Fantasy Camp Notes: Dodgers' third-base job now hazy
• Matt Diaz went 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI on Sunday, and he's now 11-for-24 (.458 average) this spring. Still, while manager Bobby Cox has praised Diaz's performance thus far, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Cox has yet to decide whether Diaz will be a regular or continue to serve in a left-field platoon. It's amazing that Cox is unaware, but those who know the numbers realize Diaz is better than a platoon mate; he's a lifetime .310 hitter with a .765 OPS against right-handers. Left-handed hitter Brandon Jones, by comparison, is 3-for-20 (.150) for the spring, hardly earning the better share of a potential platoon arrangement. It's a battle well worth tracking, because Diaz could be a cheap source of batting average and RBIs, particularly in NL-only formats, if he can guarantee himself 500 at-bats or more. I'll say this: He should get them!
• Don't count on Chad Tracy being in the Diamondbacks' Opening Day lineup. According to the team's official Web site, he's not expected to take live batting practice until March 18, putting his chances at being ready at less than 50/50. Tracy, who has been on blood-thinning medication since developing a blood clot below his surgically repaired right knee, will stop taking the medication on Friday and is expected to resume hitting. He's putting in a lot of effort in his rehabilitation, from all reports, but microfracture surgery is one of the tougher operations from which to recover. Tracy warrants late-round NL-only consideration, but he's too risky to push any higher than that.
• Brad Lidge, recovering from knee surgery, will throw a bullpen session Monday, according to the Phillies' official Web site. If all goes well, he'll throw another one Wednesday and then batting practice during the weekend. He's aiming to make his spring debut sometime next week, which would leave plenty of time for him to be ready for Opening Day. Check Lidge's progress this week, because these are critical days toward determining his and saves handcuff Tom Gordon's 2008 values.
• It's make-or-break time for Juan Gonzalez, who up to this point had been eating up a good share of at-bats at designated hitter. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told the team's official Web site that his team is done with the DH, no longer exploiting the waiver that allows its use during spring games. "[It] means Juan plays in the field," La Russa said of the team's plans looking forward. "He may be the regular right fielder." It's hard to imagine Gonzalez handling an everyday role in the field at his age (he's 38), but then who could've guessed Sammy Sosa would've made a roster out of camp a year ago? La Russa always seems to have crazy ideas up his sleeve -- some of them work -- so keep tabs on Gonzalez's role the next few days. Not that he's fantasy-worthy today, but Gonzalez could warrant an NL-only reserve pick if he cracks the Opening Day roster.
• Freddy Sanchez, limited to designated-hitter duties so far this spring as he continues his recovery from shoulder surgery, told the Pirates' official Web site that he hopes to return to his traditional second-base role in a week or two. Not that there's much reason for concern for fantasy; he hasn't reported any soreness in his shoulder and he's 9-for-23 (.391 average). If this helps create bargain status for Sanchez, hey, enjoy it.
• On tap Monday: Randy Johnson, recovering from back surgery, is expected to make his spring training debut, according to The Arizona Republic. "This is exactly where we kind of had it mapped out to be, but we weren't going to get too far ahead of ourselves," manager Bob Melvin said. Every report on Johnson thus far has been glowing, and Melvin notes his left-hander is right on schedule with his recovery, so bump him up a few spots on your draft list. Not that you should treat Johnson as a safe, top-half member of your pitching staff, though; he'll be an injury risk for the remainder of his career.
• The Arlington Heights Daily Herald has an interesting take on the battle for the Cubs' final two rotation spots; it says Jon Lieber is all but assured the No. 4 spot, with Ryan Dempster leading Jason Marquis in the race for the No. 5 spot. Whether Dempster is the No. 4 or 5 isn't important; he's indeed pitching like he'll be a member of the rotation, tossing four innings of one-run ball on Sunday. For the spring, he has allowed three runs on five hits and four walks in nine innings. I'd still prefer Dempster for fantasy if he were closing games as opposed to starting them, but NL-only owners can take a look at him as a late-round or reserve pick (think matchups status).
• Kyle Kendrick's disastrous spring continued Sunday, when he allowed six runs in two innings to bring his ERA to 16.43. He has allowed 14 runs on 19 hits in 7 2/3 innings, a troubling line for a pitcher who isn't known for being overpowering. Regardless, the Phillies' official Web site reports that he's already a member of the rotation, scheduled to pitch on April 3, the team's third game of the season. Kendrick's poor spring, coupled with the fact that he has to pitch half of his games at Philly's bandbox ballpark, makes him a poor bet as much more than an NL-only late-rounder. There's real reason for concern here.
• Sleeper watch: Following his perfect 10-pitch inning against Red Sox hitters Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew and Sean Casey on Saturday, Clayton Kershaw earned an invitation to big league camp, according to the Dodgers' official Web site. Manager Joe Torre raved about the performance, during which time the left-hander flashed his 97 mph heat and knee-buckling curveball, though the rookie is still considered a long shot to win the fifth starter role, currently slated to go to Esteban Loaiza. Torre stopped short of declaring Kershaw out of the race, though, which is interesting for fantasy. It means we'll probably see him in Los Angeles at some point midseason, so in addition to him being a great keeper-league pick, NL-only owners should track his progress the next couple of weeks, too.
• Sleeper watch, Part II: He's another pitcher likely to begin the year in Triple-A, but Wade LeBlanc also hasn't been entirely ruled out of his team's rotation battle, nor should he be. The Padres left-hander tossed three innings and allowed one run on Sunday, and to date has looked better than two other veteran rotation candidates: Shawn Estes (48.60 spring ERA) and Randy Wolf (16.62). With Mark Prior potentially beginning the season on the disabled list, the Padres will be looking for a stopgap to fill the fifth starter role, so keep an eye on LeBlanc. He's a long shot to break camp with the team, but might rank among the first pitchers called up in-season, making him an NL-only sleeper.
• Hideki Matsui made his spring debut Sunday, going 0-for-3 as a designated hitter in his first game action since November knee surgery. He had also battled a stiff neck last week, keeping him out of batting practice drills and causing the Yankees to take a conservative approach to his health. According to the team's official Web site, the Yankees will re-evaluate him Monday before deciding where to proceed from here, but all indications are that Matsui won't need long before returning to the outfield. Whether left field is his eventual destination, though, is another matter; the Yankees' defense is better with Johnny Damon in left and Melky Cabrera in center. That'd put Matsui at DH regularly and put him at risk to lose playing time to Jason Giambi, though, so be cautious putting a hefty investment in him until he proves healthy enough to man the outfield as needed.
• Bold words by Reds manager Dusty Baker over the weekend, suggesting to the Cincinnati Enquirer that rookie Johnny Cueto might be in his Opening Day rotation. "Who's looked better than him?" Baker asked. Cueto hit 97 mph on the radar gun with his fastball, mixing in 78 mph changeups and 87 mph sliders, while striking out four batters in three innings on Friday, and for the spring he has six K's in five frames. Beyond Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, the Reds' rotation is wide open, though Baker seems to like Matt Belisle for one of the three open spots. That puts Cueto right in the mix for the fourth or fifth spot, and he's more than up to the challenge. Fantasy owners need to start thinking about him, even as a mixed-league reserve or mid-to-late NL-only selection. With Jeremy Affeldt, Homer Bailey, Josh Fogg and Edinson Volquez seemingly his primary competition, Cueto stands a great chance at breaking camp with the team at this rate.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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