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OK, that's a mouthful, but the three pitchers who stood out most indeed did meet all those qualifications. So that means that this fine morning, you can probably scoop up any one -- or all three -- of them in your fantasy league. And all of them have time to get even better.
But should you pick them up? Ah, that is the question.
Rick Porcello: If the name sounds familiar, perhaps it's because he was the Tigers' first-round pick in 2007, the No. 21 prospect overall as judged by Baseball America in both 2008 and 2009, and the No. 24 prospect in Jason Grey's preseason rankings this year. Porcello, a future ace-in-the-making, held the Mariners to one run on five hits and no walks in seven innings to earn his first career win, continuing to get a healthy share of ground-ball outs (11, compared to seven by air and three by strikeout). Not that he's a safe bet to do this every time out -- and let's not forget that the last 20-year-old Tiger to make the leap from high Class A ball to the majors, Jeremy Bonderman, lost 19 games with a 5.56 ERA and 1.55 WHIP as a rookie -- but Porcello is a special pitcher and one who can't be entirely written off. AL-only owners must add him, if only because his upside is huge. (Problem is, at his age, his downside is fairly substantial, as well.)
Ricky Romero: I wrote about him in this space after his previous start, and what I said then stands today. The only difference is that I'll amp up my advice from should-own-in-AL-only to must-own-in-AL-only and seriously-consider-in-all-mixed. It's not that I'm convinced that Romero is going to be this year's Cliff Lee, but his command has been as impeccable as could have been expected thus far, and if it keeps up, he'll qualify as one of 2009's bigger surprises. Romero has three quality starts, during which time he has recorded 28 ground-ball outs and 13 strikeouts compared to 20 air outs, a strong ratio.
Glen Perkins: Though he's a fellow first-rounder like the other two, Perkins was never really considered the potential elite prospect that Porcello is or that Romero was a couple years back. Still, he doesn't get a fair shake, despite boasting a career 3.49 minor league ERA and winning 12 of 26 starts as a rookie for the Twins last season. The problem with Perkins is that he reeks of matchups potential, with a career road ERA almost a run and a quarter higher than at home and mediocre numbers in past starts at hitter-friendly ballparks and/or against potent offenses. He's worth adding to an AL-only roster with his hot start, but mixed-league owners should continue to pick and choose his turns.
• Given a chance to close since Carlos Villanueva apparently was unavailable after throwing 25 pitches on Saturday, Todd Coffey nailed down a 2 2/3-inning save, his first of the season. He now has 9 2/3 scoreless frames on the season, a 0.93 WHIP and has held opponents to a .188 batting average, thrusting himself front and center into Milwaukee's late-inning picture. Not that Coffey has any guarantee of another save chance all season; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Trevor Hoffman will be ready to return to the closer role Sunday after making two minor-league rehabilitation appearances this week. However, in that same report, manager Ken Macha's comments hinted a possible changing of the guard setting up Hoffman: "Whether it's Coffey in the seventh and 'Villa' [Villanueva] in the eighth, or the other way around, we'll figure that out."
• Coffey wasn't the only "substitute closer" to appear in a game Sunday; he was just the most successful. Takashi Saito notched his first save of the season for the Red Sox, giving Jonathan Papelbon a day off after Papelbon worked both Friday and Saturday, though Saito allowed a run on two hits in doing it. It only reaffirms Saito's status as the next-in-line in case of Papelbon injury. Substitutes in San Diego and Washington, however, failed in their tasks, as Edwin Moreno served up a game-winning, two-run home run to blow his first chance for the Padres, while Saul Rivera allowed four runs on two hits and three walks to botch his first save opportunity and absorb his third loss. Neither Moreno nor Rivera can expect to get the next chance that doesn't go to Heath Bell or Joel Hanrahan; Moreno has Cla Meredith to tangle with and Rivera earned a ticket to Triple-A Syracuse with his stinker of an outing. The Nationals, in effect, have to keep trotting Hanrahan out there, unless they want to use Joe Beimel or Michael Hinckley for a situational save or (gasp) gamble on Julian Tavarez, who once briefly closed for the Pirates in 2003.
• Adam Jones, off to a red-hot start, batting .372 with two home runs and 12 RBIs, was removed from Sunday's game in the second inning with tightness in his right hamstring. The Baltimore Sun reports that Jones will sit out at least the Orioles' Patriots' Day game in Boston on Monday, but he claims it's nothing significant. "It's discomfort," said Jones. "That's all. There's no grabbing or anything. It's just tight. I can't stretch it."
• B.J. Upton left his Sunday game in the second inning with a slightly strained left quadriceps, but Rays manager Joe Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times that the injury isn't serious and the center fielder is day-to-day. Maddon stressed that he believes Upton will play in the team's opener of a three-game series in Seattle on Tuesday.
• Giants manager Bruce Bochy continued to tinker with his lineup on Sunday, shifting Fred Lewis to leadoff, Randy Winn to third, Aaron Rowand to fifth and Pablo Sandoval to sixth in the order. And just like in the previous three games with a "new" lineup, during which time the team totaled four runs scored, the Giants' offense struggled, scoring twice on seven hits. Sandoval's owners have to hope Bochy came out of Sunday's game unimpressed with the lineup, because Sandoval would be better off hitting third, and his 3-for-4 performance might ensure he's back there on Tuesday.
• Randy Johnson tossed six no-hit innings and finished with seven shutout frames of one-hit baseball in defeating one of his former teams, the Diamondbacks. Sure, he looked awful in his first two regular-season turns of 2009, but how many of the 6.9 percent of owners to cut him in the past week in ESPN.com leagues will be desperate to get him back today? The Big Unit had a standout spring and even at age 45 is capable of being one of the top 50 starting pitchers in fantasy baseball, if not better.
• Four games is hardly enough to get an accurate read on ballpark effects, but through four games at the new Yankee Stadium, there have been 84 hits, 59 runs scored and 20 home runs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 20 homers are a record for the first four games of a new big-league ballpark. There's already chatter that the new Yankee Stadium is shaping up as one of the more hitting-friendly environments in baseball -- and those numbers seem to make Coors Field pale in comparison -- and with the wider concourses and openings atop the grandstand, there might be some merit to talk that wind has a different effect than in the old ballpark. Don't radically alter your season strategy accordingly yet, but keep it in mind in the short term as daily matchups are concerned.
• One Yankee pitcher who did succeed in his matchup this weekend was A.J. Burnett, who went 6 1/3 innings and allowed only three hits and three runs. Of concern, though, were the seven walks, two homers and three wild pitches he threw, which brings back memories of his "wild-child" early-career days. Burnett ranks among the biggest health risks in baseball, so if those trends extend another couple starts, it might be time to worry.
Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
His two home runs Sunday represented only his second and third of the season. But after his 3-for-5, 5-RBI performance, he is batting .383 with 14 RBIs, begging the question: How much longer can the Dodgers keep him in the bottom half of the order? Batting seventh hasn't hurt Kemp yet, but we're begging Joe Torre to bump him up.
Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox
After back-to-back mediocre starts to begin 2009, Lester tossed seven shutout innings of four-hit baseball against the Orioles, returning to the form that made him one of 2008's greatest breakout stories. Something to tuck away for future reference, matchups-seekers: He's now 7-0 with a 2.45 ERA in nine career starts against the Orioles.
NUMBER OF THE NIGHT
18: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the number of home runs hit in the first four games at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, a record broken at the new Yankee Stadium (20). Great American has ranked among the top 13 home-run parks on the Park Factor page in each season of its existence, and among the top four in each of the past three years.
• Thanks to the 22-4 thrashing the Indians handed the Yankees on Saturday, New York needed fresh bullpen arms for Sunday's game. They demoted Anthony Claggett, who was pounded for eight runs in 1 2/3 innings in his big-league debut in that drubbing, to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and recalled Steven Jackson, not to be confused with the Rams' star running back. This Steven Jackson has much less fantasy value: think zero.
• Nelson Figueroa's spot start Sunday was apparently a one-and-done; the Mets designated him for assignment after the contest. They purchased the contract of left-hander Casey Fossum from Triple-A Buffalo to deepen the bullpen, but as the New York Post notes, Figueroa's removal from the roster is an encouraging sign that Mike Pelfrey (forearm) should be ready to take his next turn in the rotation on Saturday.
• In addition to demoting Saul Rivera, the Nationals effectively cleaned house following Sunday's game, demoting Josh Bard to Triple-A Syracuse and designating Steven Shell and Wilfredo Ledezma for assignment. The moves clear roster room for Jordan Zimmermann, set to make his major-league debut on Monday, as well as Justin Maxwell, Garrett Mock and Kip Wells. Besides Zimmermann, an obvious fantasy pickup where available, Mock warrants watching in deep NL-only formats.
-- Buster Olney's Blog
Jayson Stark: One thing you have to remember in any Jake Peavy trade rumor you start or read is this: He has a total no-trade clause. He holds every card. So I don't see him going to Texas. Sorry about that. It's the Cubs and Dodgers, and I'm not sure where else, although LA/Anaheim probably isn't out of the question. So any other team you hear or dream about probably isn't happening.
-- Full chat transcript
Monday's fantasy chat schedule:
Christopher Harris, 11 a.m.
Matthew Berry, 3 p.m.
• Mat Gamel hit his third home run of the season for Triple-A Nashville, and with his 1-for-3, 3-RBI performance he's now batting .436 with 14 RBIs in 10 games. He also committed his fifth error of the year, continuing to support the case that his bat is big-league ready, but his glove isn't (and might never be at third base). Bill Hall is performing respectably enough that Gamel isn't an immediate candidate for a promotion, but at this rate he'll be first on the list if the Brewers suffer any injuries at the corner infield spots.
• Michael Stanton homered for the third consecutive game for Class A Jupiter, and went 5-for-5 with four RBIs. He's a name you won't need to know in redraft leagues in 2009, but is one of the minors' top power prospects, having belted 39 home runs as an 18-year-old in Class A ball in 2008. Stanton has what they call "light-tower power," and while he might be two years away from playing for the Marlins, he's off to another hot start in the minors, batting .417. What will be interesting to see is whether his free-swinging ways -- he has 185 whiffs in 560 professional at-bats -- will catch up to him in Double-A and Triple-A.
• One good reason it was Nelson Figueroa, and not Jonathan Niese, who got the call for the Mets' Sunday spot start: Niese served up seven runs (five earned) on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings for Triple-A Buffalo, dropping him to 0-2 with an 8.76 ERA in three starts for the season. If the Mets lose Figueroa to waivers, that might press Niese into the next-in-line role for a rotation opening, but as things stand, he doesn't appear quite ready for it.
• Jordan Zimmermann might be making his big-league debut Monday versus the Braves, but among less-obvious pitchers making their first starts of 2009, Justin Masterson should catch fantasy owners' eyes. He has a 3.67 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in nine career starts and has tossed four scoreless innings in his career against the Orioles.
• Chris Young, the Diamondbacks outfielder and not the Padres starting pitcher, has three hits in nine career at-bats against Colorado's Jason Marquis, and each one of them is a home run. Young's career OPS at home is also 57 points higher than it is on the road.
• Check out Daily Notes for more on Monday's games.