Commentary

Fantasy Camp Notes: Eastern Bias

Updated: March 16, 2008, 10:22 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Here's some of the latest news from around spring training, and what it means from a fantasy point of view:

• It was the rare case where even though nobody won, everybody won. The Dodgers and the Padres played to a 3-3 tie in China, this morning, but made many new baseball fans in the process, according to the Dodgers' official website. "To see this ... takes my breath away," Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said before the game. "If we do as well as I think, people will say this is how it all started." From a fantasy standpoint, though, there's not much to report. Many of the names in the lineups for the two teams were as unfamiliar to fantasy owners as they were to the 12,224 fans in attendance. However, Chan Ho Park did get the start for the Dodgers and threw five innings of one-run, one-hit ball and may have done enough this spring to claim the fifth spot in the Dodgers' rotation.

[+] EnlargeElijah Dukes
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesWashington will put up its ... I can't do it.
Wily Mo Pena will start the 2008 season on the disabled list, instead of in the National's outfield, thanks to a Grade 2 strain of his left oblique, according to the team's official website. There is a significant tear in the muscle, and it could take four weeks or even more to heal. Pena was understandably disappointed with the news. "It's not good," Pena said. "I have to work hard to come back. They say I'll be out a month. I want to come back before that. I'm going to be thinking about being on the disabled list the whole day. I called my family and they were sad, too. This was my first opportunity to play every day. Now, I have to wait and see what's going to happen." Plan B for the Nationals is Elijah Dukes, who hit 10 home runs in very limited action for Tampa Bay last season. Dukes, however, gave his team a scare on Friday when he suffered a right hamstring strain against Cleveland. Luckily, this injury isn't considered too serious, and Dukes is now listed as day-to-day.

• Have no fear, Dice-K is here! Josh Beckett looks like he's not going to be able to go to Japan for the season's opening series, but Daisuke Matsuzaka says he needs one more start this spring and he'll be ready to go. The Red Sox' team website quoted Matsuzaka as saying, through a translator, "In terms of the four games that I've pitched so far, I feel that things are coming along well. As I've said before, I'm a slow starter." Indeed that seemed to be the case on Friday, as Dice-K threw 25 pitches in the first inning, before settling down for four innings, giving up only four hits, two runs, no walks and striking out two. Manny Ramirez also appeared ready for the games to start counting, crushing a 400-foot-plus home run to help Boston beat Baltimore 7-4.

Not all of Boston's roster is ready to go full speed ahead. The Red Sox' Web site also reports that Coco Crisp still isn't anywhere near ready to play. "The last three days have been good," Crisp said. "Solid progress. Before that, it was going slow. For some reason, I don't know, it sped up the last few days. I was able to jog around. I started batting practice in the cage and going outside, and I had a full workout today." Jogging may be progress, but Crisp is still unable to sprint, and a brisk jog is only going to get you thrown out when attempting to run the bases, so I think it's safe to say he's still a ways off. That not only gives us the confidence to declare Jacoby Ellsbury as the winner in the center field competition, but also likely means Crisp will start the season in a Boston uniform. Without a chance to showcase Crisp this spring, it's hard to imagine they'll find anyone willing to part with too much in return for him.

Rich Harden looked much more like the 2005 version of himself in Friday's start against the White Sox, according to the Oakland Athletics' team website. After giving up six runs in six innings in his first two spring outings, Harden held Chicago hitless for 4-2/3 innings, before leaving the game after the fifth having given up only one run on one hit. Harden faced a lineup primarily filled with the White Sox expected everyday lineup, including Jim Thome, Nick Swisher, Paul Konerko and Josh Fields. Although Harden did walk four batters, including Jermaine Dye twice, it certainly was a huge leap forward from his previous outings.

• The hammer of justice dropped quickly for those involved in the Rays-Yankees bench-clearing incident earlier this week. The Yankees' team website reports that Yankees first baseman Shelley Duncan and center fielder Melky Cabrera were suspended for three games and Tampa Bay outfielder Jonny Gomes two games for their roles in the fracas. The suspensions would begin at the start of the regular season, but of course, that wouldn't be true if they're appealed. So while such a minimal suspension won't have any effect on these players' fantasy values, if you do draft them, don't simply assume they're missing these games at the start of the season. The worst thing you could do is to leave them out of your first week's lineup, only to have them file an appeal and knock the cover off the ball while you have them on your bench. Even worse, after you put them into your lineup the following week, the suspensions may actually kick in, and you pay the price again. Again, not telling you to avoid them based on this news, just alerting you to the fact you're going to have to pay extra close attention.

[+] EnlargePhil Hughes
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarRemember folks. Phil is still just a rookie.
Phil Hughes got his first taste of failure this spring, the Yankees' website reports. After pitching five hitless innings so far this spring, Cincinnati lit the right-hander up for four runs on nine hits in 2-2/3 innings, including five doubles. "He struggled with command of his fastball," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He figured out a way to get out of some innings later on with his changeup and getting ahead in the count. He just didn't have the command that he's had all spring. That's going to happen." Still, Hughes was very pragmatic about the poor outing. "It's better to get it out of the way now than in the regular season, I guess," Hughes said. "It was kind of a rough day."

• Part of the reason the day was indeed so rough was Reds' outfielder Corey Patterson who went 3-for-4 to raise his spring batting average to .462. Patterson is making it very easy for Dusty Baker to give him a starting outfield job over both Ryan Freel and Jay Bruce. Neither Bruce nor Freel are going down without a fight however, as both players had two hits against Pittsburgh in a split-squad lineup in Bradenton. Bruce and Freel are each hitting better than .300 this spring. Still, with Baker's penchant for going with veterans over unproven youngsters, and his comment to the Chicago Tribune earlier this week that "(Patterson) hasn't scratched the surface of his abilities and he is one of the fastest runners in baseball," I think we all know how this is going to shake out.

• Where's the Boof? According to a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the slimmed-down version of Boof Bonser is turning a lot of heads this spring. The combination of losing around 30 pounds and a returned confidence in his changeup has really pleased Ron Gardenhire. "Bonser was good ... very good,'' the Twins manager said. "He threw a lot of strikes." Gardenhire was referring to Friday's game against Pittsburgh, where Bonser threw four shutout innings, giving up three hits and a walk, and lowered his spring ERA to 3.00. Since most of the concerns the Twins had with Bonser during last season's 8-12 record with a 5.10 ERA had to do with endurance, perhaps the new "Lean Boof" won't need to be sent to the minors.

AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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