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Mound Musings: Opening-Week Reflections

David Regan

David Regan is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, including the 2015 Baseball Article of the Year.

Entering the season, a couple things seemed given:

1. The Phillies would have a great, and maybe even historic, rotation.

2. The Rangers would have little problem scoring runs.

With Nelson Cruz on pace for 162 home runs through four games and Ian Kinsler right behind him, bullet No. 2 seems to have come to fruition. The first is off to a decent start, though Cole Hamels isn't off to quite a good a start (against the Mets -2.2-7-6-6-2-3) as the rest of the Phillies starters.

Random notes on the season's first week ...

Scott Kazmir
averaged just 86.5 mph with his fastball in his first start of 2011. Time to send him to Dr. Andrews and have him poke around in that shoulder. While Kazmir will get one more start to prove he can stick in the rotation, it's time to look at who could replace him. The options are less than inspiring: Trevor Bell (career 5.89 ERA in 81.1 innings) and Matt Palmer (89:88 career K:BB). Tyler Chatwood is the Angels' top near-major league ready prospect, but he's also just 21 and needs further seasoning.

After struggling this spring, Matt Garza spun a 12-strikeout game in his first start in the National League. If Garza can ever develop an above-average changeup, he could find himself in elite starter status.

Big injury news alert: Ubaldo Jimenez is headed for the DL with a thumb injury, though he could return as early as April 17. Greg Reynolds will take his place, and good luck with him if you actually start him.

In Chicago, the curse continues, where both Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner will miss time with shoulder injuries. Don't count on much from either until May. Casey Coleman, James Russell and Jeff Samardzija represent less-than-inspiring alternatives.

Jered Weaver is the first pitcher to hit the two-win mark, with Clayton Kershaw being denied the same thanks to the Dodgers' lifeless bats. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Kershaw's 17:2 K:BB in 13 innings.

I like pretty much all of the Rays rotation, and I absolutely love Jacob McGee in the bullpen, but the absences of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena might be even more significant than we thought. Through their first five games, the 0-5 Rays have totaled seven runs. They rank dead last in baseball in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. Maybe we see Desmond Jennings and others sooner rather than later.

Mike Pelfrey has now allowed 11 earned runs in just 6.1 innings in his first two starts. Mets fans: meet your No. 1 starter. There isn't really anything nice I can say here for those of you hoping for a breakout from the former top-10 draft pick.

I'm pretty confident that Jaime Garcia isn't a future top-of-the-rotation, but a shutout in his first start of 2011 is quite impressive. So is a 6-6-2-2-1-7 from Kyle McClellan, who may very well be the Cards' second- or third-best starter by the time all is said and done. McClellen was a so-so major league reliever with a 6.3 minor league K/9, but his first start of 2011 was pretty impressive a lot of ground balls and strikeouts.

Daisuke Matsuzaka isn't as big a bust as Kaz Ishii or Kei Igawa, but he's certainly no Hideo Nomo. I took a flier on Matsuzaka in a couple leagues (very DEEP leagues mind you), but after another mediocre outing Wednesday (five innings, three runs), Dice-K is waiver wire material for me now.

Random hitter note: I have Alex Gordon in the RotoWire Staff League for $2. Gordon is batting a healthy .379/.419/.655 with five doubles and a home run in six games. All the hype (deservedly) goes to the K.C. farm system, but perhaps Gordon has a future after all. Oh, and in Wednesday's Royals game, Mike Aviles was a solid 0-for-7. He did get on base on an error but then got picked off. Nice work, Mike.

Random hitter note No. 2: Lastings Milledge started in left field for the White Sox on Wednesday, going 0-for-3. He could get some playing time with Adam Dunn (appendectomy) sidelined. Still don't get why the Dodgers did not pursue Milledge.

The one Royals pitcher worth watching 5-foot-7 reliever Tim Collins. Wish the diminutive lefty luck.

Right now I might take the under on 60 wins for the Astros. That is a brutal, brutal team.

My money is on Manny Ramirez for the next appendectomy. That would give Manny a nice excuse for not playing. The boo-birds are already out, in case you haven't noticed.

Topps has really done an incredible job with their 2011 Topps Heritage set. Modeled after the 1962 set, the card backs are something I've gotten lost in for hours, much to my wife's chagrin. For example, I didn't know that Casey Blake is the only third baseman in big league history with at least 17 home runs in each of the last eight seasons (A-Rod as a shortstop notwithstanding).

Yeah so Kevin Correia is now 2-0. Sure glad I benched him in my NL-only league this week, but hey, who knew? Correia is still just 30, so a repeat of 2009 is technically possible. Yes, his home park was Petco Park that year, but Correia still had a 4.18 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 away from home that year. He's certainly serviceable as a spot starter in deeper leagues despite the Pirates' recent track record with starting pitching.

Luke Hochevar remains as uninspiring as ever with a 6.17 ERA through two starts. At some point, the Royals are going to start turning to guys like Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer, particularly if Hochevar's struggles persist into May.

Pitchers who throw hard are always of interest, so let's check out the FanGraphs velocity leaders to date. There are the usual suspects in David Price, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez, but a few names in the 92.5-plus mph range are interesting:

Daniel Hudson (No. 5 overall 93.8 mph) This number is up from 92.5 year-over-year. Hudson's peripherals were solid (7.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9) last year, but he also benefited from a .241 BABIP and is no one's idea of an elite starter. Can he make that leap? Eh, maybe, but the added velocity should at least make him a candidate for the top-30.

Clayton Kershaw (No. 7 overall 93.5 mph) This is up a full mph over last year. We'll see if he can maintain the added velocity over the long year. What's even more interesting is that Kershaw's sliders are being thrown a whopping 2.3 mph faster on average over last year. This is by design, as Kershaw's platoon splits last year were fairly extreme (4.40 ERA vs. LHB/2.49 vs. RHB), and the team thinks this pitch can help Kershaw narrow that split. Something worth watching.

Zach Britton (No. 15 overall 92.8 mph) Scouting reports have had Britton's fastball "sitting" in the low 90s and touching 94, so this 92.8 number is impressive. I DVR'd his first start and watched some of it Tuesday night, and Britton was mostly in the 92-94 range, occasionally touching 95. He did wear out a bit in the sixth, but hey, it's early-April and this was an impressive debut against a pretty solid team in Tampa Bay. I'm bullish here and think Britton could challenge Brian Matusz for Opening Day starts down the road.

Charlie Morton (No. 18 overall 92.7 mph) I'm pretty much done with Morton, but hey, he throws hard. To be fair, Morton did improve his strikeout and walk rates significantly last year to 6.7 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9, so maybe there's some hope. Then in his first start of 2011, Morton goes out and beats St. Louis with six one-run innings. Of course he walked five, so all wasn't perfect, but Morton also generated 15 groundball outs to just one fly out while interestingly throwing 84 percent fastballs. It's tough to trust a pitcher with a 5.98 career ERA in 50 starts, but this was a relatively impressive out-of-the-gate start.

Matt Harrison (No. 20 overall 92.5 mph) - Didn't see this coming from Harrison:

7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K

and against the Red Sox no less. Harrison entered 2011 with a 5.39 career ERA, ugly peripherals and a full medical chart, so it's hard to be too excited here. That said, he throws hard, is left-handed and he kept the ball on the ground against the Red Sox when he wasn't striking guys out. I'd take a flier in AL-only leagues, but he could be an early ERA-killer in shallower formats if you're not careful.

Meanwhile, in the Bullpen

Anything worth noting on the closer front? Always. A few notes:

So much for a Craig Kimbrel/Jonny Venters job share. Kimbrel has recorded the team's only two saves, looking quite impressive in the process having retired all six batters faced, five by strikeout. At this rate, 40 saves and 100 strikeouts appears to be his ceiling.

In Anaheim, the good news is Fernando Rodney recorded a save. The bad news four walks in 1.1 innings. Rodney had been on thin ice since the ink dried on his two-year $11 million deal prior to last year, and the ice finally cracked. With Kevin Jepsen also struggling, manager Mike Scioscia named the hard-throwing Jordan Walden his new closer. Walden struck out one in a perfect ninth against the Rays on Tuesday to earn his first save of the season. Walden sits in the mid-90s with his fastball and can dial it up near or at triple-digits when necessary. No word on the permanence of the situation, but obviously Walden should be owned in all formats.

J.J. Putz looked pretty good in his first outing after dealing with a sore back this spring. He should provide good value after staying relatively healthy last season. David Hernandez looked very good this spring and represents a solid Putz handcuff.

We don't have a definitive word on whether Kevin Gregg is the "official" closer in Baltimore or whether Koji Uehara could be the ninth-inning specialist. Gregg has the edge, but for now, both may get opportunities until one emerges. Uehara with a healthy elbow is probably the better pitcher based on last year's 11.3 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9, but we'll see if Gregg's experience (and salary) wins in the end.

Jose Contreras picked up save No. 1 on Wednesday in a win over the Mets. He's clearly the top closing option in the Philly bullpen, not Ryan Madson.

I love that Chris Perez collects baseball cards. I just wish RotoWire paid enough for me to buy stuff like this. Maybe I'll form a union and subsequently decertify.

Joel Peralta has looked the best among the Tampa Bay relievers. Should the Rays ever see a save situation, don't overlook him as a possibility. Peralta should be owned in AL-only leagues.

Joe Nathan hasn't been great, but with two saves, he's secure as the closer over Matt Capps in the Minnesota bullpen. Don't expect Nathan to be the old Nathan for couple months, however, making Capps worth a roster spot in AL-only leagues.

Fluke saves to date: Ramon Ramirez (SF), Sean Marshall and Blaine Boyer. Don't bother.

My condolences to Grant Balfour owners. You're probably AL-only leaguers who were quite thrilled to see Balfour enter Tuesday's game in a save situation, only to surrender a walk-off to Yunel Escobar. Balfour should be fine, but he's third in line at best in a healthy Oakland bullpen.

Wilton Lopez, Mark Melancon and Bud Norris represent closer options in Houston should Brandon Lyon lose his job (likely). So who's it going to be? Norris is a starter, though some think he could be a solid closer with Jordan Lyles a potential replacement in the rotation. Lopez had a 50:5 K:BB in 67 impressive innings last year and probably is the favorite, while Melancon has a solid prospect pedigree. Hopefully Lyon owner's have a backup plan.

It's not out of the realm of possibility that Joel Hanrahan records 40 saves this season. With Evan Meek's early struggles, Hanrahan is clearly the man in Pittsburgh, and he's already recorded four saves in the season's first week. Regan rule: Any reliever with 100 strikeouts in a single season is worth a close look.

My NL-only bullpen is as follows: Craig Kimbrel, Drew Storen, Jose Contreras, Sean Burnett and Wilton Lopez. Over/under on total saves 80. Which side do you take?

Regan, a four-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.