Fantasy Camp Notes: Beckett's '08 debut on hold
• It's official; Josh Beckett won't make the trip to Tokyo, for the Red Sox's season-opening series March 25-26. Manager Terry Francona told the team's official Web site that he'll announce his rotation for those games on Monday, though speculation is that Daisuke Matsuzaka will start the first game, Jon Lester the second. Beckett made 25 throws from 60 feet and 10 from 75 feet on flat ground Sunday, and reported no problems with his back. He'll throw from 90 feet Monday, throw long-toss onTuesday, and perhaps return to the mound Thursday. Francona also effectively ruled Beckett out for the team's April 1-2 games in Oakland, calling that "a little bit too aggressive" a timetable. It's possible Beckett will begin the year on the disabled list, so don't be afraid to bump him down a couple spots on your draft list, perhaps out of the top 10 starting pitchers entirely. With his (pre-2007) health history, he's riskier than you think.
• Maybe I'm wrong about Carlos Zambrano. A top name on my "I don't want him on any of my teams" list, Zambrano tossed six innings of scoreless, one-hit ball against the Angels on Sunday. Now, it was the Angels' "B" lineup -- Dee Brown was the No. 3 hitter -- but that brings the right-hander to 15 innings, eight hits and two runs (one earned) allowed in four spring starts (0.60 ERA). Zambrano has ace-caliber fantasy talent, but that's not what worried me about him; it's his health. He showed some troubling trends in his command ratios in 2007, and was pretty inconsistent all year for an "ace." It's the first time that could be said about Zambrano, so while he's perhaps worth his current No. 73 average draft position, I'd also argue he's never been riskier in terms of a breakdown from all those early-career innings. I know, that argument sounds like a broken record, but what can I say, I'm stubborn. But at least I'm now ready to admit there's a point Zambrano can slip to in a draft where he needs to be picked; I'll put it in the No. 100 area.
• Put the smart money on Edinson Volquez winning one of the two open spots in the Reds' rotation (Johnny Cueto should get the other). With his five shutout innings Sunday, against virtually the Phillies' "A" lineup, Volquez should on paper be a member of the Opening Day rotation, registering a 3.46 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 13 spring frames. Consider this: Of the two youngsters' competition, Josh Fogg (2.08) is the only one with an ERA under 8.44. NL-only owners can feel free to take a chance on Volquez, a high-upside prospect from his Rangers days, though be prepared for some inconsistency, especially working in that ballpark. He's better left a speculative pick, not a guy plopped onto your pitching staff on a regular basis right off the bat.
• If you trust managers at their word, Lou Piniella on Sunday certainly seemed to tip his hand that Kerry Wood has all but wrapped up the Cubs' closer role. "Woody's making [the decision] easier, not tougher," Piniella told the team's official Web site. "Let's wait on that decision. But he's making it easy." Wood needed only six pitches to retire the side in order in his one inning of work Sunday, lowering his spring ERA to 3.86. Carlos Marmol, meanwhile, served up an Erick Aybar home run to boost his ERA to 1.29. According to the report, Wood's final test before probably being named the closer is to show he can pitch on consecutive days, something scheduled to occur this week. Marmol might be the more popular draft pick thus far, being picked 25th among relievers on average to Bob Howry's 35th and Wood's 38th, but perhaps those numbers should draw closer together. I'm still more sold on Marmol's stuff and ability to last an entire season as a finisher, but when it comes to saves, sometimes, it's all a manager's whim.
• We already knew Scott Kazmir won't pitch on Opening Day. On Sunday, Rays manager Joe Maddon told the team's official Web site that the ace left-hander "more than likely" will begin the year on the DL. "I'd rather miss just a couple starts early in the year than miss a couple months during the year," Kazmir said. "I just want to make sure we get it right." If you're adjusting your draft rankings, it's best to assume Kazmir misses 2-3 starts, based on Maddon's mid-April estimate.
• Don't overreact -- not yet -- but Jason Isringhausen was scratched from a scheduled appearance Sunday due to a stiff back, according to the Cardinals' official Web site. Ironically enough, the man who replaced him was also the very man who might someday supplant him as the team's closer, Chris Perez, who tossed two scoreless innings. The Cardinals completely downplayed the severity of Isringhausen's injury, but keep tabs on his health the next few days. Ryan Franklin and Russ Springer would be the most likely stand-ins should Isringhausen's back problems linger, though Perez, a candidate to crack the Opening Day bullpen, is an interesting, deep, deep NL-only sleeper.
• More from the "don't panic" realm: Jeff Francoeur was hit in the face by a pitch Sunday, though the Braves' official Web site reports that X-rays were negative and he had only lacerations on the inside of his lower lip. He said he might return to action as early as Wednesday or Thursday, depending on how quickly the swelling subsides.
• Don't Panic Part III or is it?: The Brewers scratched Ryan Braun on Sunday for the third time in four days due to lingering tightness in his right Achilles tendon. "We don't know what's bringing it on," manager Ned Yost told the team's official Web site. "It might be a new pair of shoes that he put on. It might be an exercise program that he was doing. He's got stiffness in his Achilles and there's no sense taking chances. I don't see it to be anything major." Braun will sit out split-squad games Monday and be evaluated each day thereafter. As a top-15 player overall in early drafts, he warrants close attention, though all indications are that the injury is minor.
• Sadly, money sometimes makes all of a team's decisions. Such is the case with the Twins and Livan Hernandez, guaranteed $5 million for 2008. He'll start on Opening Day, despite dreadful outings like Sunday's (six runs on nine hits in four innings) that have led to an awful 9.69 spring ERA. Fantasy owners might prefer it if both Philip Humber and Kevin Slowey cracked the Twins' rotation, but again, money talks. With Hernandez showing nothing of use last year or this spring, you really don't want him.
• Pedro Martinez's spring debut was an impressive one, as he tossed four scoreless innings, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out four Tigers on Sunday. "I'm right where I want to be," he told the Mets' official Web site. Scouts said Martinez hit 90 mph on the radar gun but generally worked in the high 80s, but apparently his transition from flame-thrower to pitcher is progressing nicely. Another outing or two like this and he'll cement his status as one of the better comeback candidates of 2008.
• The results weren't nearly as good for the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang, who allowed four runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings Sunday. Still, as he explained to the team's official Web site, he has spent the spring experimenting with his pitches, in particular his slider and changeup. That Wang struck out seven hitters helps demonstrate that; it was the inclusion of his slider largely attributed to a 10-strikeout start last June 17, and his 5.07 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio from that turn forward were a vast improvement upon his 3.83 lifetime K/9 rate. In other words, don't fret about the right-hander's spring statistics, now an 8.44 ERA and 1.97 WHIP in four starts. If he kicks up his strikeout total even a notch, perhaps to the 125 area, Wang's fantasy owners won't have any complaints.
• It's probably safe to say at this point that Chad Tracy, who is recovering from microfracture knee surgery, will be no better than a pinch hitter/option off the bench, and that's if he makes the Diamondbacks' Opening Day roster at all. According to the team's official Web site, he participated in defensive drills, though he didn't perform any fielding activity requiring lateral movement. Tracy has taken batting practice all spring, but it's clear he's not ready to play in the field, limiting his usefulness to a National League team. Mark Reynolds seems pretty safe to start on March 31, and I'd argue he's probably going to be the team's starting third baseman through the month of April (perhaps longer).
• Though Brian Giles' spring debut, a scheduled pinch-hitting appearance, was rained out Sunday, he's expected to be in the starting lineup for Monday's spring contest. He told the Padres' official Web site that he expects to play "three or four innings and have two or three at-bats." Giles, like the aforementioned Tracy, is coming off Oct. 3 microfracture knee surgery, though he has made better progress in his rehabilitation to date. Unfortunately, what Giles doesn't have in common with Tracy is much upside, as at age 37 he's barely a double-digit power source and is more of an on-base percentage/runs scored contributor. NL-only owners can take Giles as a fourth/fifth outfielder if he continues to progress, but don't expect much more from him.
• Freddy Sanchez finally has a tentative date for his return to the field: Tuesday. Manager John Russell told the Pirates' official Web site that Sanchez, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, should be back at his traditional second base position no later than Wednesday. It's too early for fantasy owners to worry about Sanchez's inability to play the field, and the Pirates remain unconcerned themselves. But the thing to remember is that by Opening Day, the team loses the option of the designated hitter, where he's getting his at-bats to date. If he suffers a setback in the next few days, be concerned.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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