Fantasy Camp Notes: Liriano, Big Unit progressing well
Here's some of the latest news from around spring training, and what it means from a fantasy point of view:
• Because the Red Sox and Athletics will open their season earlier than everyone else, with two games in Japan on March 25 and 26, they won't have as much time as everyone else to answer all of their questions before Opening Day. However, one of these questions is completely out of their control. Daisuke Matsuzaka may not be able to make the trip to his native Japan, the team's Web site reports. Why? His wife is pregnant and her due date is March 19, the same day the team is to leave for the trip. "It's one of those things you have to leave to nature, so I can't say one way or another right now," Dice-K said through a translator, "Of course, I'd like to go to Tokyo. I just hope that everyone can be happy." Dice-K is supposed to start the second regular season game in Tokyo, but Terry Francona now has to juggle several contingency plans, depending on when Baby-K arrives. If you end up drafting Matsuzaka, you may have to sit him out for Week 1 if the stork hasn't delivered before your lineups need to be set.
• The Arizona Republic reports that Randy Johnson threw 36 pitches during a simulated two-inning batting-practice session against hitters on Tuesday. He could make his first Cactus League appearance next week. "No setbacks or anything and my endurance is coming along, so we'll see how things go from there," Johnson said. "Obviously, the next step would be to pitch in a game. When? I don't know. But soon, hopefully."Johnson is a name that might slip through the cracks in your fantasy draft. As manager Bob Melvin will tell you, "(Randy) still has the stuff to be a dominating force." However, while you may want to take a gamble on Johnson, don't jump too quickly to grab him. Both Johnson and the Diamondbacks understand that his workload may be limited this season in order to get the most out of him. You're going to get 150 innings out of the Big Unit at most.
• It's all about control. Not of his pitches, but of his own body. For Francisco Liriano, so far, so good. As Amy K. Nelson of ESPN.com reports, Liriano faced three batters on Tuesday -- Jose Morales, Jon Knott and Brendan Harris -- and threw 40 pitches. As long as he feels healthy tomorrow, Liriano will be slated to make his first start either Thursday at the Twins' complex against the Orioles or Friday on the road against either the Red Sox or Blue Jays.Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told the Minneapolis Star Tribune he was happy to see that Liriano's throwing motion was more subdued than in the past. "We all know how violent he was," Gardenhire said. "It's just not normal when a pitcher's butt is facing the plate after he throws the ball.'' It's that violent motion that has Gardenhire worried that Liriano may reinjure himself somewhere down the line. The team is hoping Liriano, who is only 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery, can prove to himself he doesn't need to exert himself so much in order to have success. As we said, so far, so good -- but for how long? "When he gets out for his first game, you may see something totally different," Gardenhire said. "When the adrenaline starts flowing, you may see the guy just flying all over the place."
• Newsday reports that Ryan Church continues to make steady progress in his recovery from a concussion he suffered in a collision with teammate Marlon Anderson on Saturday. He is still probably a few days from getting back into the lineup, but at least he's back on his feet, and was seen carrying his own tray in the cafeteria. For those of you who have never had a serious concussion, that truly is a significant step.In other Mets news, Newsday also reported that Darryl Strawberry has joined the team as a full-time instructor for spring training as well as a community outreach spokesman during the season. "I'd give these kids the same advice I give to my own kids, about focus, choices and decisions," he said. "You really need to take care of yourself ... from the pressure and temptations of life." Strawberry, who hit well over a third of his career 335 home runs at Shea Stadium, could give a pointer or two to Church and the other lefties on the team, although Church, a career .340 hitter at Shea, might not need any help to succeed at his new home field.
All the talk of Lowry possibly suffering from some sort of mental block on the mound, including comparisons to Steve Blass and Rick Ankiel, has got the pitcher hot around the collar. "The Ankiel stuff -- that's asinine and a slap in the face for anybody that does know me," said Lowry. "Mentally, I feel I've been able to deal with anything." You still want to take a wait-and-see attitude with Lowry, but at least it appears there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.
• The Cardinals now have their entire roster under contract for this season after agreeing to terms with about 20 players, including Adam Wainwright, according to a report on the team's Web site. Wainwright will earn a 2008 salary of $448,000, which is more than the salary of all other Cardinals who are not eligible for salary arbitration. That all changes next season. Wainwright will be eligible for arbitration in 2009, barring some crazy set of circumstances in which he doesn't make the Opening Day roster. (He's supposed to be the staff's ace.) If you read between the lines, you can tell he wasn't entirely thrilled with the terms. "Sometimes players and management don't agree on numbers and you get renewed," Wainwright said. "That's part of the game. It's part of the process. I don't have any ill will toward (the organization) for it. I just don't necessarily agree with the number that we reached."
• Hank Blalock of the Texas Rangers was in a car accident on Monday. While he was sore and stiff and sat out yesterday's game against Arizona, there's thankfully nothing more serious to report, according to the Rangers' team Web site. Blalock, his wife and their 3-year-old son were rear-ended while stopped at an intersection, but all were OK. ''We got crushed hard,'' Blalock said Tuesday while sitting at his locker. ''I've been in car accidents before. We got hit hard.'' It sounds as if it certainly could have been a lot worse. Blalock is coming off shoulder surgery and already sat out three games to rest his shoulder before the incident. The team wants to get Blalock back into shape so he can play third base on a regular basis and not have to play exclusively as the team's designated hitter, as he did toward the end of last season.
• In other Rangers news, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports that Brandon McCarthy, who has had a tender right elbow, had a positive bullpen session that included some pitching advice from Nolan Ryan, the team's new president. "It's like Tiger Woods coming up to you on the range and telling you how to hit your sand wedge,'' McCarthy said. "The other day he was standing behind the catcher in the bullpen when I was throwing, and I said, 'I don't care who you are or what you've done in the game. It's so cool to have Nolan Ryan watching you.'" McCarthy is expected to start on Friday against the Brewers and hopes to show his new mentor what he's learned about throwing a more effective curveball. Unless Ryan also taught McCarthy how to throw a 100-mph fastball, we're still going to pass on the pitcher, who managed only 59 strikeouts in 102 innings last season.
• Shawn Hill of the Nationals will not need surgery to fix the radial nerve in his forearm, the Nationals' Web site reports. "It was good news in a sense that the nerve checked out fine; the MRI was clear," Hill said Tuesday. "We just have to figure out how to get it under control." Unfortunately, the bad news is that Hill has been experiencing tightness in the arm for more than a month, and the pain grew to a point that trips to see doctors were necessary. This likely means that Hill won't join the club of Washington residents who will be ready to go from day one. "I don't want to be too quick pulling the trigger, but this does not put him on schedule to be ready for Opening Day," manager Manny Acta said. Hill had two surgeries last season, and although he had a 3.42 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 16 starts before getting hurt, the risk still appears to outweigh the reward.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.