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First pitch in Fantasy already upon us

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Even though there are still several days of exhibition games left, Fantasy owners and baseball fans in general are about to get treated to some actual major league baseball games that count. A week before the Cardinals and Marlins kick off the rest of the regular season schedule on April 4, the Mariners and Athletics will meet up in Tokyo for a two-game set. Not only do both contests count toward the teams' regular season records, but in many of our Fantasy leagues -- including all of the free ones using Rotisserie formats with drafts prior to Wednesday -- the stats will count as well.

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Scott White has already covered the Fantasy implications of these games for hitters in Fantasy Week 1 (March 28-April 8), but this early series will have an impact on Fantasy pitching staffs, too. Most importantly, these games will take what would otherwise be a five-day Fantasy scoring period and stretch it into 12 days. Instead of there not being any two-start pitchers in Week 1, there could be as many as four.

Here's an overview of who will toe the slab in Tokyo, who won't and how it will matter in Week 1 and beyond.

Mariners

Starting pitchers

1. Felix Hernandez: King Felix will get the opening day nod Wednesday, and after a nine-day hiatus he will start the Mariners' first game back in the U.S., also against the A's. Though he failed to match the success of his 2010 Cy Young season last year, Hernandez is still a solid No. 1 starter for all formats. He would be a must-start anyway, but as a two-start option in Week 1, there is absoultely no reason to sit him in any league.
2. Jason Vargas: Vargas will get the start this Thursday, but he has not been penciled in for his second start of the year just yet. If he performs well in Japan, he could follow Hernandez again for the rotation's next cycle, which would put him on the mound against Oakland on April 7. That would make Vargas one of four two-start pitchers in Week 1. While he isn't always a viable start in standard mixed leagues, with the possibility of two starts he is worth a shot as a back-of-the-rotation option.

Rest of the rotation

3. Blake Beavan: The Mariners seem to have a thing for contact pitchers with good control and Beavan is practically the prototype. Though he will not start, Beavan will be on the active roster for the Japan series. He is merely an AL-only option but because he stands to pitch some innings out of the bullpen or maybe even get a start at Oakland instead of Vargas, owners in those formats should consider making Beavan active this week.
4. Kevin Millwood: Owners in all formats can bench Millwood in Week 1, as he will not be on Seattle's active roster for the Japan series and is unlikely to start in Oakland. Millwood had a nice comeback late last season with the Rockies, but he may just be keeping the seat warm until either Danny Hultzen or James Paxton is ready to make the leap from the minors later this year. For now, he is a low-end option for AL-only owners.
5. Hector Noesi: While Jesus Montero has received far more attention, Noesi was also an important piece received from the Yankees in exchange for Michael Pineda and minor-league pitcher Jose Campos. He fits the low-strikeout, low-walk mold that Beavan and Vargas typify, though he has a little more strikeout potential than either of them. In future weeks, Noesi could have some appeal in mixed leagues with the right matchups, but he will be inactive in Japan and is unlikely to start in Week 1.

Closer

Brandon League: League will reprise the closer's role that he took on last season. The sinkerballer relies more on ground balls than strikeouts to keep his ERA and WHIP low, but ultimately, he has the goods to be an effective closer. While his low K-rate makes him a borderline choice in standard mixed leagues, he is worth a start in Week 1. With four games against a light-hitting Oakland squad, League has a decent chance of notching multiple saves.

Key set-up and middle relief options

Shawn Kelley: Recovered from elbow surgery that limited him to 10 appearances in 2011, Kelley will fill a set-up role to start the season. He can help with strikeouts and holds, so Kelley is worth owning in deep leagues that use non-closers. He could also have some longer-term value should the Mariners deal League at some point this season. The team may have an incentive to do so, as League will become a free agent after the 2012 season.
Tom Wilhelmsen: After seven years away from affiliated ball, Wilhelmsen was one of last season's feel-good stories. He fared so well in his first major season that he is in a position to vie with Kelley for set-up duties in 2012. Wilhelmsen profiles as a future closer, but for now, he is merely an option in deep AL-only leagues.
Hisashi Iwakuma: The 30-year-old competed for a spot in the M's rotation this spring, but for now his future is in the bullpen. Opposing hitters batted .358 against Iwakuma this spring, so his first exposure to hitters since arriving from the Japanese Pacific League was not a pleasant one. He could have some value down the line if he becomes a starter, but Iwakuma could face a long road to get to that point. He also will not be on the active roster for the series in Tokyo.
Erasmo Ramirez: Ramirez didn't come to spring training with the profile or pedigree of prospects like Hultzen, Paxton or Taijuan Walker, but unlike the members of that trio, Ramirez walked away from camp with a big league roster spot. A starter by trade, Ramirez will move into the bullpen to start the season. If all goes well there, it could be Ramirez, and not Hultzen or Paxton, serving as the team's sixth starter and filling a rotation spot when a need arises.

Athletics

Starting pitchers

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1. Brandon McCarthy: Like Hernandez, McCarthy will start his team's first game in Japan as well as in the U.S. He didn't have a great spring (4.63 ERA), but given his overall performance last year, McCarthy should be trusted in standard mixed leagues this season. He certainly had the Mariners' number in 2011, posting a 1.99 ERA and 0.70 WHIP in four starts. With two starts against Seattle in Week 1, McCarthy is a must-start to begin the year.
2. Bartolo Colon: As quickly as Fantasy owners warmed up to Colon after his initial success last season, they grew distrustful of him as he struggled through a difficult second half. Many of Colon's problems last year were tied to his tendency to allow homers, but he gave up a disproportionate number of those at Yankee Stadium. Having moved out of that venue and out of the AL East, Colon should see fewer balls leave the park this season. He could be worth trying in standard mixed leagues again, and if nothing else, he is worth using as a two-start pitcher in Week 1.

Rest of the rotation

3. Tommy Milone: Milone may be a soft-tossing southpaw, but the higher up he rose in the minors, the more his strikeout rate grew. That won't necessarily hold in his first full major league season, but he has succeeded at every level due to sharp command. His penchant for inducing pop-ups ought to play very well at O.co Coliseum, known for its spacious foul territory. He should be a solid contributor in AL-only leagues and could be an option in deeper mixed leagues, especially during home stands. Forget about Milone for Week 1, though, as he will not be on the active roster in Tokyo and is unlikely to pitch at all.
4. Tyson Ross: With the A's stockpiling young arms this offseason, Ross slipped under the radar of many Fantasy owners early on in spring training, but he emerged quickly as a strong rotation candidate. In fact, he has surfaced as the team's No. 4 starter. Ross' time in the majors was cut short last year by shoulder and oblique injuries, but he was impressive over the 36 innings he pitched, curbing his tendency to issue too many walks. Owners can bench Ross for Week 1, but he should remain active in AL-only formats beginning with Week 2.
5. Graham Godfrey: The A's won't need a fifth starter until April 17, but for now, it appears Godfrey has won the job. That would put him in line to make his first start in Week 3, but the A's could decide to replace him with Jarrod Parker or Brad Peacock before then. Keep an eye on Godfrey's status, as he could be useful as a low-end option in AL-only leagues.

Closer

Grant Balfour: A's manager Bob Melvin took his time naming a closer this spring, but Balfour came away as the squad's ninth-inning man. Balfour has only 10 saves in his career, but he has done everything possible as a middle reliever to earn a shot at closing. The A's may not score many runs, but they may not allow many either, and the potential for frequent close contests could make Balfour a surprisingly popular reliever in standard mixed leagues.

Key set-up and middle relief options

Brian Fuentes: If experience alone qualified a pitcher to close, Fuentes would have won the job running away. Given his plunging swinging strike rate in recent years, it's not all that surprising that Melvin opted to go with Balfour instead. Fuentes should be able to pick up some holds, but unless he can start whiffing more batters again he won't be especially useful even in deeper leagues.
Fautino De Los Santos: The hard-throwing De Los Santos was in the closer's hunt for awhile, but he will go back to a middle relief role. If your team needs strikeouts and can afford to take a hit in the WHIP category, De Los Santos is your guy. However, he can be very wild, so even in deeper leagues that use middle relievers, explore all of your options before using him.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Angels pitcher Mike Morin tagged for three-run homer Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:14 am ET) Angels pitcher Mike Morin lasted just 1/3 of an inning Saturday in Los Angeles' 4-0 loss to the Astros. Morin served up a three-run home run to Robbie Grossman on a 1-0 pitch in the seventh, leading to the Angels' loss.

"We know the dimensions of the ballpark," Morin said. "I didn't execute the pitch -- bottom line."

Morin has posted a 4.91 ERA in 3 2/3 innings this season and may be fighting for a role with his struggles.

"I trust Sosh completely," said Morin. "It has nothing to do with that. I'll be ready day in and day out, whether it's the second inning or the 10th or the seventh. It's not weighing on my mind at all."


Rockies surprising 2B LeMahieu cranks first homer Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:45 am ET) Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu had his nine-game hitting streak to start the season snapped Friday night. He apparently didn't take too kindly to it.

LeMahieu, a hot hitter on a hot-hitting team, provided most of the offense in a loss to the Dodgers with a two-run homer in the seventh inning off standout right-hander Zack Greinke. The RBI give him eight on the year and the performance improved his slash line to an impressive .463/.476/.585.


Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis thriving early this season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:43 am ET) Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis has ripped through the first two weeks of the season with a bang, hitting .333 in 45 at-bats. Manager John Gibbons loves the way the rookie is playing this season.

"He's got the complete game, he really does," Gibbons said. "He was such a good hitter in spring training I thought to myself: 'This kid will hit some home runs in his career.' But he's shown a lot more power than I expected."

Gibbons is handling things at the plate like an old veteran, according to Gibbons.

"One thing he's got that's advanced for a young guy is he's got a great approach at the plate, he doesn't chase out of the zone much. He's got the ability to foul off tough pitches to stay alive and a lot of guys can't do that. And he handles breaking balls, at least fouls them off, and that's a big part of it. He stays alive and if they make a mistake he doesn't miss it. He's been very productive."


Blue Jays manager just fine with Kevin Pillar's aggressive style of play
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:38 am ET) Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has no issue with how outfielder Kevin Pillar attacks the game head on, reports the Toronto Sun. He will deal with the slight issues that comes with his aggressiveness.

"I love the fact that he's aggressive, he can pull off some catches that a lot of guys don't make," Gibbons said. "It depends on the situation, some balls you can't get to, them back off. But he's always had that mindset (to go get it) and that's what allows him to be so good and make those plays. A lot of guys don't. But he's smart enough too to know there's certain times he's got to back off too."

Pillar doesn't think he's overly aggressive.

"He believes he's going to make it, that's why he makes a lot of them," Gibbons added. "There's no hesitation with him at all. He's got a ton of confidence when he's playing that outfield, really in his whole game. When he's on the bases he's a confident kid too."


Adrian Gonzalez drives in three more for Dodgers on Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:37 am ET) The 2015 RBI Machine, otherwise known as Adrian Gonzalez, was at it again Saturday night.

The Dodgers slugger not only boasts a ridiculous batting average of .523, which actually went down in the game but he added three RBI to his total, giving him 14 in 11 games. He brought home a run with a fielder's choice in the third and singled in two in the fifth. Gonzalez owns an eye-popping slugging percentage of 1.045.

He has struck out just three times in 44 at-bats on the year.


Dodgers closer Peralta overcomes pain in neck to be pain in neck to Rockies
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) For a guy considered questionable to pitch with a neck issue, Dodgers closer Joel Peralta was certainly impressive Saturday night.

Peralta was a pain in the neck to the Rockies. He closed them down with a shutout inning, yielding only a walk along the way to notch his third save.

The right-hander has yet to surrender a run in six outings as he holds down the role for the injured Kenley Jansen.


Rockies starter Lyles can't compete against Greinke in defeat
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:24 am ET) Opposing pitchers must be sharp when matched up against Dodgers stud Zack Greinke. Rockies right-hander Jordan Lyles was not sharp Saturday night. The result was his first loss of the season.

Lyles walked five in six innings. He also gave up five hits and four earned runs. He was hanging in there until a two-run single by Adrian Gonazalez in the fifth stretched the Los Angeles lead to 4-1.

His ERA jumped more than a point to 3.50, but he will have a chance to lower it Thursday against San Diego.


Mariners catcher Mike Zunino rips first home run of the year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Mariners catcher Mike Zunino went 1 for 3 at the plate in Seattle's 3-1 win over the Rangers Saturday. Zunino did his damage in the fifth when he smacked the first pitch he saw from Colby Lewis over the left center field wall for a solo home run, his first of the year.

Zunino, who also struck out twice, boosted his average to .139 in 36 at-bats this season.


Dodgers RHP Greinke good enough for second win Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) Good was good enough Saturday night for Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke.

Greinke was dominant in his first two starts this season. He was merely good against the hot-hitting Rockies and that earned him his second win.

Only a two-run homer by DJ LeMahieu in the seventh inning really marred his performance. He finished having yielded three earned runs on five hits in 6 2/3 inning with one walk and three strikeouts. His ERA nearly doubled to a still-wonderful 1.83.

Greinke has now allowed just 12 hits and two walks in 19 2/3 innings. He will try to continue his fine start Thursday in San Francisco.


Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis knocked around for 10 hits in loss
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:14 am ET) Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis allowed three runs on 10 hits in Texas' 3-1 loss to the Mariners Saturday. 

Lewis worked efficiently through the first three innings before running into issues in the fourth. Lewis allowed a sacrifice fly to Seth Smith, allowing Robinson Cano to score. Then in the fifth, Lewis surrendered a leadoff home run to Mike Zunino.

"I thought he settled in nicely and pitched a heckuva game," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said to MLB.com. "He made pitches and he mixed pitches. I felt good with the way Colby was throwing."

Brad Miller then tripled in the sixth, driving in Kyle Seager, before getting pulled.

"There wasn't one inning that was easy," Lewis said. "I didn't get any quick innings. I was always working out of the stretch. I was just trying to keep it close like I always do."

Lewis, now 1-1, boasts a 3.79 ERA and will look to get back on track Saturday against the Angels.


 
 
 
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