Print and Go Back ESPN.com: 2007 [Print without images]

Monday, March 5, 2007
FLB: Spring Training Notebook 3/5

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

• It's ... wheeze...I can't believe it, it's ... wheeze ... pardon me, I'm hyperventilating and ... wheeze ... I just can't get over how excited ... wheeze. That's right, Daisuke Matsuzaka made his first appearance in a spring training game for the Red Sox last Friday, facing that legendary band of sluggers, the Boston College Eagles. Dice-K allowed a double on his very first pitch, then retired the next six guys he faced, striking out three. I saw it, and frankly, it wasn't that impressive. He never topped 92, and his slider was fine, but not nasty. Word is that the Japanese import was still taking it easy, and that no gyroballs were unleashed. Breathlessly tune in Tuesday, when Dice-K faces Toronto.

• St. Louis centerfielder Jim Edmonds hit off a tee last Thursday and Friday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but he's reportedly not close to his spring debut. The Dispatch reports that "the Cardinals are optimistic (Edmonds) will be ready for Opening Day," but he'll certainly need to start playing soon for that to happen.

Josh Johnson, who's fighting elbow pain, had an MRI taken this weekend on his rotator cuff and labrum, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that "major problems" have been ruled out, and that Johnson is suffering from an "irritation of the ulnar nerve." The paper also mentions that "the worst case scenario for Johnson ... has him missing the entire season." Ick.

Rich Harden looked awesome in his spring training debut against San Diego, striking out five batters in just two innings. There's every chance in the world Harden breaks down again this year, but 2007 could also be the season he finally puts it together and dominates. It's going to take stones to draft him, and you know someone in your league will take a high-round chance on him. He'll either reward or devastate.

• The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Rafael Soriano missed Sunday's spring training game due to "stiffness." That was going to be his first outing of the spring; it's unknown what exactly is wrong, or when Soriano will be back.

• The Palm Beach Post reports that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria wouldn't guarantee that Dontrelle Willis or Miguel Cabrera still would be with the club at the end of the season. "Guaranteeing they'll be here at the end of the year...?" Loria said. "I never answer those types of questions." A trade to another team might increase Willis's value, depending on whether the Marlins take a step back in '07, but it's hard to see a circumstance where a trade isn't good for Cabrera, given his current ballpark.

• ESPN's own Jayson Stark reports that the long-rumored Aaron Rowand-for-Scott Linebrink deal likely won't happen, because the Phillies aren't interested anymore. The team wants to keep their centerfielder, and hitting coach Milt Thompson says Rowand's broken ankle last August "may turn out to be a blessing in disguise, because (when he was working to come back) he couldn't jump at the ball. And when he hit all winter, he was able to hit the right way."

Kyle Lohse drilled former Twins teammate Torii Hunter in the helmet with a pitch last Friday, which some might claim was malicious, except it's a stretch to say Lohse ever knows where the ball's going. Anyway, Hunter was down for a couple of minutes, having suffered a mild concussion, but he'll reportedly be OK.

• Oh, the humanity. Brad Lidge gave up four runs in the seventh inning against Detroit on Friday. True, he came back and threw a perfect inning Sunday against Washington, but in my opinion, drafting the current Astros closer is an absolute sucker bet; there's no way he gets as long a rope as he did in his terrible 2006, and Dan Wheeler is coming off a solid butt-saving season during which he racked up nine saves. Incidentally, included in the Friday damage of Lidge was a two-run shot by Cameron Maybin.

Felix Hernandez gave up two hits and a run in two innings on Friday against the Padres. His physique looks a lot less, er, Homer-Simpson-esque this year, and he's set to be the Mariners' Opening Day starter. Remember, Hernandez is still just 21 years old.

• The Baltimore Sun reports that Daniel Cabrera struck out two and walked none in two innings during Saturday's spring training game. Don't get hysterical here; remember, Cabrera was good in last spring's World Baseball Classic, and went on to one of the most frustrating fantasy seasons (104 walks in 148 IP, a stint in the minors) in recent memory.

• The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that David Eckstein sat out last Friday's game for the Cardinals after "experiencing soreness in his side," and that he'll miss about two weeks of spring training. While the soreness reportedly cleared up a bit over the weekend, remember, Eckstein missed about a month with an oblique strain last season.

• The Cincinnati Post reports that Ryan Freel missed Sunday's exhibition game because he hurt his left wrist playing the outfield on Saturday. No word on how much more time he might miss; Freel is definitely injury-prone, so don't overpay to get his stolen bases.

• Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy told reporters last Friday that Freddy Sanchez is going to stay at second base for the Pirates, despite the fact that Sanchez started just 18 games there last year, compared to 92 at third and 27 at short. The Pirates have thrown open the 3B competition to Jose Castillo and Jose Bautista. The early money seemed to be on Castillo, but stay tuned. Castillo left Saturday's game with a sprained foot, after hurting himself sliding into second base against the Yankees. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Tracy said "a bone near the front of the foot was injured." By the way, Sanchez is already eligible to be drafted at 2B, but it's nice to know he'll be eligible there next year, too. With the position as weak as it is, Sanchez retains more value longer-term this way.

Sammy Sosa hit his first homer of the spring, off the Royals' starter Luke Hudson. He's not doing the folks who wish players like him and Barry Bonds would just disappear any good.

Mark Grudzielanek had to have an MRI on his sore left knee this weekend, and Kansas City Buddy Bell announced Sunday that Grudzy will have arthroscopic surgery because of torn cartilage in the knee. He's "sidelined indefinitely." Esteban German is the team's backup at three infield spots, so his value takes a jump.

• The Los Angeles Times reports that Jered Weaver still thinks he'll make his first big-league start of the season on time, though he probably won't be able to throw off of a mound this week. It's definitely good news that Weaver feels better, but I'm still not that optimistic about his fantasy prospects this year, on his second trip around the American League.

• Updating the Bobby Jenks situation in Chicago, according to the Chicago Sun-Times Jenks threw more than 20 fastballs in the bullpen this weekend, and should be able to pitch in a game early this week. He reported none of the shoulder soreness that knocked him out of a game last Wednesday.

John Smoltz struck out three for the Braves Friday against the Pirates, allowing just one hit. While Smoltz has struggled a bit each of the last two Aprils (.270 and .274 BAA and 3.64 and 4.09 ERA in those months, which for Smoltz is a letdown), he's focused on starting strong in '07. I still think Smoltz is a top-10 starter in mixed leagues, and one of the least-appreciated pitchers heading into 2007.

Matt Morris was bad on Saturday, allowing five hits and four walks, to go with seven runs, in just 1.2 IP. Remember, Morris ended 2006 with a 7.42 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP in the season's final month. Don't be fooled by the name or the big contract; Morris isn't the same guy as when he was pitching very well for the Cardinals. I'd stay away.

• The East Valley Tribune reports that Jeff DaVanon, whose ankle and shoulder are bothering him so badly that he can't play the field, might have to begin the year on the DL. Manager Bob Melvin says DaVanon can swing left-handed, but not right. "Until he can (swing and run)..., I don't know when he'll play," said Melvin.

• The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Boof Bonser was off, giving up three runs in just one inning on Saturday. The Twins' starting rotation continues to be of much fantasy interest, as the team still persists in the delusion that Sidney Ponson (who finally got his visa and is thus cleared to pitch in spring training games) and Ramon Ortiz should be in their rotation, and that Carlos Silva is cured of 2006's horrible-itis, which means several better, younger pitchers are battling for the fifth spot. Bonser still appears the safest bet, but be aware that Matt Garza was much stronger in his first spring start.

Gavin Floyd pitched well on Saturday in his first start as a White Sox, according to manager Ozzie Guillen. He threw three innings, allowing two hits and a run. One or two more outings like this, and he'll lock up the team's fifth-starter position.

Clay Hensley doesn't get much fantasy respect, but for better or worse, he's going to be San Diego's fourth starter to begin the year. His numbers weren't scintillating in his first go-round as a full-time NL starter last year (11-12, 3.71 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, .250 BAA and 122 Ks in 187 IP), but the 27-year-old late bloomer has a fine sinker, and if he cuts down on the walks (76 last year), he could become fantasy-relevant.

• A note for once-and-future Red Sox closers. Joel Pineiro looked like, mm, Joel Pineiro Saturday, giving up two walks, four hits and four runs in 1.1 IP, and it looked worse than it sounds. Chad Fox, come on down! Not that Boston has a ton of other good options at the back of their bullpen, but this Pineiro experiment can only end in tears. On the other end of the spectrum, last year's phenom closer Jonathan Papelbon was perfect in two innings Saturday, striking out four of his six opponents. He was awesome. And I stay on record as saying he'll be Boston's closer sooner rather than later.

• Speaking of young hurlers (and I don't mean Nicole Richie), Mike Pelfrey was strong Saturday, tossing two shutout innings against the Dodgers. The New York Times reports that Paul Lo Duca says, "He's got as good a stuff as I've ever caught." Hyperbole, Captain Red Ass? Anyway, given the sheer ugliness of the back end of the Mets' rotation, I don't think it's a stretch to say Pelfrey has an outside shot at making the big-league club. For sure, he'll see the bigs for a large chunk of 2007. Meanwhile, the Mets' other prized pitching prospect, Philip Humber, was racked for five runs in just an inning of relief on Sunday. Humber isn't as good a bet as Pelfrey for '07, especially since he's coming off an Arizona Fall League season in which he missed all but one start because of a sore shoulder.

Edwin Encarnacion has been hitting third in the Cincinnati lineup because of Ken Griffey Jr.'s mystery hand-fracture, and Junior probably has the emeritus title of "No. 3 hitter" in the Cincy clubhouse right now. But it would be fun to see what the kid 3B could do hitting higher up in the Reds' order, wouldn't it? Encarnacion continues to be one of my favorite surprise picks for '07.

Casey Kotchman was one of Sunday's notable hitters, drilling a homer off Chris Capuano for the Angels over the Brewers, and going two-for-three in the process. If he can stay healthy, Kotchman still can win the first-base job, though he'll have to go through Kendry Morales, Robb Quinlan, maybe Shea Hillenbrand and a minor-league cast of thousands. Still, Kotchman could be a nice story, recovered as he is from last year's bout with mono.

• Notre Dame wide receiver (oh, yeah, he's a pitcher now) Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs made his spring debut Saturday, and threw 97-mph gas. He broke two bats, and retired three batters in order. Samardzija is no threat to make the big-league club this spring, but his status as a cult hero is unquestioned. The Chicago Sun-Times reports Samardzija left the game to a standing ovation.

• MLB.com reported Sunday that Justin Duchscherer has been out with tendonitis in his pitching elbow. It's the same malady that caused Duchscherer to miss 42 games last year, so the Oakland setup man isn't as good a bet for holds and/or garbage saves as he's been over the past few seasons.

• Hey, did you hear the one about the billionaire relief pitcher? Matt White, a journeyman reliever trying to catch on with the Dodgers, purchased 50 acres of land for $50,000 from an elderly aunt who needed the money for a nursing home, according to the Associated Press. White had the land surveyed, and it turns out there are 24 million tons of stone under the land, stone that's used for upscale patios and sidewalks, and which sells for $100 per ton. Do the math, and that makes White seriously wealthy (his teammates have reportedly had fun calling him "The Billionaire" in the clubhouse). Now if White doesn't make the big-league club, he simply can storm into Dodger owner Frank McCourt's office and tell him he's fired.

Christopher Harris covers fantasy baseball, football and NASCAR for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.