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MLB Barometer: Tattooing the Ball

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

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Brandon Morrow, P, TOR - I've written extensively about how high I am on Morrow this season, given what he did over the second half of 2010. In August alone, he held a 14.54 K/9 rate which included the most dominating pitching performance of the season: a 17 K complete game one-hitter against the Rays. As luck would have it, Morrow got the Rays (albeit a much weaker lineup - apologies to Sam Fuld) on Saturday and once again dominated. Even working with home umpire Mike Winter's wandering, tiny strike zone Morrow managed to strike out 10 Rays and was lifted in the sixth inning due to being on a pitch count. He was working in the mid-to-upper 90s and his breaking pitches were effective. Another factor working in Morrow's favor is that veteran Jose Molina will be his personal catcher. While Molina isn't Mike Piazza with the bat, he had at least a 44.0 CS% in each of his last two seasons with the Yankees. That's going to help with seeing the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox a lot. Right now Morrow is in line to pitch at Texas Thursday, if not in New York Friday. Given the pitch count, you may want to sit him this week if you have a better option and don't like the matchups. Don't worry; the following matchup the first week of May is the Rays again.

Ryan Roberts, 3B, ARI - A Melvin Mora injury has opened playing time for Roberts, who has made a strong case for regular playing time as a result. He's safely reached base in all 13 games he's started, swatting four home runs. At the plate, he's shown a good batting eye, with an even 8:8 K:BB ratio. Given his versatility, you can bet manager Kirk Gibson will figure out a way to get his bat in the lineup. With the Snakes running more this year, Roberts already has two stolen bases and was 16-for-22 at Triple-A last year. Roberts already has a game in both shortstop and second base, so he could earn eligibility there in the near future.

Mitchell Boggs, P, STL - Boggs has taken over the closer's role from Ryan Franklin and successfully converted his first two save opportunities. His has a solid 13:3 K:BB ratio over his first 11.1 innings and his GB rate over each of the last two seasons was over 52 percent. I'm curious to see how he reacts after his first blown save but for now he's the man in St. Louis. Keep an eye on his teammate Eduardo Sanchez, who could move into a more prominent role considering he's struck out 10 of the 18 batters he's faced this year.

Wilson Betemit, 3B, KC - Betemit is off to a blistering pace, batting .383 over 58 plate appearances to start the season. This may not be a "lucky" small sample size after looking at his numbers from a season ago when he batted .297 with 13 home runs in only 315 plate appearances. His current unsustainable .459 BABIP shows he has been lucky but his BABIP last year was .361, meaning some of the high BABIP is a result of him making his own luck. Keeping his word, Ned Yost has the Royals running which has resulted in three stolen bases for Betemit, his first steals since 2006. Long term, he's really just a stopgap until Mike Moustakas is ready but Betemit deserves a look at the hot corner if you need help.

Daniel Murphy, 2B, NYM - When Brad Emaus was given the hook after a large sample size of a whopping 42 plate appearances, it appeared Jacob Turner would be the beneficiary. It appears however, that Murphy will get the lion's share of time at second base for the Mets. Murphy did have 12 homers two seasons ago in 508 at-bats with the Mets and was part of their plans last year before an MCL tear derailed his season.

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Rickie Weeks, 2B, MIL - Weeks sprained his pinkie Friday and missed Saturday's game as a result. He's expected back in the lineup Sunday which is good news. However, it remains to be seen how the sprain will affect his performance at the plate.

Brian Matusz, P, BAL - Like Morrow, I've talked a lot this spring about Matusz and the upside I see in him. He's been throwing this week and it looks like he'll start a rehab assignment later in the week. The Orioles plan on giving him three rehab starts so look for him to be up in a couple of weeks if everything goes as planned.

Scott Rolen, 3B, CIN, Chipper Jones, 3B, ATL - Death, taxes and both these players are already dealing with injuries. For Rolen it's his shoulder, which required a couple of two cortisone shots to relieve pain and stiffness. Chipper is dealing with a troublesome knee which he rested on Saturday. Neither player sounds like they're headed for the DL, which is the good news. The bad news is I can't really see either eclipsing the 400 at-bat mark this season given their age and injury history.

Zack Greinke, P, MIL - Greinke reported he "felt great" after his first rehab start Tuesday and will look to continue his rehab for Triple-A Nashville today (Sunday). Don't worry about his effectiveness during the start; rather make sure there hasn't been any type of setback. If all goes well he should make his debut for the Brewers in early May.

Evan Longoria, 3B, TB - Look for Longoria to return some time next weekend. He was eager to return sooner but heeded the advice of the medical staff and stuck to the original timetable. Longo has participated in a variety of baseball activities and should be ready to produce without limitations upon his return.

Injuries:

Neftali Feliz, P, TEX - Feliz landed on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation, two words you don't want to hear about one of your pitchers. The Rangers probably did him no favors by having him log extra innings during the spring, when they toyed with the idea of making him a starter. His fastball this season was down two mph, which may be a result of the injury. Darren Oliver in the ripe old age of 40 got the first save opportunity Saturday and will probably share closing duties with Darren O'Day. Arthur Rhodes is another option, though he has never had much success in that role.
 
Victor Martinez, C, DET - Martinez pulled up lame after an at-bat Sunday and was placed on the 15-day DL. Since he was regularly occupying the DH spot, Magglio Ordonez will shift there which opens up playing time for Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn.

Angel Pagan, OF, NYM - I'm not sure if something is really wrong with Pagan physically or the Mets told him to take a couple of weeks off to figure things out. Either way Pagan was off to a terrible start batting .159. Jason Pridle is in line to get Pagan's playing time while he's on the DL.

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Austin Jackson, OF, DET - I know it's easy to point at Jackson and yell "regression!" this season considering the .396 BABIP from last year which led to a .293 batting average. However, he's shown no improvement with his plate discipline, striking out over 35 percent of the time (up from last year's 27.5 percent). Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of upside here with Jackson and with his speed he'll likely have a higher than normal BABIP. If he's going to stay in the leadoff spot for the Tigers, he needs to improve his batting eye and cut down on the strikeouts. Until then or they make a rule that allows you to steal first base, he's a hard player to recommend.

Willie Bloomquist, OF, ARI - I'll give Bloomquist this: he's never played on an elite team that can get to second tier pitching or in a good hitter's park. This year he has the best situation in both regards. After a hot start, he's cooled off in part likely due to a sore hamstring. Bloomquist has now gone 6-for-29 (.207) over his last seven games and has only one stolen base during that span of games. With Stephen Drew back he'll see less playing time which diminishes the fantasy value he had. The hamstring issue could also mean less steal attempts which is solely were his value lies. I'd try and peddle him for someone like Rajai Davis or someone with a similar set; it can't hurt to try.

Jeff Niemann, P, TB - It's a pretty big understatement to say Niemann's off to a rough start, given his 7.08 ERA and 1.672 WHIP. He's also had a case of gopheritis, giving up four long balls in only 20.1 innings. Niemann hasn't looked like the same pitcher since a DL stint last August, after which he closed out the season with a 9.81 ERA over 33 innings. Don't be surprised if he gets pulled from the rotation after another bad start and either gets moved to the bullpen or DL. If that were to happen, look for Andy Sonnanstine or Alexander Torres and his 27:6 K:BB ratio at Triple-A Durham to take Niemann's spot.

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