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Fantasy First Pitch for Week 1

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The first week of the Fantasy season is always the most straightforward in terms of setting your rotations. Every major league team's ace starts twice, as do many of their No. 2 starters, so for the most part, you're relying on the pitchers you drafted. There just won't be nearly as many two-start pitchers available on waivers as there will be in future weeks.

Most of your decisions are likely to center around who to start and who to sit among the pitchers on your current roster. Even though it's the top of major league rotations that will benefit from a two-start week, not every big league team has a Fantasy ace taking the mound on opening day. Jeff Samardzija, Yovani Gallardo and R.A. Dickey may be the best their respective teams have to offer, but none of the three will necessarily make the cut for your Fantasy Week 1 (March 30-April 6) rotation.

Must start two-start options
1. Adam Wainwright at CIN, at PIT
2. Justin Verlander vs. KC, vs. BAL
3. Chris Sale vs. MIN, at KC
4. Stephen Strasburg at NYM, vs. ATL
5. Felix Hernandez at LAA, at OAK
6. Cliff Lee at TEX, at CHC
7. Jose Fernandez vs. COL, vs. SD
8. David Price vs. TOR, vs. TEX
9. Madison Bumgarner at ARI, at LAD
10. Jered Weaver vs. SEA, at HOU
11. Matt Cain at ARI, at LAD
12. Julio Teheran at MIL, at WAS
13. Alex Cobb vs. TOR, vs. TEX
14. James Shields at DET, vs. CHW
15. Francisco Liriano vs. CHC, vs. STL
16. Johnny Cueto vs. STL, at NYM
17. Zack Greinke at SD, vs. SF
18. Sonny Gray vs. CLE, vs. SEA
19. Andrew Cashner vs. LAD, at MIA
20. Justin Masterson at OAK, vs. MIN
21. Alex Wood at MIL, at WAS
22. Jon Lester at BAL, vs. MIL

This year's weekly review of starting pitchers will focus on the dilemmas we all face between borderline two-start options like Samardzija, Gallardo and Dickey and the one-start pitchers who may or may not be worthy of replacing them.

While all scheduled two-start pitchers will be ranked here weekly, I will go more in-depth with the ones in the middle of the rankings -- the ones who sit on the bubble of being activated. I'll make my case for or against starting them in standard mixed leagues. For pitchers who deserve an active roster spot, I'll offer some examples of pitchers who can be benched to make room for them. For those two-start pitchers who need to take a seat for the week, I'll recommend some one-start replacements who should outperform them.

Most major league teams have set at least the first few spots in their rotations heading into the weekend, so there shouldn't be too many changes, if any, in the pool of two-start pitchers between now and the lineup-setting deadline on Sunday night. However, one situation to watch is the Dodgers' rotation. If Hyun-Jin Ryu's split toenail doesn't prevent him from starting in place of Clayton Kershaw (back) in Sunday's opener at the Padres, he will get two starts. Otherwise, Dan Haren will get the call. Either pitcher is worth using in standard mixed leagues with two starts, but an unhealthy Ryu or one-start Haren won't be in most cases.

While the pool of two-start pitchers shouldn't change much before Sunday, individual pitching matchups could, so be sure to check our Probable Pitchers page for the latest information.

Now on to our inaugural set of two-start pitcher rankings for 2014 ...

Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble

23. Scott Kazmir, OAK (vs. CLE, vs. SEA)

It took two months for Kazmir to get on track last season, and even during his early-season struggles, Kazmir was throwing strikes at a rate well above his career norm. Factor in Kazmir's .362 BABIP from April and May that smacked of bad luck, and it's conceivable that he could have finished with an ERA in the low 3.00s rather than his actual 4.04 mark. After a full season of solid peripherals with the Indians, it's time to trust Kazmir as something close to a must-start in his first season with the A's. Given his history of injuries, Kazmir's trade value is somewhat compromised, but as long as he is healthy, his weekly value far exceeds his 200 ADP.

I'd start Kazmir over the following one-start pitchers: Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Tony Cingrani

24. Hyun-Jin Ryu or Dan Haren, LAD (at SD, vs. SF)

Ryu may not be ready for Sunday night's "second opener" due to his ripped toenail, but if he makes the start, he will line up for two turns in the rotation in Week 1. We have the advantage of having seen Ryu pitch in the Australia series against the Diamondbacks, and he was sharp. Because he hasn't been notable as a source of strikeouts, Ryu won't always be worth using in one-start weeks, but this could be a rare week in which he's merely a borderline two-start option. The pair of outings give Ryu a shot at piling up some Ks to go along with a low ERA and decent WHIP.

Should Ryu be unavailable Sunday, Haren gets the nod and the two-start week. Haren, too, would be a worthwhile use of an active roster spot, though I'd drop him just behind CC Sabathia in these two-start pitcher rankings.

I'd start Ryu over the following one-start pitchers: Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller

I'd start Haren (assuming two starts) over the following one-start pitchers: Clay Buchholz, Tyson Ross, Lance Lynn

25. Jeff Samardzija, CHC (at PIT, vs. PHI)

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In the latter half of last season, Samardzija was doubly-risky with two starts, so he may look out of place on a list of pitchers to consider in pitching-rich Week 1. One reason I think he is worth an active roster spot is his schedule, as both the Pirates and Phillies have a few holes in their lineups. Also, I'm willing to give Samardzija some benefit of the doubt, as his late-summer downturn was tied to a loss of command that did largely return over the season's final weeks. Last September, Samardzija was scorched by a 26 percent line drive rate (per Baseball-Reference.com), but his 5.58 ERA for the month masked a 64 percent strikes-thrown rate and a 13 percent swinging strike rate.

I'd start Samardzija over the following one-start pitchers: Marco Estrada, Matt Moore, C.J. Wilson

26. R.A. Dickey, TOR (at TB, vs. NYY)

Lost in Dickey's generally underwhelming return to the American League was a late-season surge that included eight starts of seven innings or more during an 11-start stretch. Dickey displayed the pinpoint control he exhibited during his Mets years and threw considerably harder than he did during the earlier portion of the season. Few owners seem to be expecting Dickey to reclaim his Cy Young form of 2012, but he doesn't need to in order to be a reliable two-start option. Look for him to pick up where he left off last season.

I'd start Dickey over the following one-start pitchers: Danny Salazar, Clay Buchholz, Tyson Ross

27. CC Sabathia, NYY (at HOU, at TOR)

After a season with reduced velocity and lower strikeout and ground ball rates, Sabathia is far from an automatic start in Fantasy, even when he pitches twice. With a particularly good matchup, though, Sabathia still has some appeal, and he gets just that with the Astros. Last season, they led the majors with 1,535 strikeouts, fanning 105 more times than the second-ranked Twins. Houston's lineup is largely the same as last year's, and their most notable addition, Dexter Fowler, isn't likely to help matters. This matchup alone makes Sabathia worth a start this week.

I'd start Sabathia over the following one-start pitchers: Clay Buchholz, Tyson Ross, Lance Lynn

28. Chris Tillman, BAL (vs. BOS, at DET)

Without Prince Fielder, the Tigers' lineup isn't as scary as it once was, but Tillman needs very friendly matchups and venues in order to minimize his risk of allowing the long ball. The potential for homers renders Tillman as a borderline option, but the improvements that he made last season keep him in the discussion for an active roster spot. From late June forward, Tillman improved his control vastly (65 percent strikes thrown, 2.5 BB/9 over his final 17 starts) and ceased to pitch to contact. If you're antsy about your team's ERA, Tillman might not be the two-start pitcher for you, but he could offer enough in strikeouts and WHIP to make him a worthwhile start.

I'd start Tillman over the following one-start pitchers: Lance Lynn, Zack Wheeler, Corey Kluber

29. Dillon Gee, NYM (vs. WAS, vs. CIN)

Since the end of last May, Gee has been doing his best Kyle Lohse impression. Over his last 22 starts, Gee has issued more than two walks just three times and failed to pitch at least six innings only once. He coasted to a 2.71 ERA over that period but struck out only 105 batters over 149 1/3 innings. Gee's masterful control continued into Grapefruit League play, as he walked one batter over 16 2/3 innings. Yet, Gee could be better than Lohse, as he got swinging strikes on 10 percent of his pitches during last year's hot stretch. With more called strikes, he could become a decent strikeout pitcher. While other control pitchers like Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy rank lower this week, Gee is a solid option due to his potential to help with Ks.

I'd start Gee over the following one-start pitchers: Corey Kluber, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Archer

30. Yovani Gallardo, MIL (vs. ATL, at BOS)

If we get the version of Gallardo who blitzed through eight late-season, post-DL starts to the tune of a 2.41 ERA, then he's an obvious choice to start in Week 1. I am highly skeptical that owners will get anything close to that performance. Gallardo barely improved upon a mediocre set of peripheral stats that decimated his value over the first four months of last season, as he continued to display poor command and induce whiffs at a pedestrian rate. By stranding more than four out of five baserunners over his final eight starts, Gallardo was able to whittle down his ERA, but he's unlikely to be so fortunate this year. A pair of tough matchups could expose him early, so it's best to bench the Brewers' opening day starter outside of deeper mixed and NL-only leagues.

I'd start the following one-start pitchers over Gallardo: Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Archer, A.J. Burnett

31. Brett Anderson, COL (at MIA, vs. ARI)

Two-start pitchers to avoid
35. Brandon McCarthy vs.SF, at COL
36. Tanner Scheppers vs. PHI, at TB
37. Wade Miley vs. SF, at COL
38. Nate Eovaldi vs. COL, vs. SD
39. Drew Hutchison at TB, vs. NYY
40. Scott Feldman at TEX, at CHC

Anderson's Fantasy stock plummeted upon his trade to the Rockies, but that may have been an overreaction. Not every one of the Rockies' gambles on a ground ball pitcher has failed, with Tyler Chatwood being the most recent example of someone who provided value despite contending with Coors Field. Anderson benefitted somewhat by pitching his home games in Oakland, but the split between his career 3.69 home ERA and 3.93 road ERA is hardly dramatic. Between Anderson's lack of strikeouts and having his first home start in Colorado, it's understandable that owners would be nervous about starting him this week, especially given the bounty of aces getting two starts, but his first start at Miami could provide a soft landing. Owners in deeper mixed leagues should consider giving Anderson a chance in Week 1.

I'd start the following one-start pitchers over Anderson: Ivan Nova, John Lackey, Michael Pineda

32. Erasmo Ramirez, SEA (at LAA, at OAK)

Ramirez missed the early part of last season with a triceps injury, and it may have still impacted his performance by the time he reached Seattle in July. He was lacking his usual control and got hammered for a 4.89 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. As a prospect and as a rookie, Ramirez showed he is capable of much better, but with so many proven two-start options, it's unnecessary to risk a rotation spot on him this week. Granted, Samardzija and Tillman present risks, too, and both are recommended starts in standard mixed leagues, but Ramirez does not have their strikeout potential or overall upside.

I'd start the following one-start pitchers over Ramirez: Yordano Ventura, Matt Garza, Dan Haren (assuming one start).

33. Jorge De La Rosa, COL (at MIA, vs. ARI)

With 4.6 runs of support per nine innings, De La Rosa was fortunate to go 16-6 last year, and it's a good bet that he'll allow more than 0.6 home runs per nine innings this season. Unless he can get back to his pre-Tommy John surgery strikeout rates, De La Rosa profiles as a very ordinary pitcher -- one who will rarely, if ever, be worth using in a two-start week. He should get some consideration this time around, simply because he gets a start in Miami. It's still not quite enough, though, to elevate him above deeper mixed league status.

I'd start the following one-start pitchers over De La Rosa: Jose Quintana, Jake Peavy, Dan Straily

34. Ricky Nolasco, MIN (at CHW, at CLE)

After two seasons of depressed strikeout and swinging strike rates, Nolasco rebounded last year, compiling his best supporting stats since 2010. Still, his 3.70 ERA may have overstated his effectiveness, as he was helped by a miniscule 5.6 percent home run-to-flyball ratio. As pitcher-friendly as Target Field is, Nolasco is unlikely to repeat that mark in his first season with the Twins. Backed by a weaker lineup than the one he had with the Dodgers, Nolasco could also have a hard time picking up wins. Especially with an opening day start against Chris Sale at homer-happy U.S. Cellular Field, Nolasco's Twins debut could be an ugly one.

I'd start the following one-start pitchers over Nolasco: Jake Peavy, Dan Straily, Hector Santiago

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Reds sign Brennan Boesch to minor league deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Reds have signed outfielder Brennan Boesch to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Boesch, 29, is a career .256/.309/.412 hitter over five seasons for the Tigers, Yankees and Angels.

He was in the minors for most of last season, hitting .332 with 25 homers for the Angels Triple-A affiliate. 


Royals acquire infielder Ryan Jackson from Dodgers
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Royals have acquired infielder Ryan Jackson from the Dodgers for cash considerations. Jackson was out for most of last season with a wrist injury. 

Jackson hit .278 with 34 RBI at Triple-A Memphis, playing 122 games at shortstop and third base in 2013.


Report: Talks break down between Yanks, Phils about Rollins deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Yankees and Phillies reportedly discussed a deal for 35-year-old shortstop Jimmy Rollins before talks broke down, according to ESPN reporter Jayson Stark.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Rollins is "one of the best shortstops in baseball still" but wouldn't confirm Yankees interest in the veteran. Amaro also said Rollins is "somebody we want on our club and would be very hard to replace."

Rollins is due $11 million this season and his contract is up at the end of 2015. Rollins hit .243 with 55 RBI and stole 28 bases in 2014. 


Padres' Blaine Boyer clears waivers, heads for free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) Padres right-handed pitcher Blaine Boyer cleared waivers Wednesday and will enter free agency, according to U-T San Diego. Boyer was designated for assignment last week.

Boyer appeared in 32 games last season for the Padres and posted a 3.57 ERA. 


Rays designate Sean Rodriguez for assignment
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Rays have designated 29-year-old Sean Rodriguez for assignment. 

Rodriguez hit .211 with 12 home runs last season. 


Jose Molina, Cole Figueroa clear waivers, released by Rays
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) Catcher Jose Molina and infielder Cole Figueroa cleared waivers and were released by the Rays Wednesday. 

Both Molina and Figueroa were designated for assignment Thursday. Molina, 39, hit .178 over 225 at-bats last year, while Figueroa hit .233 in 43 at-bats. 


Rays sign right-hander Ernesto Frieri to major-league contract
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Rays have announced signing of right-hand pitcher Ernesto Frieri to a one-year contract. Frieri will make a base salary of $800,000, going up to $3.15 million with incentives, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Frieri, who had a career-high 37 saves in 2013, had 11 last season with a 7.34 ERA.


Yankees' Sabathia confident he can return to being 200-inning pitcher
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia continues to deliver positive updates coming off July knee surgery.

"The knee, I have no complaints," Sabathia told YES Network. "I’m able to do all of my workouts. … I’m changing a few things. Not as much pounding and running. I’m in the pool a lot, on different machines to get cardio, (on the) bike. Just adding a few different things to get some cardio in."

Despite coming off surgery and being limited to eight starts (46 innings) in 2014, Sabathia feels he can get back to being a 30-start, 200-inning pitcher in 2015.

"Yeah, for sure," he said. "I feel like I can. If you asked me that a couple of months ago, I would have said, ‘I don’t know,’ but the way I’m feeling now and being able to work out, definitely."


Report: Indians expressing interest in Kendrys Morales
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Indians have expressed inerest in DH/first baseman Kendrys Morales

Morales, who split time between the Twins and Mariners last season, hit .218 with 42 RBI.


Brewers' Ryan Braun 'cautiously optimistic' coming off thumb surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is optimistic coming off October thumb surgery. Braun underwent a cryotherapy procedure in Los Angeles on Oct. 2, in which a needle was inserted at the base of his right thumb to essentially freeze a nerve.

"It definitely worked," Braun said Wednesday, per MLB.com. "It makes a huge difference."

Braun swung a bat 10 days after the procedure and was happy the pain in his thumb was gone.

"Right now, I don’t feel any [discomfort], and I haven’t been able to say that for two years," he said. "I think I’ve told you guys, it [bothered him] shaking hands, writing -- you know, just everyday activities. Now I don’t feel it at all, so I’m excited."

While Braun is definitely optimistic, he is also a bit cautious because he isn't in the grind of playing baseball every day. He has received full clearance, however, for all offseason activities.

"I’m encouraged by how it feels, but at the same time, I think I have to be cautiously optimistic [until] I get into spring training and see how it responds," Braun said. "But it hasn’t felt this good in a really long time."


 
 
 
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