- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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Thursday was a day of good news on the injury front for starting pitchers.
Take Scott Kazmir, who threw Thursday for the second time since suffering a strained left elbow in the early days of spring training. He played catch from about 90 feet and "threw really well," Rays manager Joe Maddon told the team's official Web site, and Kazmir might be back on track to make his scheduled Opening Day start. Barring a Friday setback, Kazmir will make two long-toss sessions before throwing a bullpen session on Sunday or Monday. He might then be ready for a spring game if the bullpen session is a success.
"Two long-toss days, bullpen on the 10th or 11th, in a game by the 14th or 15th -- something like that," said Maddon of Kazmir's schedule. "That would give him three or four starts prior to having to pitch in the regular season."
Over in Angels camp, John Lackey threw what manager Mike Scioscia termed a "full gorilla bullpen" on Thursday, according to the team's official Web site. No actual monkey business took place, of course; Scioscia meant that his ace threw with full effort, utilizing all his pitches without any problems with his elbow. Lackey will make his spring training debut on Monday, and Scioscia said the right-hander needs five starts to build up to a 100-pitch regular-season workload. Mapping the schedule, that'd put him on schedule to pitch sometime during the first week of the regular season, though it'd make him doubtful to pitch on Opening Day.
"I believe I could be at 80 or 90 pitches at least [by Opening Day]," Lackey said. "I'd do it. Whether they let me or not is another story."
Finally, Yovani Gallardo threw off a mound on Thursday for the first time since his Feb. 19 knee surgery, according to the Brewers' official Web site. No details were given regarding his next step towards recovery, though all indications are that he'll miss one or two turns through the rotation during the regular season, as was initially expected. That's still good news and it means Gallardo hasn't suffered any setbacks.
"It was like a five-minute bullpen," said Gallardo of Thursday's session. "My arm feels good, my knee feels good. It was a pretty big step."
The upshot of these developments, for fantasy, is obvious: Have no fear drafting them. Kazmir and Lackey could, by all rights, be fine for their typical 33-start seasons. Gallardo might make only 30, but the Brewers were likely to put a cap on his innings, anyway. I still have Lackey as a top-five capable starting pitcher, Kazmir top-10 capable and Gallardo top-20 capable, but you'll probably get each of them a little cheaper than that in light of their recent health concerns. Get ready to snatch them up on the cheap!
• The news Thursday wasn't all good on the injury front, though. The Giants announced that Noah Lowry needs surgery on Friday to relieve a condition in his left forearm, costing him two to three weeks. He has been diagnosed with exertional compartmental syndrome in his forearm, according to the team's official Web site, and a more specific diagnosis won't be known until after the operation. Lowry seems likely to sit until late April, at least, but considering how poorly he was pitching, that's probably for the best. In 2 1/3 innings of spring work, he had a 23.14 ERA, walked 12 batters, hit another, threw three wild pitches and five total to the backstop on the fly. Lowry also walked as many batters (87) as he struck out (87) in 2007, and on a team that will struggle to score runs, he's a risky bet as anything more than an NL-only reserve pick. Expect Kevin Correia to serve as the fourth starter, with Jonathan Sanchez the favorite for the fifth-starter role ahead of Patrick Misch and Victor Santos, to begin the season.
• I got a chance to watch Ben Sheets pitch in Arizona this past Saturday -- he retired all six Rockies he faced -- and the right-hander kept up his string of scoreless innings on Thursday with three frames of zeroes. He has faced only 16 batters in completing five shutout innings, and thus far looks nothing like the injury risk he has been in each of the past three seasons. Not that I'm calling Sheets a completely safe pick, but he's quite a bit less of a risk than Rich Harden or Mark Prior, having made more starts than those two from 2005-07 (63 to Harden's 32 and Prior's 36) and having registered a WHIP (1.13) competitive with Harden's (1.11) and better than Prior's (1.31). I'm investing in Sheets, at least as a 10th- to 12th-round type and a possible top-30 starting pitcher.
• Some interesting news regarding Albert Pujols on Thursday; Cardinals team doctor George Paletta told the team's official Web site that the slugger has a "high grade" tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, as well as bone spurs, inflammation and arthritis in the joint. That might sound like a devastating diagnosis, but it's actually not. Apparently, Paletta presented Pujols with three courses of action during the winter: Continue to play through the problem, undergo arthroscopic surgery to address the bone spurs and arthritis, or have arthroscopy as well as Tommy John surgery to fix the ligament tear. Pujols picked the former, Paletta endorsed his decision, and now the Cardinals plan to allow the first baseman to continue playing until such time as he deems Tommy John surgery necessary. Considering he has been battling the problem for so long, though, that might not come at all this season, barring the Cardinals falling well out of the playoff race early in the year. It's a possibility, but with the possibility equally strong that Pujols won't miss a game in 2008, he's still too valuable to let slip out of the first round.
• The Rangers are battling some health issues of their own, with two of their top relievers suddenly looking questionable for Opening Day. C.J. Wilson, the presumptive closer, has been shut down with biceps tendinitis, according to the team's official Web site, while the next-best bet, Joaquin Benoit, has yet to appear in a spring game due to soreness in his right shoulder. Benoit at least is looking a little closer to returning; he's scheduled to throw his fourth bullpen session on Friday since first experiencing the problem. At this stage, though, Eddie Guardado and Kazuo Fukumori are looking like appealing AL-only sleepers for saves. Guardado, who had Tommy John surgery in 2006, has pitched two shutout innings, while Fukumori, recovering from elbow surgery, has tossed four scoreless frames. AL-only owners must track the closer situation in Texas, as both health and performance could really hand the role to any of the four.
• Sleeper alert: Athletics prospect Gio Gonzalez threw three shutout innings on Thursday, bringing his spring total to five scoreless frames. He's still a long shot for a rotation spot straight out of camp, but that's not exactly a battle chock full of elite competitors. Even if Gonzalez begins the year in Triple-A ball, he's a name you need to know. And that includes you, mixed-league owners.
• So much for the Kevin Frandsen shortstop experiment. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Frandsen, initially expected to be the Opening Day shortstop following Omar Vizquel's knee surgery, will return to his traditional second-base role, also getting in "some time" at third base. Frandsen didn't adapt well to shortstop, committing three errors in five spring games at the position, though the news significantly decreases his fantasy appeal, perhaps to final-round NL-only consideration. It also leaves the shortstop position to a three-man battle of no-names: Brian Bocock, Emmanuel Burriss and Ivan Ochoa. All three are light-hitting speedsters, only for the desperate NL-only owner, and that's assuming one actually wins the role instead of the team seeking outside help.
• Among Friday games, if you get a chance to do so, make sure you watch the Twins-Red Sox game. It'll mark Francisco Liriano's spring debut, his first game action since Tommy John surgery in 2006. According to the Twins' official Web site, he's expected to throw between 40-50 pitches, and manager Ron Gardenhire believes the left-hander can get up to 80-100 pitches by the end of spring training. Beginning on Friday we'll be able to see whether all those glowing reports on Liriano's health are legit.
• Leave it to Dusty Baker to come up with a doozy of a quote. Check out this one, straight from the team's official Web site: "He needs to swing some more. I talked to him about that. ... I think a lot of this on-base percentage is taking away some of the aggressiveness of some of the young kids to swing the bat." The "he" Baker is referring to is Joey Votto, though the skipper lumped "three true outcomes" slugger Adam Dunn into the discussion later. Apparently Baker doesn't understand the value of Votto's patience; he's a .385 career on-base performer for his minor league career an approach that was responsible for him registering a .321 batting average and .908 OPS in 24 games of a late-season call-up for the Reds. Votto really doesn't need to change, but allow this to serve as the first official indication that he doesn't quite fall in line with the Baker game plan. It's a very real worry that youngsters might suffer in the Baker regime, and with contact hitter Scott Hatteberg his competition, Votto could by all rights be Triple-A bound.
• Speaking of rookie first basemen whose stock is dropping, the Athletics' official Web site reports that Daric Barton's hand injury is more serious than initially thought. He was sent for an examination and X-ray on Thursday after missing his fifth consecutive spring game. "I hurt it last year in a collision at first base and missed a couple of days," said Barton of the root of the problem. "Then I hurt it swinging again last week." Keep tabs on Barton's progress the next few days, as he was a sleeper as the projected everyday first baseman and No. 2 hitter to begin the season. Dan Johnson would stand to step in if Barton begins the year on the disabled list, not that he has done much to warrant fantasy consideration -- he's 3-for-19 (.158 AVG) for the spring.
• Pirates rookie Steve Pearce became the first player to three home runs this spring -- though Troy Tulowitzki joined him a couple of hours later -- when he took the Blue Jays' Dustin McGowan deep on Thursday. He's now 6-for-18 (.333 AVG) with 17 total bases for the spring, though there still might not be a spot for him on the Opening Day roster, not with Adam LaRoche at first base and Xavier Nady in right field. The Pirates should find room for Pearce before too long, though, so like the Athletics' Gonzalez, this is a name you need to know. Stash him on an NL-only reserve list.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
10hEthan Sherwood Strauss