Fantasy Camp Notes: Cust fights off the flu
Some of the latest news from around spring training, and what it means from a fantasy perspective:
• Jack Cust shows no rust. The A's probable designated hitter and cleanup hitter started the Cactus League season with two home runs and five RBIs despite having a serious case of the flu, ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reports. "I feel terrible," Cust said. "My wife is sick, my daughter was throwing up last night; the whole family is sick. It's kind of been going around." It's definitely worth noting that Cust was able to fight through the illness and still perform at a high level because the A's will open the season with two games against the Red Sox in Japan. Perhaps this indicates he also won't be bothered by the effects of jet lag or the unfamiliar cuisine of a foreign country.
• Meanwhile, Cust's teammate, Eric Chavez, did not play against Milwaukee, nor will he play for at least five days after receiving an injection Friday to help ease inflammation in his lower back, according to the A's official Web site. Chavez had surgery in October after missing the final two months of last season with lower back spasms. In his absence, utility infielder Donnie Murphy will get a chance to showcase his wares at third base, but so far the only thing spectators are asking is "Where's Eric?" after an 0-for-3 day from Murphy.
• Although Murphy struggled, the rest of the Oakland lineup didn't look too shabby, putting up 11 runs in a seven-run victory over the Brewers. Milwaukee's new closer, Eric Gagne, looked very shaky, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, giving up three runs in his one inning of work. "I was throwing the ball good in the bullpen," Gagne said. "My body just got tired a little bit, started striding a little longer. Everything was up and I wasn't throwing my changeup over Of course you want to go out there and go 1-2-3 every single time and punch out three guys, but it just doesn't always happen like that." Milwaukee won't care if Gagne allows a few baserunners as long as he pitches more like he did with Texas last year (2.16 ERA) than with Boston (6.75 ERA).
• The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Joel Pineiro will not make his Sunday start after he had an unsatisfactory warm-up Wednesday. That will give prospect Kyle McClellan a chance to show the team what he has. McClellan, a right-hander, had 54 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings and a 1.81 ERA last summer in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery. Although Pineiro's problems are thought to be temporary, there are still plenty of holes in the Cardinals' rotation. McClellan has a chance to join front-runner Anthony Reyes (whom I discussed Friday) in the crowded group to fill those holes.
• Meanwhile, back at Santana's old stomping grounds, the man fans are hoping will make them forget about their former ace, Francisco Liriano, threw for about 15-20 minutes Friday in his second bullpen session in three days. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the next step for Liriano will be a live batting practice session Sunday. "They told me to take it easy," Liriano said. "We've got a month to go, you know." Manager Ron Gardenhire didn't watch the brief throwing session but said he was more concerned about Liriano's poor fielding, "[Francisco] keeps saying he's got a new glove. I keep saying, 'You're missing the ball. The ball's coming 2 miles per hour, even with a new glove, you shouldn't miss it. Get an old glove, son, because it looks ugly to me.'" If Gardenhire is joking about fielding problems, that's probably as good an indication as any that Liriano's recovery is coming along very smoothly.
• Nolan Ryan, who recently agreed to terms on a four-year contract to be Texas' team president, made a big splash at Rangers camp, Jonah Keri from ESPN The Magazine reports. Ryan left the Rangers offices, shaking hands everywhere he went. He stopped to sign autographs for pockets of fans in the concourse before striding away. But a bigger splash was made by Gerald Laird, whose two-run blast in the fifth inning provided Texas with its only scoring of the game. Laird is competing with highly touted youngster Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the starting catcher's job, and it appears he has thrown down the gauntlet early.
• So what's the good news? Hiroki Kuroda. In his Dodgers debut, Kuroda allowed just one hit over two scoreless innings, facing the minimum six hitters. "His first time out, and I didn't know what to expect, but I thought he controlled his emotions pretty well," Torre said. "He faced some good hitters. He had a good two-seam, some cutters and sliders. Overall, I thought he pitched well." With Schmidt's injury, Kuroda will join the rotation alongside Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley. Again, it's just one start, but don't forget about him, especially as the new Japanese import's name might not be on most preprinted fantasy cheat sheets.
• Ozzie Guillen is toying with the idea of having Nick Swisher bat leadoff, according to the Chicago Tribune, and that's something the outfielder has never done in his career. Swisher seems fine with the idea. "The only thing I'd have to do is get ready to hit a little earlier," Swisher joked. Guillen says he wants to leave Orlando Cabrera at the No. 2 spot with Jerry Owens recovering from a tight groin. Whatever Guillen's rationale, I think the experiment is likely to be short-lived. For his career, Swisher is only a .247 hitter leading off an inning.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.