only been 11 games.

Carl Crawford owners? You can relax too. He’s hitting the ball hard – they just aren’t finding the holes. Add to it that he’s playing with a new team and getting adjusted, and I think we’re a couple weeks away from seeing the old Crawford back in action. Another guy I wouldn’t worry about.

Last thing on the Red Sox, I promise. Dice-K had a brutal outing on Monday. He was shelled by the Rays for seven runs in two innings of work before being lifted to a cheering crowd at Fenway. His ERA is now 12.86 in two starts this year.

The voices have cried out. Trade him. Drop him. Send him to the bullpen.

Listen, it ain’t happening. At least not soon. If there was something good to be taken out of his Monday outing, he threw the first 12 pitches for strikes. He just had a problem locating his changeup and left it hanging dead-center more than a few times. Dice-K told reporters he found something on tape after the game and he’s going to fix it. If the magical remedy works, great. Chances are though, this is a long process of rediscovering his ability, if it’s even there to be found.

But at least for a little while, his job is safe.

"It was a horrendous second inning,” Francona said. “If we do things like that we'll set ourselves up for some really bad mistakes. If you make decisions based on emotion and a bad start we wouldn't have a team left. I thought he was flat and flat in the middle.”

If you want to start speculating though, Alfredo Aceves has been throwing the ball well. He’s given up just three hits in 5 2/3 innings, though two have been solo shots, while striking out five. When lefty Felix Doubront is fully healthy, he could get a few starts, though Francona said he likes having him in the bullpen. Andrew Miller or Rich Hill are potential options later in the season.

If you have to pick up one, Aceves is the guy.

On to the Rays. I talked about Sam Fuld Monday night, and the fact that Joe Maddon kept him in the leadoff spot against left-handed Jon Lester on Tuesday is a huge sign of confidence. Fuld stole his sixth base and could have a lot of value going forward.

With Evan Longoria out and Maddon’s obsession with playing the numbers, there won’t be a lot of every-day players in the Rays’ infield. Sean Rodriguez and Felipe Lopez will split time at third base, Reid Brignac is losing at-bats to Elliot Johnson against lefties, and Dan Johnson and Casey Kotchman will share first base duties.

I think the most interesting guy on the Rays right now is J.P. Howell. Howell is still recovering from left shoulder surgery, but he’s getting close to pitching to live hitters and could be back as soon as May 1. Tampa had its first save opportunity of the season on Tuesday night and Kyle Farnsworth got the job done, but I think once Howell comes back and proves he’s healthy, Maddon will start turning to him in the ninth with some regularity.

As for the Yankees, I got a chance to see Eric Chavez take some hacks over the weekend and man, the guy can still hit. Jason Varitek said Chavez did a pretty good job filling in for Alex Rodriguez, who was out with flu-like smypoms, and Chavez banged two hard hits off the Green Monster for doubles. He’s 4-for-9 on the season and speculation has starting brewing about him stealing DH at-bats from Jorge Posada, and it’s not that crazy of an idea.

Russell Martin is the only catcher to have played every inning of every game for his team this year. Isn’t that ironic? The guy who was over-worked in Los Angeles and had health concerns to begin with is leading the league in innings caught.

Surprised? No, of course not. With Jesus Montero looming in the minors – and hitting .450 at Triple-A right now – Joe Girardi would be smart to squeeze everything he can out of the 28-year-old catcher. Martin is hitting .300 with three home runs and eight RBIs through nine games, not a bad start, but he also makes for a decent trade chip if someone in your league will buy high. Montero won’t be in the minors all season, and you can be assured that he won’t spend every game on the bench when he gets the call.

And last but not least, if you haven't seen Joe Maddon's ejection from the weekend, it's a must-watch. Classic stuff.

 

 

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