FLB: Spring Training Notebook 3/2
• By now, you've heard that Gary Matthews Jr. has been implicated in a steroid scandal. The Orange Country Register reports that Matthews' name has come up in connection with an online company that allegedly sold performance-enhancing drugs, and the L.A. Times reports another allegation, that Matthews made a purchase of similar drugs in 2004.
Matthews told the Times, "I've got my representative looking for more information on it and to find out stuff. Until we find out more stuff, I just can't comment on it. At the appropriate time I will address the matter." On the one hand, that sounds a little shaky for the Angels' new center fielder (sort of a non-denial denial), but on the other hand, I'd just as soon not have a lot of footage of Matthews flatly denying something that's later proven true, a la Rafael Palmeiro's finger-pointing congressional routine. Either way, Matthews will most certainly still be with the Angels this year, though expecting a season like 2006 would appear to be futile.
• Oh, my goodness, they're playing games. Anyone watching Thursday's tilt between the Mets and Cardinals saw Lastings Milledge get drilled on his right hand and have to leave the game. X-rays were reportedly negative, however, so all you "Trade Milledge!" Met fans out there can breathe easy.
• Russ Ortiz spun three perfect innings against the Cubs on Thursday, struck out three, and reportedly looked really good. Of course, you'd better not be buying Ortiz just yet. At the moment, he seems the front-runner to earn the No. 5 spot in the Giants' rotation (it's either him or Jonathan Sanchez), but this is a guy who hasn't posted a WHIP under 1.84, an ERA under 6.89 or a BAA of .303 since 2004. It's going to take more than this to get any fantasy owners interested.
• Gary Sheffield drilled a three-run homer off the Phillies' Jamie Moyer on Thursday, while hitting in the third-spot in the Tigers' batting order. I'm not the biggest Sheff fan in the world, nor am I an undying advocate of drafting him this year. But Detroit really needs to bat this guy fourth or fifth, behind Carlos Guillen. Magglio Ordonez really just isn't the same hitter he was before his skein of injuries. Frankly, I think they're better off with Maggs fifth, behind Guillen and Sheff. We shall see.
• Sheffield's old teammate, Jason Giambi, slammed a second-inning Carlos Silva offering to right for his first homer of the spring, to go with two walks. That's all well and good, especially since the Giambino is coming off wrist surgery. But let's see him actually do it off some major-league pitching. Ha.
• Can we all just agree to call off the Steve Trachsel experiment in Baltimore? Doesn't anyone remember the last time Trachsel played in the AL East? (6-10, 4.58 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, .294 BAA playing for Tampa.) He was scheduled to pitch two innings against Florida on Thursday, but only made it through one, allowing four hits and three runs. It's not that he isn't an inning-eater, and it's not that he isn't an admirably crafty guy. But the O's are kidding themselves if they think they're going anywhere this year, and they need to see if Hayden Penn is part of the franchise's future.
• Is your mouth watering over Carlos Quentin yet? Quentin homered for the Diamondbacks on Thursday, flashing a glimpse of the power that's made him one of the most-hyped hitting prospects of 2007. In that ballpark, with as little established power as there is in Arizona's lineup, I think you can expect to see Quentin eventually hit fifth behind either Eric Byrnes or Chad Tracy. Unfortunately, your league-mates know this, too. You're going to have to pay Jeremy Hermida-type dollars to get Quentin this March.
• Javier Vazquez was the victim of Quentin and Arizona's outburst in Thursday's game, allowing five runs in 2.1 innings. I've viewed Vazquez as a major bounce-back candidate this year; last season's 11-12 record and 4.84 ERA belied a 184-to-56 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and his BABIP was .311, which means he could conceivably be in for some better luck in '07. This, however, was a pretty inauspicious beginning.
• New Rangers manager Ron Washington told the team's Web site that he won't use Eric Gagne in any exhibition games against AL teams, in order to keep his stuff a secret. Hm. That's a little funky. Washington says, "If they don't know anything about him, I like that. They're only going to get one look at him anyway." That's tough talk, but this instantly makes me think maybe Gagne's recovery from offseason surgery hasn't gone as well as Texas hoped. Plus, it doesn't sound like Gagne's going to be pitching to anyone in exhibition games until the middle of the month anyway.
• Washington also told the Dallas Morning News on Thursday that he has no plans to make a "special fuss over Hank Blalock facing lefties." That's not good news for Hamperin' Hank. Blalock has a .618 career OPS against southpaws, compared to .856 against righties. Ugly. Not only will Blalock hitting high in the order against lefties hurt his individual fantasy production, but it could also potentially damage the production numbers of guys like Mark Teixeira, Michael Young and others.
• Cliff Lee was scratched from Cleveland's game against Philadelphia on Friday because of an abdominal strain. Fausto Carmona will start in Lee's place, and the Indians are likely to have a comment on the severity of the injury either Friday or this weekend.
• Speaking of the Tribe, nice to see Victor Martinez come in and go 3-for-3 with a three-run homer against Houston on Thursday. He and Joe Mauer are clearly the best fantasy catchers in baseball right now.
• Salomon Torres got lit up in an inning of relief on Thursday against Cincinnati, allowing four runs, four hits, a walk and two homers, to Brandon Phillips and Mark Bellhorn. Yikes. It's only one outing, but Torres is a notoriously slow starter (4.63 and 1.22 pre- and post-All-Star-break ERAs in '06). Matt Capps supporters keep a close eye; there's still a chance Capps assumes the closer's role early this year.
• Rickie Weeks took some batting practice on Wednesday, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He reportedly won't play in a game until next week, but this was the first time Weeks was allowed to swing a bat since spring training began, as the team is trying to take care of his surgically repaired wrist.
• Baby, baby, baby, is it time to hand back that bonus? Mm, probably not just yet. But Philip Hughes certainly got his patience tested by the Twins on Thursday. Hughes walked two hitters in 1.2 IP and went deep in counts against most every batter he saw. He was supposed to pitch the full two innings, but got to 33 pitches and had to be removed. Just one more reason why Hughes won't make the big-league club in April.
• Neither does Chris Britton, the pitcher New York got for Jaret Wright (they'd have taken a bag of balls), seemed like a safe bet to make the Yankees out of spring training. Jeff Karstens, who gave the Yanks a few decent starts in emergency situations down the stretch in '06, looks like he'll make the team as a long reliever, and with Ron Villone re-signing, it looks as though Britton is a man without a spot, after making more than 50 major-league appearances with Baltimore last year.
• Quick! Rush out and draft Luis Matos immediately! Okay, wait, no, don't. Matos drilled two homers in Pittsburgh's spring training opener, but let's not get crazy. The wind was blowing out, the sun was in the pitcher's eyes, and the umpires accidentally put a rubber ball in play when Matos came to the plate. Remember, this is a guy with 12 homers in the past three years combined. If he makes the Pirates, he's probably their fifth outfielder.
• Aaron Cook threw two shutout innings against the White Sox on Wednesday, allowing one hit, one walk and striking out one along the way. Cook may be Colorado's No. 1 starter, but he's not likely to be a very valuable fantasy pitcher, simply because he's not going to strike many batters out (213 Ks in 552.1 career IP), and he'll be too reliant on his infield defense. Plus, he pitches for the Rockies, so wins may be rather hard to come by.
• Remember what I said about Matos' two homers? Well, Jose Reyes drove a homer on Thursday, as well as in Monday's intrasquad game. But in Reyes' case, let's just say you're allowed to notice. ESPN is on the forefront of Reyes fantasy love, and the young stud hasn't given us any reason to change our mind.
• Former first-round pick Jeff Niemann pitched one perfect inning in an intrasquad game for the Devil Rays on Wednesday. Niemann was shut down after feeling shoulder pain in the Arizona Fall League, but hasn't reported problems in Rays' camp so far this spring. He's not going to make Tampa's rotation in April, but one assumes there'll be very little reason not to give the 24-year-old a taste of the bigs come midseason. He's a hard-thrower with a terrific slider, and as such is a name you have to keep in mind throughout '07.
• Finally, there's a potential nice story blooming with the Reds, as Rule 5 draftee Josh Hamilton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 MLB draft, has looked strong in his effort to make the Cincinnati club. He hit a towering homer in Thursday's exhibition win over Pittsburgh, and his troublesome knee has reportedly caused him no discomfort. He's still just 26 years old, and he has fewer miles on his odometer than most players his age (remember, Hamilton was suspended for two years because he violated the league's drug policy, such as it is). Of course, there won't be a ton of room for Hamilton in the Cincy outfield. If he makes the team, it'll be as the last guy on the bench, at least for now. If he doesn't make the major-league roster, he'll be returned to Tampa.
Christopher Harris covers fantasy baseball, football and NASCAR for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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