FLB: Spring Training Notebook 3/7
• The news is bad for Josh Johnson. The Marlins pitcher has indeed been diagnosed with ulnar nerve irritation in his pitching biceps, according to the team's web site. Johnson will miss at least two months, and will only begin throwing again come June. There's no guarantee he'll be pain-free at that point, either, so it's probably time to stop thinking about drafting Johnson, unless you've got a very deep fantasy bench or multiple DL slots.
• Who'll take over Johnson's spot in Florida's starting rotation? Maybe it'll be Yusmeiro Petit, who struck out five Red Sox in three scoreless innings on Tuesday. The 22-year-old righty struggled in his big-league introduction last year, but only started a single game and got just 26.1 total midseason innings before getting sent back to the hitter's haven in Albuquerque. Petit, acquired in the deal that sent Carlos Delgado to the Mets, doesn't have blazing stuff, but he's considered a very good prospect because of his control of several pitches. If Sergio Mitre's shoulder (and performance) doesn't get better soon, Petit could be a legit NL-only fantasy asset.
• Will Tampa really bat Delmon Young third? It happened Tuesday: Carl Crawford bumped up to second in the Rays' lineup, and the mighty Young dropped to the three-hole. If Young is up to speed right away in '07, this switch would maximize the potential of both guys; Crawford could steal more in front of Young, and Young could drive Crawford in. Of course, it remains to be seen if Young has the requisite maturity to make it through the ups and downs of a six-month MLB season. Wait, strike that, I think it's pretty much been proven he doesn't have the requisite maturity to make it through the ups and downs of a six-month MLB season. Still, it'll be worth keeping an eye on Tampa Bay's lineups for the next couple weeks.
• The Associated Press reports that Brian Bannister drilled Mike Piazza on the elbow in Tuesday afternoon's Royals/A's game, and that Piazza had to leave the contest. "He got it pretty good," Piazza said. "I'm just going to ice it again, see how it feels and go from there. If everything's all right, I'm sure it will calm down in a day or two."
• Bartolo Colon threw off a mound for the first time in spring training on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. The session reportedly only lasted eight minutes, but Colon felt good, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia spoke about the possibility of having Colon and his surgically repaired shoulder ready for the season's start. Listen, if you want to take a stab at Big Bart with, say, your final pick, be my guest. But don't get lulled by the name. Colon is due to struggle in '07.
• Just as Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy got finished making breathless pronouncements about how Freddy Sanchez is set to be a defensive stalwart at second base all year, Sanchez wrenched his pivot leg trying to turn a double play Tuesday, and had to leave the game. The Pirates' web site reports that an MRI on Sanchez's knee revealed "only a mild MCL strain," and that Sanchez is day-to-day. Is it too late to dump Sanchez back at third base, Jim?
• Mariano Rivera made his first appearance in a spring training game on Tuesday, and showed no hint of the forearm troubles that supposedly bothered him a day or two after reporting to camp. Rivera struck out two and retired all three of the batters he faced. This just in: he's pretty good.
• The Newark Star-Ledger reports that Oliver Perez was much better for the Mets in Monday's game against Cleveland, allowing two hits and one run in three innings. Most importantly for Perez, he didn't walk anyone. But don't be seduced by the siren's song of Oliver Perez. Here's what it's like to own the kid: elevator goes up, elevator goes down, elevator goes up, elevator goes down. The next 10-walk outing is, as Paul Simon once said, only a motion away.
• The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Josh Hamilton is looking more and more likely to make the Reds' opening day roster. Hamilton has crushed the ball, hit one incredible, tape-measure homer, and impressed the team with his grit and hustle. He's a Rule 5 player, meaning Cincy will have to return Hamilton to Tampa Bay (he was selected in the Rule 5 Draft by the Cubs on behalf of the Reds this winter) if he's not on Cincinnati's big-league roster. It's a nice story, but this is Hamilton's age-26 season, which means if he's ever going to be a major-league regular, he has to play somewhere every day. Barring an extended injury to Ryan Freel (which, sorry Ryan, is never that far away), it's hard to imagine Hamilton getting those needed ABs in the Queen City.
• The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Rafael Soriano, acquired by the Braves in a public fleecing from Seattle for Horacio Ramirez, hasn't pitched yet this spring because of a sore shoulder. It's probably nothing major, but remember: Soriano missed time in '06 with "shoulder fatigue," so beware. Another reason to beware is the presence of Bob Wickman and Mike Gonzalez.
• Matt Cain pitched poorly again on Tuesday against Milwaukee, pitching 2.2 innings and giving up three runs. That's eight runs in 4.2 IP so far in spring training, but don't panic just yet. Cain was a slow-starter last year, and dominated after the All-Star Break like almost no other pitcher in baseball. It's not a bold prediction to suggest Cain will clear things up before April. It is a bold projection to suggest Cain will name his first-born "Sugar." That would be cool, though.
• Hello, Willy Taveras. The ex-Astro stole his third base of the spring in Tuesday's 6-3 Colorado win over the White Sox, and has also scored six runs in four games. If these exhibition games are any indication (and, granted, they're often not), manager Clint Hurdle will be letting his leadoff speedster do base-paths damage early and often. Now, I've spent considerable energy so far this month trying to convince you not to draft "empty" steals (i.e., players who give you steals but not much else), and Taveras falls into that category. Still, if you simply have to own the major-league leader in SBs, Fast Willy might be your guy in '07.
• Jason LaRue hit two solo homers on Tuesday, adding to speculation that he could be in for as much if not more playing time as John Buck. Buddy Bell has told the Kansas City Star that he wants one of these players to be his "starter," and the other be the backup. With full-time duty, LaRue is a 15-HR, 60-RBI guy who banged up his knee last year and came back too soon; Buck probably wouldn't hit or drive in quite so many, but is likely to hit for better averages, and post a better OPS. Both of these guys are right-handed hitters, and hit much better against lefties, so a platoon likely wouldn't do much good. Not that I'm advocating rushing right out and spending even middle-round picks on either man, but AL-only owners need to know who all the league's starting catchers are, right?
• Erstwhile Red Sox reliever Craig Hansen made his first appearance of the spring on Tuesday, having missed a couple weeks with a bulging disk in his back. The first time out wasn't good; he allowed four hits and three runs in a save situation. Ah, clever Hansen, you magnificent sonofagun. Allowing Florida to tattoo you in the ninth, just so the Sox could come back and score eight times in the 10th to give you your first spring training win of the season. Ahem.
• I continue to see glorified utility man Martin Prado projected as Atlanta's starter at second base in some media outlets, and it does seem certain Prado would be the best defensive option the Braves would have in their middle infield, teamed with Edgar Renteria. But Kelly Johnson has begun a push to be the team's leadoff hitter and starting second-bagger. He scored three runs in Tuesday's win over the Nationals, and also drilled a single and a double. The best situation for Atlanta would be Johnson playing the field just well enough to cover for Prado's absence, and for him to hit far better than Prado ever would. Time will tell, but NL-only owners want to know the outcome here.
Christopher Harris covers fantasy baseball, football and NASCAR for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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