AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez
People forget that Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is only 24 years old. He played in the big leagues the same season he was the fourth overall pick, and batted .397 in 20 games. Expectations tend to get blown out of proportion with a start like that, those that a franchise leader and potential fantasy cornerstone can't reach.
Of course, hitting safely in 22 consecutive games, and 23 of 24, is a good way to get those expectations back up.
Zimmerman is one of the hottest hitters in the big leagues, getting a hit in every game for nearly a month, culminating in his career-best four-hit performance Monday as the Nationals won back-to-back games for the second time this season. Zimmerman hit a pair of doubles against the Houston Astros, knocked in two runs and scored three, and is hitting a season-high .333. He again looks like the emerging star that finished second for top NL rookie honors in 2006.
Talking about Zimmerman performing at a high level is a nice change from the past few seasons. His batting average dropped to .266 as a sophomore in 2007, and he missed 56 games in 2008 with a torn labrum in his shoulder. In most fantasy leagues this season he wasn't selected as a top-10 third baseman, and his draft spot in ESPN average leagues was outside the top 100. Still, we remind people he's only 24, just two years older than rookie teammate Jordan Zimmermann, the future ace who will be given a pass if he struggles this season.
Despite the impressive hitting streak, which is the third-longest in the franchise's illustrious history, power potential and durability remain concerns. While getting another Derrek Lee at a corner infield slot would be OK, fantasy owners can still hope for more, and it appears they could be getting it. Zimmerman got a hit in all but one April game but in only six of them did he produce multiple hits, as his batting average was .289; he has started May with eight hits in 12 at-bats. Zimmerman hit five home runs in April, and turned them into 16 RBIs, a pace for better than a 30-100 season, but 15 National Leaguers have more RBIs, so it's natural for Zimmerman's month to fall a bit under the radar. Don't let it. He always looked like a future Scott Rolen to me, and remember how consistent a run producer Rolen was before injuries derailed him.
Nationals fans are hoping their two young Zimmermans -- well, a Zimmerman and a Zimmermann -- can electrify others. After Monday's game, outfielder Elijah Dukes noted "You got to give credit to Zimmerman for staying in there and giving us hope. He was hitting, hitting and everybody was [thinking] they might as well join him."
Maybe Zimmerman can do this for your fantasy team as well.(Matthew and Nate play the Name Game with Ryan Zimmerman on the Fantasy Focus podcast .)
• It was a scary collision in St. Louis as Cardinals center fielder Rick Ankiel lost a battle with the center-field wall making a catch on a Pedro Feliz deep drive. Ankiel crashed headfirst into the fence and was carted off the field wearing a neck brace. X-rays and a CT scan of his head, neck and back showed no fractures, but it's reasonable to assume Ankiel will miss the rest of the week and could end up on the DL. First, we all hope Ankiel is OK, but from the less-important fantasy angle, look for rookie Colby Rasmus to make good use of the extra playing time. Ankiel, off to a slow start with two home runs, 11 RBIs and a .247 batting average, is owned in 74 percent of ESPN standard mixed leagues. Rasmus is hitting .266 in 64 at-bats and is owned in 2.6 percent of leagues. Watch
• Carlos Zambrano will miss up to three weeks after suffering a strained left hamstring trying to beat out a bunt Sunday. Fantasy owners don't get pitchers' hitting stats, but we sure do suffer when pitchers end up on the DL from hitting or running. Zambrano remains a buy-low option, having allowed more than three earned runs in only one of his six starts and posting a good strikeout rate. This isn't the arm injury we've been waiting years for, so don't panic.
• A day after making his major league debut against nasty Justin Verlander, Matt LaPorta found lefty Brian Tallet more palatable, as he whacked a seventh-inning home run for his first big league hit. Expect many more. LaPorta might or might not be the regular left fielder, probably depending on his and David Dellucci's performance, but there's no question he has power. After two games, the home run is his lone hit in seven at-bats. Watch
• Francisco Liriano delivered his best start of the season, striking out nine Tigers over 7 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and earning his first win in six starts. Liriano walked three hitters but seemed to have better command than in recent games, using his fastball quite a bit less than normal, and more effectively. It's also possible he pitched more at ease getting run support; in Liriano's first five starts the Twins scored seven runs. While Liriano still doesn't look like the world-beater he was in 2006, he remains a wise buy-low option. Maybe the return of Joe Mauer is just what he needed. Watch
• Time for another update on everyone's favorite one-category fellas, the closers: Matt Capps of the Pirates has had a rough couple of days. On Sunday, he allowed five hits and two runs in a messy inning, and Monday he blew the save, giving up four more runs, the final three on a Rickie Weeks home run. Capps' job remains safe, but look for him to get Tuesday off. Meanwhile, Trevor Hoffman has saves in his past four appearances and hasn't allowed a run. In Canada, both closers blew ninth-inning saves. With Scott Downs unavailable, Brandon League was asked to complete a two-inning save. He didn't do it. Kerry Wood then gave up a Jose Bautista two-run single to send the game to extra innings. Wood's job is safe, but League might not get to close again soon when Downs is sitting. Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg seem back on track for the Cubs, George Sherrill closed out a four-run lead for the Orioles (would he have closed a three-run lead?), and as expected, Huston Street was back in there for Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, finishing a 9-6 win.
• Felix Hernandez hadn't allowed a run in his past two outings, and was 4-0, but the Rangers got 10 hits and six runs off him in six innings. Hernandez didn't walk anyone, and he fanned nine, but still, six runs is six runs, and it made his ERA rise more than a run. Blame the flu and assume this isn't the start of something bad. Hernandez wasn't the only strikeout starter to allow six runs: Javier Vazquez cruised into the sixth inning against the Mets, then permitted three home runs in the next two innings. He did strike out eight, though. Scott Kazmir gave up six runs as well, and fanned seven.
• Angels catcher Mike Napoli has reached base in 13 of his past 14 plate appearances, culminating in four hits -- two of them doubles -- Monday. Napoli was acting as the team's designated hitter, a good sign for future playing time if he continues to hit. Most catchers sit a day or two per week, but maybe Napoli can DH more and be like Victor Martinez, who plays first base when not catching. Napoli is hitting .364 with an OPS of 1.165, and he's been frisky on the basepaths, attempting five steals already. Sure, he's been successful only twice, but we give him credit for trying. Matt Holliday still hasn't tried any steals. Watch
Carlos Beltran, Mets
While most Mets hitters have struggled, notably Jose Reyes and David Wright, Beltran is certainly doing his job. He homered twice off Javier Vazquez on Monday, doubling his season total, knocked in four runs and got his batting average back to .400. Reyes stole two bases and Wright homered, so maybe Beltran's teammates will be helping him.
Zack Greinke, Royals
Fresh off giving up his first earned runs of the season, Greinke went the distance on a six-hit shutout against the White Sox, allowing six hits, no walks and striking out 10 for the third time in four outings. Greinke lowered his ERA to 0.40. I've been ready to call him this season's version of Cliff Lee, but is that selling the right-hander short?
Indians utility infielder Josh Barfield hit two singles in extra innings Monday, the second one being the game-winning RBI. He now has 11 hits in 18 career at-bats after the ninth inning, for a .611 batting average. No active player has a better mark in extra innings. If only Barfield, a career .263 hitter, could get his act together earlier in games. Hard to believe he had such a fine 2006 rookie season.
• With starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and his eyesight improved, the Rangers didn't need Max Ramirez anymore, so he was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City, and toolsy outfielder Greg Golson was brought up. Ramirez is starting to remind me of the Angels' Brandon Wood: His bat is ready for the bigs, and he keeps getting called up to the majors, but he rarely gets the chance to hit. Golson, once a top pick of the Phillies, brings speed and depth to the Josh Hamilton-less outfield, but shouldn't play much.
• Diamondbacks relief pitcher Tom Gordon, now 41, lasted three outings before pulling a hamstring and needing to be carried off the field Sunday. Gordon didn't pitch well, allowing three hits, three walks and four runs while getting five outs this past week. Arizona was hoping Gordon would complement Tony Pena as the main setup guy to closer Chad Qualls. Leo Rosales got the call from Triple-A Reno.
Click here for all of the latest MLB transactions.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Such a subjective question, because they're different kinds of players. That said, I think Fowler has already shown us he can succeed at this level, and LaPorta has not yet. Besides, I think it's a little tougher to fill those steals and runs scored, so I'd gravitate toward the Rockie. LaPorta's long-term ceiling is higher, but I'm not convinced yet that he's going to make an immediate impact. Might take him a little time.
-- Full chat transcript
Matthew Berry: Depends what you can get for him. Inge's power is legit and I expect a .270 average at the end of the year. If you get a crazy offer, sure, but I don't feel he is a fluke. He adjusted his batting stance and he has always hit better when not playing catcher.
-- Full chat transcript
Tuesday's fantasy chat schedule:
Jason Grey, 11 a.m.
Brendan Roberts, 3 p.m.
• Angels right-hander Ervin Santana made a rehab start for Class A Rancho Cucamonga, allowing three earned runs over 4 2/3 innings, walking none and striking out three High Desert Mavericks. Santana threw 60 pitches and reached 93 mph with his fastball. Santana's sprained elbow could be ready for the big league rotation in a week or two, and he's expected to make one more rehab start, at least. His good pal John Lackey is scheduled to make a rehab outing for Triple-A Salt Lake City today.
• Red Sox outfielder Rocco Baldelli and his left hamstring strain were on display at Triple-A Pawtucket on a rehab assignment, going hitless in three at-bats. Baldelli knocked in a run on a sacrifice fly. The most impressive PawSox player continues to be closer Daniel Bard, who registered his fifth save Monday. Bard has 25 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings, and while he shouldn't threaten Jonathan Papelbon's role in Boston, he could vault to next in line by September.
• For more on fantasy baseball's future stars, check out the minor league report Monday through Friday.
• I can't imagine how many eyes will be on Jeff Weaver as he makes his first start the second time around for the Dodgers. Weaver had a decent two-year run with L.A. in 2004-05, then his career pretty much fell apart. Max Scherzer is his worthy opponent, fresh off his best start of the season.
• Matt Garza and Edinson Volquez were terrific the last time we saw them, each permitting only one hit and no runs, while combining for 16 strikeouts. Garza faces the Orioles' Koji Uehara, who hasn't been bad, while Volquez has a tough matchup in Florida at Chris Volstad. By the way, Garza is 5-0 in six career starts against Baltimore. Let's see if he can keep that streak going on Cinco de Mayo.
• Check Daily Notes for more on Tuesday's games.