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Di Fino: Pitchers rising from the East

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Themes are overrated. Instead, enjoy a potpourri of Fantasy thoughts that might help you in your waiver wire hunting over the next six weeks, or, possibly, in some of your drafting next year:

Here's something that inadvertently just kind of happened this year: I universally added three rookie pitchers who came over from Japan in the offseason:

Yu Darvish ($16 in Tout Wars auction): 4.52 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 162 strikeouts.
Wei-Yin Chen ($2 FAAB bid in Tout Wars): 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 118 strikeouts.
Hisashi Iwakuma ($2 FAAB bid in Tout Wars): 4.16 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 58 strikeouts.

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I had a strategy going in to the Tout Wars auction where I would try to grab three pitchers for between 15 and 19 dollars. I ended up with Ricky Romero ($15), Darvish and Jon Lester ($17). The gambit didn't exactly turn out how I wanted (the gambit did, the results ... are still incomplete, at best), but I was able to patch things up with Chen and, eventually, Iwakuma. Next year, I think I'd go as high as $14 for Darvish, $7 for Chen and $1 on Iwakuma at the auction. Of course, Darvish could go on an otherworldly hot streak to end the season, and that could bump his value up to $19-20, which might make him a little too rich for my budget.

Chen, on the other hand, could go on a roll, and I don't think his value for next year would change much. He came into this year without much fanfare, and I could see that carrying over, despite his successful 2012 campaign. Chen was pitching well early and started the season hot, shutting down the Yankees, White Sox, and Angels in his first three starts. His numbers in Japan suggested he could sustain this -- not a lot of strikeouts, but great control (1.06 WHIP over four seasons in Japan) and some stellar ERA numbers (his 1.54 ERA in 2009 stood out as one example). It was Chen, in fact, who eventually led me to Iwakuma. As a member of Seattle's bullpen, Iwakuma was thrust into an unfamiliar role in middle relief; in Japan, Iwakuma started all 113 of his appearances. So, over 30 1/3 innings as a reliever, Iwakuma put up an unimpressive 4.75 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. But then, in July, the Mariners added him to the rotation. After a couple five-inning, stretching-out appearances, Iwakuma hit his stride. In seven starts, his ERA sits at 3.73. His numbers in Japan (2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), like Chen, suggest that this isn't just sustainable, but can possibly be improved upon.

So, for the rest of the year? Iwakuma may end up being the best. He has a fresh arm from all the time in the bullpen, and he definitely has the friendliest home park of the three. Chen will probably remain steady, in a Mark Buehrle-ish manner, and Darvish will remain an x-factor -- capable of great things, able to contribute in strikeouts, but hampered by walks and inconsistency.

If you listen to the podcasts, watch the show, or read bitter replies on Twitter, you'll know that I hate the practice of slotting starting pitchers with RP eligibility into relief pitcher spots. It makes no sense -- there's no skill involved in blindly putting starters into the RP spots, and it doesn't reflect any measure of Fantasy skill, other than bumping up someone like Chris Sale's draft value because he can get you points in the RP slot.

Of the top 25 RPs in standard H2H point leagues, eight are starters (Chris Sale, Lance Lynn, Matt Moore, Lucas Harrell, Jeff Samardzija, Felix Doubront, Jose Quintana and Mike Fiers). Conversely, the waiver wire in our Podcast League -- 12 teams, standard scoring -- features the likes of Rafael Betancourt, Jim Henderson, Steve Cishek, Jared Burton, Wilton Lopez, Heath Bell, Santiago Casilla, Frank Francisco, Carlos Marmol, and Ryan Cook. So if a team loses a closer? No big deal -- not only are plenty available on the wire, but that owner can also snag a two-start Miguel Gonzalez to plug into the RP slot, as well. People argue that it's strategy and game play; I consider it a hindrance and an easy way out of having to make a tough Fantasy decision.

That being said, I'm totally fine with playing Hanley Ramirez at shortstop. Yes, he's played primarily third base this season. Position players are moved around with far more frequency than pitchers. And Ramirez's return to shortstop shows how fluid that practice is. There is a world of a difference between feasting on RP eligibility for starting pitchers -- thus making closers nearly irrelevant and turning values of some players upside down -- and slotting a hitter at a position he primarily played the year before. It's all arguable and a matter of tastes, but, in my mind, one is harmless lineup shuffling in a system built for being vague (utility, middle infield, corner infield spots), while the other greatly alters the strategy involved with the game.

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Justin Germano is my current suggestion to anyone looking for deep pitching help. And forget about it being a two-start week for him -- Germano could have some nice value in his one-start weeks as well. His major league numbers aren't the most exciting: In 284 innings over the course of seven seasons, Germano has a 4.82 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. He has struck out just 175 batters in that time. But, so far this season, Germano has managed a 3.19 ERA and, more importantly, a 1.15 WHIP. In 13 minor league seasons, Germano had an impressively-low 1.21 WHIP. In fact, since 2010 -- after spending a season in Japan (just a weird coincidence for this column) -- Germano had a 3.06 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 226 2/3 minor league innings. It's the WHIP that makes him such an attractive option; Germano issued just 31 walks over the last three minor league seasons. In his brief MLB time since 2010, he has a 3.65 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. His low WHIP could make him a sneaky play for owners looking to stabilize their ratios the rest of the way.

Bryce Harper is going to be awesome next year. I spelled it out in a column earlier this year -- there's historical backing of this, with additional backing of the theory coming from Mike Trout. I'd expect Harper to hit 30 home runs, steal 30 bases and bat around .310. It might look insane right now, but after Trout hit .220 last year, it might've looked just as crazy to suggest he'd have a chance at 30 home runs, 50 steals and a .340 average this season. It would be wise to try and get Harper cheap as a keeper now from an owner who might have soured on him during this debut season.

Yoenis Cespedes might be right behind Harper in breaking out big-time next year. Consider that he played hurt, lost time to injury, and is a rookie who has never played in the minor leagues before this season. He's batting .301 with 15 home runs and 10 steals. That puts him at about 30-20 for a full, 162-game season ... if he just repeats his 2012 numbers. I'd bump those up for his second year, and imagine him at least threatening to join Harper in the 30-30 club next year.

Even if the season ended today, Rajai Davis will have averaged 40 steals a season over the last four years. Making the feat even more impressive? In only one of the past four seasons did he manage over 400 at-bats.

One silver lining to his disastrous season: Eric Hosmer has already equaled last season's total of 11 steals. And he's only been caught once. Last year, it took him 523 at-bats to hit that mark (and he was caught five times); he has just 416 at-bats so far this year. Along with J.D. Martinez and Brett Lawrie, Hosmer could be a stellar, sneaky bounce-back pick for 2013.

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The biggest diappointment for me this season is Everth Cabrera having just 20 steals. It may not seem like a big deal -- stressing over a player owned in 12 percent of leagues -- but, with his speed, he should have 30 at this point. And those 10 extra steals could mean three or four extra points in Rotisserie leagues, which could mean the difference between "mired in fourth" and "nipping at first" as the season winds down.

If I had Melky Cabrera in a keeper league, the most I'm keeping him at is six dollars. It's a combination of not knowing which team may sign him next year, Fantasy players ascribing his breakout seasons to PED use (thus driving down his price) and a general "meh" attitude when he comes up in queues. I'm not entirely sure you'll be able to get him for six dollars in an auction next year, but that's as high as I'll bid when his name comes up.

There's a decent team to be made this week from the typical waiver wire in a 12-team standard league ...
C: Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies
1B: Kendrys Morales, 1B, Angels
2B: Omar Infante, 2B, Tigers
SS: J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles
3B: Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals
OF: Ryan Ludwick, OF, Reds
OF: Rajai Davis, OF, Blue Jays
OF: David Murphy, OF, Rangers
UT: Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves
SP: Miguel Gonzalez, SP, Orioles
SP: Hisashi Iwakuma, SP, Mariners
SP: Mark Rogers, SP, Brewers
SP: Freddy Garcia, SP, Yankees
SP: David Phelps, SP, Yankees
RP: Rafael Betancourt, RP, Rockies
RP: Dale Thayer, RP, Padres

In fact, I'll score this team against my opponent next week and report back on it. I'm betting this team of scrappy underdogs could get a win against a normal team, if things fall the right way.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Padres' Bud Black: Ian Kennedy 'bummed' about Thursday's loss
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:09 am ET) After it appeared Padres starting pitcher Ian Kennedy turned the corner in his previous start against the Dodgers, his issues resurfaced in a loss Thursday against the Padres, as he allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings.

"He is bummed because he was looking forward to this one,'' manager Bud Black said, per MLB.com. "He got some pitches elevated and they didn't miss them.''

Kennedy has now lost his last four starts and has seen his ERA balloon to 7.15.

"I'm falling behind hitters and it's tough to pitch like that,'' Kennedy said.

The right-hander said the strained left hamstring that landed him on the disabled list is not the reason for his woes. 

"There is definitely no pain,'' he said. 

Kennedy struggled with his fastball command Thursday.

"I don't know if I'm yanking the ball, pushing the ball,'' he said. "I've been up and down and it's very frustrating. My fastball command was all over the place."

Kennedy, who did record his 1,000th career strikeout on Thursday, said he will work with pitching coach Darren Balsley to figure out how to end this slide.

"You have to be as consistent as possible and my career has been about that,'' Kennedy said. "This has been a real test with the way I've pitched."


Pirates SP A.J. Burnett on 5-1 start: 'I'm sticking to the things I do'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:58 am ET) Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett won a fifth straight start Thursday at San Diego, improving to 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA through 10 starts.

Thursday was actually the first time all season the 38-year-old veteran allowed more than two runs in a start, but he's enjoyed a nice turnaround after totaling a career-worst 18 losses in 2014 with the Phillies.

"I'm throwing the same stuff I threw when I was here before, or even last year," Burnett said, per MLB.com. "People are saying I'm doing more because I'm executing more. The difference between the last couple of years and this year is that I'm executing more pitches than I'm not, that's the bottom line. I'm just sticking to the things I do."


Blue Jays recall RP Bo Schultz from Triple-A
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:39 am ET) The Blue Jays recalled reliever Bo Schultz from Triple-A Buffalo on Friday to take the roster spot of Scott Copeland, who was optioned to the minors on Thursday.

Schultz has not made an appearance for Toronto this season. He went 0-1 with a 7.88 ERA in four relief outings for Arizona in 2014.


Tigers' Ausmus expecting Miguel Cabrera (foot) to play Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:34 am ET) Angels starting pitcher C.J. Wilson gave Tigers personnel and fans a scare Thursday night when he plunked star Miguel Cabrera with a pitch on his surgically repaired right foot.

Cabrera did hobble around after getting hit and was checked out by trainer Doug Teter, but the veteran slugger remained in the game and gave a thumbs up to manager Brad Ausmus.

"It stings him at first, and it's in an area that's been a problem for him," Ausmus said, per MLB.com. "But I think he realized relatively quickly that his ankle was fine, relatively speaking."

Ausmus said the pitch hit Cabrera around the middle of the foot, and it was closer to the toes than the area where he had offseason surgery to repair a stress fracture that bothered him for most of the second half during the 2014 season. 

Cabrera had one more at-bat in the fifth inning before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. However, it was more because the Tigers were trailing 12-2 than because Cabrera was hurting, per MLB.com.

Ausmus said he expects Cabrera to start Friday, and he will likely be in the lineup at first base.

"He doesn't really like DHing," Ausmus said. "As a matter of fact, he says it's more beneficial for him to be playing first because it keeps the ankle loose."


Indians 2B Jason Kipnis up to 48 hits in May
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:16 am ET) Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis collected two more hits Thursday against the Mariners, giving him 15 multihit games and 48 total hits in May. The 48 hits are the most in May by a Cleveland player since at least 1914, surpassing Bobby Avila's 1954 record of 47, per MLB.com.

Kipnis is the first Indians player to have 48 hits, 28 runs and 20 extra-base hits in a month since July 1936.

Kipnis has a .449/.532/.738/1.270 slash line in 26 May games. He also has three triples, four home runs, 13 doubles, 16 RBI, 14 walks, 28 runs and three stolen bases.

"All winter, I think I kept telling you that he was going to come out with a vengeance," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "And that's exactly what it looks like. He's attacking every game. He's in the middle of everything."


Pirates' Gregory Polanco smacks second home run of season Thursday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco connected off Padres starter Ian Kennedy for his second home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Polanco hit the solo home run in the second inning. He finished the game 2 for 5 with one RBI and one run scored. He is now hitting .247 on the season.

Prior to his performance Thursday, Polanco was hitting .333 with one RBI in his last five games.


Pirates C Francisco Cervelli collects three hits in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:49 am ET) Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli had three more hits during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres to raise his batting average to .320 on the season.

During Thursday's contest, Cervelli went 3 for 5 with two runs scored. Over his last five games, Cervelli is 9 for 17 with four RBI and six runs scored.


Pirates OF Starling Marte hits 10th home run of season Thursday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:44 am ET) Pirates outfielder Starling Marte smacked his 10th home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Marte hit the two-run home run off Ian Kennedy in the third inning. Marte finished the game 1 for 3 with two RBI, two runs scored and one walk.

Prior to Thursday's contest, Marte was hitting .167 with one home run and four RBI in his last six games.


Angels' Erick Aybar (hamstring) not expected to need DL stint
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:40 am ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after Thursday's win over the Tigers that shortstop Erick Aybar (hamstring) is not expected to need a trip to the disabled list, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Aybar left Thursday's game due to hamstring tightness. He suffered the injury while trying to beat a bunt to first base. The team could call up a capable replacement at shortstop even if the Angels believe Aybar will only miss a few games with the injury. He was replaced Thursday by Taylor Featherston, who had played a total of six innings across four games at the position this season.


Pirates' Andrew McCutchen collects three hits in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:37 am ET) Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 5 at the plate to help lead the Pirates to an 11-5 victory over the Padres on Thursday.

McCutchen drove in two runs and scored two during the contest. Prior to his three-hit game Thursday, McCutchen was hitting .382 with three home runs and five RBI in his last nine games.


 
 
 
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