FLB: Spring Training Notebook 3/1
• White Sox closer Bobby Jenks had to leave Chicago's first spring training game on Wednesday because of tightness in his shoulder. The team says Jenks will be reevaluated on Thursday; he has a history of arm troubles, but most of those have been elbow-related. Mike MacDougal is Jenks's primary setup guy, and would presumably step into the closer's role if something keeps Jenks out (though Jenks told reporters the tightness was no big deal).
• Adam Wainwright was good in the Cardinals' opening spring training game. Really good, like, three-hitless-innings good. He was throwing against many of the Marlins' regulars, and only faced 10 batters in his three innings, walking one. He fell behind on a few hitters, but basically looked like the same guy who was money in last year's playoffs. If Wednesday is any indication, Wainwright will be a starter all year.
• Kevin Gregg entered Florida's game Wednesday against St. Louis and allowed one run on two hits and a walk in one IP. He came over from the Angels this winter, and given the health questions of a couple of the Marlins' starters, Gregg may have taken over as the team's favorites for saves. At this point, it seems pretty clear it'll either be Gregg or Taylor Tankersley, as Ricky Nolasco will be rather badly needed in the rotation. Keep an eye on Gregg and Tankersley all spring; for the moment, Tankersley's got shoulder inflammation and won't be allowed to throw for between five an seven days. Amazing: could Gregg really be the guy?
• Things are progressing poorly in the Oakland outfield already. Mark Kotsay is hobbling around with a bad back again, and now his potential platoon-mate in center, Bobby Kielty, will have arthroscopic knee surgery and miss between three and six weeks. In very short order, it seems abundantly clear that Shannon Stewart is going to be at least a five-times-a-week player, if not more. Manager Bob Geren actually came out Wednesday and told the team's web site that he'd rather see Stewart win the starting left fielder's job, so that Nick Swisher could play first, leaving Dan Johnson out of a job. In the meantime, though, Kotsay is hurting, Kielty is gone, and it's very hard to imagine Milton Bradley moving over to center against lefties. That either means Kotsay stays in against lefties (not a great prospect), Stewart moves over to center (ditto) while Swisher and Johnson both play, or the A's call up someone like a Travis Buck (who's not really a centerfielder anyway) from their farm system. Regardless, suffice it to say I don't share Geren's infatuation with Stewart. He really shouldn't be starting in the bigs at this point.
• Matt Garza looked really good in the first two innings of a game against Boston on Wednesday night. He threw two scoreless innings, and had the Red Sox radio announcers ooh-ing and ahh-ing about his fastball in particular, and his stuff in general. Of course, Ron Gardenhire has pretty much announced that Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz are locked into rotation spots, so Garza may be one of several odd men out. Carlos Silva and some guy named Johan are definites, and Boof Bonser finished the year great for Minny.
• The Miami Herald reports that the battle for the Marlins' centerfield job should go "down to the wire" between Reggie Abercrombie, Alex Sanchez and Eric Reed. Abercrombie does seem likely to get first shot, but never forget if Sanchez wins the job, he'll potentially be a cheap source of a lot of steals.
• Both Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland were terrible pitching for the White Sox in their exhibition opener Wednesday. Buehrle gave up four runs and six hits in two innings against the Rockies, while Garland gave up six earned and eight hits in two IP. Garland is a perpetual non-favorite of mine, but Buehrle's drop from reliable middle-of-the-rotation guy to fantasy afterthought is a bit of a shock. I'm not banking on a bounce-back year.
• A day after the L.A. Times reported that either Hector Carrasco, Dustin Moseley or Chris Bootcheck would replace Jered Weaver if Weaver needs to stay in extended spring training because of his sore shoulder, the paper reported that the job would almost certainly be Carrasco's. Don't forget also that Joe Saunders has already been pressed into starting duty because of Bartolo Colon's offseason surgery.
• Detroit phenom Andrew Miller struck out four hitters over two shutout innings on Wednesday against the Mets, allowing one walk and two hits. It was a very nice outing; while the Tigers don't have any intention of leaving last year's first-rounder in the majors to begin the year, Miller continues to make a strong case that he's developed well beyond his years, and that if money hadn't been an issue, he'd have deserved to be the No. 1 overall pick in last season's amateur draft.
• The Dallas Morning News ran a story Wednesday about Mark Teixeira, and how he's going to "concentrate" toward the end of spring training, so he can get off to a better start in April, once the games count. That's a swell notion, and I understand where it comes from: Teixeira has a career April OPS of .815 (compared to his overall career mark of .898), and last year he slugged just nine of his 33 homers before the All-Star Break. Still, if a guy really needs to force himself to concentrate, maybe there was a little something wrong with his approach in the first place? Somebody get this guy a case of Red Bull.
• Sweet Lou Piniella told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that Ryan Dempster is definitely the Cubs' closer to begin the year. "That's the good thing about a new season -- hope springs eternal," Piniella said. "You work hard and put (last year) behind you, and that's exactly what he's doing." Mm, I guess that qualifies as a vote of confidence? Dempster continues to be in one of the most precarious closer positions in baseball; he was shaky as could be last year, and he's pitching for a team with (perhaps unrealistically) high expectations. Keep an eye on Bobby Howry, or even Kerry Wood, all spring long.
• Hit the mascot, Oliver. Don't ask questions. Just hit the mascot. Oliver Perez of the Mets had a true Bull Durham moment in New York's exhibition opener, when he drilled a Sports Illustrated photographer with one of his warm-up pitches. Overall, Perez gave up four runs and five hits to Detroit, and looked poor. While he'll probably rack up some wins for as long as he's in the rotation, you couldn't pay me to get near Perez. His next 10-walk game is always a rotation-turn away.
• Rich Harden, the source of much fantasy angst over the past couple seasons, is one of the quieter potential superstar pitchers out there right now. In my mind, people are more up in arms (forgive the pun) about someone like Ben Sheets than they are Harden, and while I understand (Sheets has a longer track record), that doesn't mean I want to ignore the possible Oakland ace. The team's web site reported Wednesday that Harden is on schedule to make his spring debut on Saturday, and has felt healthy so far. Many of us are still concerned about that elbow of Harden's, and the fact that so many people thought that sprained ligament would mean possible reconstructive surgery. But so far, so good.
• Xavier Nady, who was all set to be Pittsburgh's starting right fielder, hasn't been able to stay on the field this spring because of a serious stomach ailment. The Pirates' web site reports that while Nady worked out lightly on Monday, he's not 100 percent. Nady returned to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to meet with doctors, who want to figure out if his stomach pains are Crohn's Disease, or something else.
• Arizona closer Jose Valverde told the East Valley Tribune that he'll throw only two pitches all year in '07: a fastball and a splitter. "I'm not going to throw...the cutter (or) the slider. ... Only two pitches ... that's it this year." Valverde is one of the most nausea-inducing closers in fantasy who still needs to be owned in every league ... he's a potentially dominating guy if he can get anything resembling consistency, but you never know if you're going to get Good Jose or Bad Jose. Will limiting his repertoire help? Could be, though I have to admit, I'm a wee bit skeptical.
• According to the Houston Chronicle, Fernando Nieve, who's battling Matt Albers for Houston's fifth starting rotation spot, got bombed in Tuesday's intrasquad game, while throwing mostly fastballs. Nieve allowed six hits and five runs in a single inning, and reportedly looked bad.
• Gavin Floyd, who according to the Chicago Sun-Times is basically locked into the White Sox' No. 5 starter role, sprained an ankle on Monday while pitching during an intrasquad game. The newspaper reports Floyd may not make his spring debut until the weekend because of the injury, but adds there's expected to be very little competition for his rotation spot.
• Josh Kinney was one of the more underrated pieces of St. Louis's improbable World Series run last October, and according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, could now be in line to be Jason Isringhausen's setup man going into the regular season. Wainwright is already pretty much set in the rotation, and while I find it hard to believe Braden Looper will wind up starting, I also don't think he's got it in him to be an eighth-inning guy. Brad Thompson will either start or pitch long relief, so Kinney would appear to be the leading candidate for holds, if your league plays with that stat.
Christopher Harris covers fantasy baseball, football and NASCAR for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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