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Over the course of a week, the Orioles have perfectly demonstrated two fantasy maxims: Young pitching prospects can be incredibly exciting, but at the same time young pitching prospects can be entirely unpredictable.
Tuesday's lead story fell in the "incredibly exciting" department. Rookie Brian Matusz, the No. 4 pick overall in the 2008 amateur draft, defeated the Tigers in his major-league debut behind five innings of one-run, six-hit, five-strikeout baseball. All the kid does is win, win, win. It's his eighth win in his past nine starts between the majors and minors and his 10th consecutive winning decision.
That's a far better first impression than the team's previous debut dandy, Chris Tillman, who lasted but 4 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on seven hits to the light-hitting Royals on July 29. Tillman then followed that up with six innings of five-run, seven-hit baseball at Detroit on Monday night. It's easy to say he's not off to a stellar start to his career. Oddly, Tillman was regarded by some -- Baseball America for one -- as the more talented prospect of the two heading into the season, which only underscores the unpredictability of rookie pitchers.
There's little doubt that the Orioles have a bright future, not only behind such starters as Matusz and Tillman (and eventually Jake Arrieta and Brandon Erbe), but also their young, more-advanced hitting core of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold. Fantasy owners, though, care only about the now, and the reality of things is that these guys reside in the American League East where the competition is as stiff as anywhere in the game, particularly for a pitcher. A quick scroll through the statistics will tell you that the AL East's three best teams (Yankees, Red Sox and Rays) all rank among the game's top five in runs per game and OPS, and the fourth best team (Blue Jays) is in the top 10 in both categories.
Guess how many of the Orioles' 56 remaining games come against AL East foes? Thirty-one, or 55.4 percent. That's quite a lot.
Based on their upside, their burgeoning offense and their combined 2.28 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 9.4 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio in the minor leagues, Matusz and Tillman easily warrant AL-only and deep mixed league consideration. But be prepared for some blips; Tillman's example best exemplifies that.
• Matusz's Tuesday opponent was another pitcher making a debut of sorts, as Jarrod Washburn was making his first appearance as a member of the Tigers. It didn't go so well. He served up two home runs, only the third time all year he allowed multiple home runs (last time: July 1 at new Yankee Stadium), six runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings, registering a game score of 32 that was his worst since a May 18 start against the Angels. This is the kind of thing that'll happen to Washburn from time to time in Detroit, as he no longer has Safeco Field to expand his margin for error, but at least he's now backed by a middling offense as opposed to one of the worst in baseball. Win potential up; ERA potential down.
• Yusmeiro Petit had the night of his career, tossing seven no-hit innings and going eight shutout frames of one-hit baseball. That comes on the heels of a win against the Phillies in which he tossed six shutout innings, striking out eight, enough to hint at a little matchups appeal. Petit's greatest drawback is that he's an extreme fly-ball pitcher, so against loaded offenses or in bandbox ballparks, he's a clear no-go.
• The Cubs said at the time they announced Tom Gorzelanny's promotion from the minors that he'd get three starts to prove his worth, and start No. 1 was certainly a step in the right direction. He tossed 7 1/3 innings limiting the Reds to one run on three hits to win his Cubs debut, and while the matchup was actually an easy one (even though it was at Great American Ball Park), it's a promising sign. Gorzelanny might be the kind of pitcher who needs to have pinpoint accuracy in any given start to succeed, but he's in a lot better situation now than in Pittsburgh, especially with the Cubs' offense noticeably more potent. NL-only owners can scoop him up.
• Sticking with the theme of recently traded pitchers, Justin Masterson might be a member of the Indians' rotation as early as next week, according to the team's official Web site. Thanks to Masterson's throwing 46 pitches and three shutout innings in relief this past Saturday, manager Eric Wedge believes the right-hander might be ready to start by the next time through the rotation. Masterson made 15 starts between this and last season for the Red Sox, and managed a 4.03 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. There's matchups value in a pitcher like that, and his ground-ball tendencies do make him a bit less risky than the average starter. Still, the move from Boston to Cleveland does hurt him substantially in the run-support department.
• Gordon Beckham kept up his hot hitting, going 2-for-4 with one home run and two RBIs. He now has seven multi-hit games in his past eight contests and 29 RBIs in his past 32 contests. He's excelling at the every aspect of the game that he was expected to, like batting average (he's hitting .316), and the RBIs are coming as a result. (He just happens to be excelling a little earlier in his career than anticipated.) Plus, Beckham has settled nicely into the No. 2 spot in the Chicago order, so the runs scored should begin coming in bunches.
• Coming off back-to-back impressive road starts at the Yankees and Red Sox, Gio Gonzalez shut down another strong offense, holding the Rangers scoreless for 6 2/3 innings. In those three starts, he has a combined 18 2/3 innings, 21 strikeouts and only allowed four runs on 10 hits. Remember that Gonzalez was once considered one of the best prospects in baseball, and at age 23 he has plenty of room for growth. AL-only owners would be foolish to ignore his hot streak.
• Jose Reyes' season might be in jeopardy, as the Mets' official Web site reports that the starting shortstop has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation and returned to New York to have his leg examined on Tuesday. He's experiencing persistent discomfort, and with only 56 games remaining in the Mets' schedule, there's a very real chance he'll be shut down at some point in the coming weeks.
Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Even spacious Citi Field can't contain this guy. Pujols went 4-for-5 against the Mets, but more importantly belted two home runs with five RBIs as the Cardinals rallied to victory in extra innings. They weren't cheapie homers, either; the first landed in the container that houses the apple, high over the 408-foot sign in center field, and the second was a grand slam over the 384-foot sign in left-center.
Jonathan Sanchez, Giants
Mr. "Near Perfect Game" was rolling again, not close to a perfecto mind you, but still worthy of seven shutout innings of four-hit, eight-strikeout baseball. Most notably, Sanchez now has two quality starts in his past three games on the road, and the one that wasn't was a Coors Field game, so we'll cut him a break. Before those three starts, his career ERA on the road was 5.89. Now it's 5.46; it's progress.
That's the Rockies' record under new manager Jim Tracy, as he becomes the first manager in history to win 40 of his first 60 games after taking over a team that was 10 games or more below .500. On the day Tracy was named skipper, May 29, it sure looked like Colorado was going to be a trade deadline seller, and primed to promote all its young prospects (Eric Young Jr.!), right? Not so today. The Rockies are now a team to be taken seriously, both in the real game and fantasy.
• Guerrero wasn't the only notable fantasy name to return from the DL on Tuesday. The Mariners activated Adrian Beltre and started him at third base and in the No. 5 spot in the lineup. He was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, showing his rust, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt for at least a few more games. The original timetable for his recovery from June 30 shoulder surgery was six to eight weeks, and he returned in exactly five. Seattle designated Chris Woodward for assignment to pave the way for Beltre's return.
• The Tigers recalled Wilkin Ramirez from Triple-A Toledo and inserted him directly into the leadoff spot on Tuesday, and he rewarded them with an 0-for-3, one-strikeout effort. He homered in his first major league at-bat on May 20, but was demoted two days later, so we'll see whether he's up for good. It probably has a lot to do with whether Carlos Guillen will be able to return to left field this weekend as he plans. Unless, of course, the team just shifts Ramirez into Guillen's current DH spot. Ramirez has the bat to help AL-only owners if he gets regular playing time, so keep an eye on his role the next few days. Reliever Casey Fien was demoted to Toledo to clear room on the roster.
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AJ Mass: I think it's Nunez. At the very least, there's no rush to change his role. Lindstrom will eventually get a few saves, but for now, I think he's still (option) 1B.
-- Full chat transcript
Wednesday's fantasy chat schedule:
Tristan H. Cockcroft, 11 a.m. ET
Eric Karabell, 3 p.m. ET
• In his first start since joining the Padres' organization, Aaron Poreda surrendered five runs on six hits in four innings for Triple-A Portland. He had been pitching effectively both in the White Sox's minor league system, with a 2.54 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 13 starts combined between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, and had a 2.45 ERA in 10 relief appearances for the White Sox, before his inclusion in the Jake Peavy trade. One bad start doesn't kill Poreda's fantasy potential, but the Padres might opt to keep him in the minors until Sept. 1 before giving him a crack at their beleaguered rotation.
• Speaking of the White Sox, they have another premier pitching prospect, as Dan Hudson won his sixth consecutive start for Double-A Birmingham, extending his scoreless innings streak to 28 after six innings of three-hit shutout ball. He has breezed through three minor league levels and combined for a 12-5 record, 2.19 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 142 K's in 123 1/3 innings in 21 starts. While he's probably not quite close enough to be a factor for the big club this year, Hudson has surely put himself well in the White Sox's plans for 2010.
• Travis Wood had another stellar outing, tossing seven shutout innings and allowing only three hits for Triple-A Louisville. He has a 2.89 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in his first three starts for the team, after going 9-3 with a 1.21 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 19 starts for Double-A Carolina. Wood wasn't widely considered an elite prospect heading into the season, but with his performance this year he has probably elevated himself to a spot-start candidate should the Reds find themselves in need in the coming weeks.
• The Royals have summoned Kyle Davies from Triple-A Omaha, where he was 4-2 with a 2.14 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in eight starts. He'll battle a Mariners team that has averaged 3.4 runs per game with a .674 OPS since the All-Star break, numbers that support his being an excellent spot-start candidate.
• Rookie sensation Tommy Hanson will get a cakewalk matchup in a start at Petco Park, where the Padres have averaged 3.1 runs with a .653 OPS in their past 18 games. Expect another solid outing from the young right-hander.
• For more on Wednesday's games, check out Daily Notes.