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Fantasy First Pitch for Week 3

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Editor's note: The first edition of Al's weekly pitching advice runs on Fridays, with updates every Monday in advance of the first pitch.

As in most scoring periods, Fantasy Week 3 (April 14-20) provides owners with its fair share of easy two-start decisions, but the events of the season's opening weeks have created some interesting dilemmas, too.

Owners shouldn't have to think twice about using Stephen Strasburg or Cliff Lee, or for that matter, about avoiding Lucas Harrell or Jordan Lyles. But what about Tim Lincecum, who is still struggling yet showing some signs of progress? Or Colby Lewis, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012 but was effective before he succumbed to elbow surgery? Or Robbie Erlin and Jesse Chavez, who only made their team's rotations due to injuries to other starters, yet have been impressive so far?

Must start two-start options
1. Stephen Strasburg at MIA, vs. STL
2. Cliff Lee vs. ATL, at COL
3. Homer Bailey vs. PIT, at CHC
4. Anibal Sanchez vs. CLE, vs. LAA
5. Masahiro Tanaka vs. CHC, at TB
6. Jordan Zimmermann at MIA, vs. STL
7. Yordano Ventura at HOU, vs. MIN
8. Gerrit Cole at CIN, vs. MIL
9. Zack Wheeler at ARI, vs. ATL
10. Chris Archer at BAL, vs. NYY

Lincecum and Lewis did not make the cut for this week's list of "bubble" two-start pitchers, due to the wealth of better or higher-upside alternatives, but there is still a meaty list of borderline candidates to consider for your standard mixed league teams. Erlin and Chavez are two of the least established pitchers on this week's list, but their matchups, along with their early success, should give owners a reason to consider using them for their final rotation spot.

One pitcher absent from the rankings is Taijuan Walker (shoulder), and now that we know that he will make another rehab start, he is no longer a potential candidate for a two-start week. He could still return this weekend, but if he is still not ready, look for Blake Beavan to get a two-start week. While Beavan is worth a shot in AL-only formats, Walker is worth a gamble in deeper mixed leagues, though not in anything shallower, given the uncertainty of his status.

Drew Smyly will get his first start for the Tigers this week, and he is actually someone to consider starting in standard mixed leagues, especially those that allow him to be used as a reliever. Josh Collmenter will also be making the move from the bullpen to the rotation, and he and/or Bronson Arroyo could get two starts for the Diamondbacks. That possibility makes both pitchers viable as last-resort options in standard mixed leagues. The same is probably not true for Dan Straily, who could get moved up to make a second start if Scott Kazmir (triceps) has to be skipped. However, Kazmir told the San Jose Mercury News he expects to take his next turn against the Astros. Also, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Mat Latos has developed some tenderness in his elbow, so his owners should not count on him being available for at least a couple more weeks.

Below are the 38 pitchers who are currently scheduled to make two starts in Week 3, along with some similar one-start alternatives. For the higher-ranking starters in the "bubble" group, the optimal situation is to keep both the two-start and one-start options active, if you have spots for them, but in very shallow leagues, you may have to choose. So while I've ranked, for example, Marco Estrada ahead of Tony Cingrani, my endorsement of Estrada does not mean that Cingrani is a recommended sit. As you get deeper into the rankings, though, the likelihood is greater that you may have to sit the lesser of the two-start or one-start options.

Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble

11. Ervin Santana, ATL (at PHI, at NYM)

Santana's debut with the Braves was sensational, though the Mets lineup he faced has endured about as much futility as any in the majors so far, with the possible exception of the Padres'. We do need to give Santana credit for throwing 65 of his 88 pitches for strikes, and he does get the benefit of facing the Mets again in Week 3. The Phillies have been a little more potent, but they have also benefitted from a team .332 BABIP that is likely to plunge. Not only does Santana have just one start and five spring training innings under his belt this year, but owners have to figure out how to approach his long-standing pattern of inconsistency. Worry about that next week. Santana's matchups are good enough to make him usable in standard mixed leagues.

Start Santana over the following one-start pitchers: Andrew Cashner, Tony Cingrani, Hiroki Kuroda

12. Marco Estrada, MIL (vs. STL, at PIT)

Estrada had decent results in his season debut against the Red Sox, but after issuing three walks and inducing only two grounders in 5 2/3 innings, he could have made owners a little anxious. He soothed our nerves in his most recent start against the Phillies. While pitching just six innings, he got 10 grounders while slightly increasing his strikes-thrown rate and issuing two walks. Best of all, Estrada got the Phillies to swing and miss 16 times. As a flyball pitcher, Estrada may have outdone himself a little in that start, but at least we don't have an immediate reason to worry about him being an extreme home run risk going forward. He should also make a generous contribution to your team's strikeouts and WHIP in this two-start week.

Start Estrada over the following one-start pitchers: Tony Cingrani, Hiroki Kuroda, C.J. Wilson

13. Matt Garza, MIL (vs. STL, at PIT)

Three seasons ago, Garza appeared to be emerging as a reliable Fantasy option, as he had upped his strikeout and ground ball rates. That progress had been washed away the last two seasons, as he has been beset by injuries. So far this year, it looks like the old Garza may be back, as he has compiled a 16 percent swinging strike rate and 63 percent ground ball rate. Both marks are surely too good to be true, but they demonstrate that he is on the right track. So does his 94.8 mph average fastball velocity, which is highest for his first month of play since 2010.

Start Garza over the following one-start pitchers: C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, Sonny Gray

14. Lance Lynn, STL (at MIL, at WAS)

Lynn has yet to register a quality start, but it's not for a lack of velocity or control. In fact, he may be throwing too many pitches in the strike zone, as more than one of every three hit balls off him has been a line drive. Even the best pitchers go through stretches like this, and given the absence of other warning signs, owners should expect Lynn to be who he has been since joining the Cardinals' rotation two years ago: a reliable strikeout producer with a mediocre ERA and WHIP. As such, there will be many weeks that you sit him with one start, but few where you'd bench him with two.

Start Lynn over the following one-start pitchers: Alex Wood, Jon Lester, Scott Kazmir

15. Brandon Morrow, TOR (at MIN, at CLE)

Back in 2012, just when Morrow seemed on the verge of becoming a steady contributor in Fantasy, he suffered an oblique injury, and we haven't seen him as relevant option since. A nerve issue in his forearm ruined his 2013 season, but Morrow has shown in his first two starts that he may still be able to deliver on his promise. Sure, his best start has come against the whiff-happy Astros, but already Morrow is throwing harder than he ever has since he became a full-time starter in mid-2009. Morrow's still a gamble, but at least he's one with the upside of a high strikeout rate and low ERA and WHIP.

Start Morrow over the following one-start pitchers: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, Danny Salazar

16. Shelby Miller, STL (at MIL, at WAS)

Much has been made of Miller's struggles, dating back to late last season, but up until writing this column, I had been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Though Miller has coaxed a mere nine swings-and-misses in his first two starts, but because after all, it's just two starts, I saw no reason for alarm. However, Miller's proclivity for allowing contact does go back to late last August, which was around the time that he started losing some vertical movement on his fastball. That seems like more than just a coincidence. On the positive side, Miller did notch a quality start his last time out, and his velocity is about where it was this time last season. It's not quite time for a full- blown panic just yet, but he's on the verge of being a borderline -- or even sittable -- two-start option.

Start Miller over the following one-start pitchers: Danny Salazar, John Lackey, Justin Masterson

17. Jake Peavy, BOS (at CHW, vs. BAL)

As recently as two seasons ago, Peavy was a desirable two-start pitcher, but last season, he lost some of his lustre. His swinging strike rate (9 percent) fell into the single digits and he got ground balls on just over one-third of his hit balls. Not surprisingly, Peavy registered a very ordinary K/9 ratio (7.5) and an ugly HR/9 ratio (1.2). He might look like a lock as a two-start pitcher with a 2.13 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings, but his whiff (9 percent) and ground ball (38 percent) rates remain unimpressive. Peavy has also been helped by a .219 BABIP that is sure to rise. I'm not arguing that Peavy should necessarily be benched or dropped, but he's far from a must-start, and depending on who is available, you just might be better off opting for a one-start pitcher in his place.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Peavy: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, Danny Salazar

18. Robbie Erlin, SD (vs. COL, vs. SF)

Two-start pitchers to avoid
23. Tim Lincecum vs. LAD, at SD
24. Hector Santiago vs. OAK, at DET
25. Colby Lewis vs. SEA, vs. CHW
26. Wei-Yin Chen vs. TB, at BOS
27. Josh Beckett at SF, vs. ARI
28. Wandy Rodriguez at CIN, vs. MIL
29. Zach McAllister at DET, vs. TOR
30. Eric Stults vs. COL, vs. SF
31. Roenis Elias at TEX, at MIA
32. Erik Johnson vs. BOS, at TEX
33. David Hale at PHI, at NYM
34. Juan Nicasio at SD, vs. PHI
35. Brad Hand vs. WAS, vs. SEA
36. Roberto Hernandez vs. ATL, at COL
37. Lucas Harrell vs. KC, at OAK
38. Jordan Lyles at SD, vs. PHI

Though Erlin throws in the upper 80s and lower 90s, he was good at missing bats in the minors, but we have yet to see him do that with regularity in the majors. What we do know is that the southpaw can throw strikes and get righties out (yes, righties), as he has held them to a .225 batting average in his brief big league career. With a pair of starts at PETCO Park, which is an extremely tough park on right-handed hitters (as evidenced by the .165 batting average that Erlin has held righties to when pitching there, per FanGraphs.com), Erlin could stymie the Rockies and Giants. He looked good against the Indians on Wednesday, and if only he had a more extensive major league track record, perhaps Erlin would be a more solid two-start option. He's still worth a shot if you are lacking more proven alternatives.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Erlin: John Lackey, Justin Masterson, R.A. Dickey

19. Jake Odorizzi, TB (at BAL, vs. NYY)

In his first two turns through the Rays' rotation, Odorizzi has had one good start (scoreless, in fact) and one bad start, but the common link between the two outings has been poor command. It's hard to know what to make of that, given that he was a pretty good strike-thrower as a prospect. Though we haven't seen much of it in his 48 major league innings, there is some strikeout potential here, and that makes Odorizzi worth considering in this two-start week. Just be aware that in addition to concerns over command, Odorizzi could be at risk of coughing up gopher balls, particularly in his start at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Odorizzi: R.A. Dickey, Michael Pineda, Jeff Samardzija

20. Phil Hughes, MIN (vs. TOR, at KC)

It's a big gamble to start Hughes in standard mixed leagues, and in most cases, it won't make sense to do that this week. However, Hughes is someone to consider in deeper leagues, and in standard mixed leagues where all of the viable two-start pitchers have been gobbled up, he is worth using if you feel like you need to throw a "Hail Mary" in order to win. Hughes is notorious for giving up homers at a high rate, but his career 1.3 HR/9 ratio is heavily skewed by the 1.7 HR/9 he posted in home games as a Yankee. As a Twin, Hughes' home starts could go much better than what we're accustomed to (and we saw that after the first inning of his 2014 Target Field debut against the A's on Wednesday), and he could also fare well when he travels to Kauffman Stadium for his second start next week.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Hughes: Jeff Samardzija, Jenrry Mejia, Dillon Gee

21. Jesse Chavez, OAK (at LAA, vs. HOU)

After allowing just one run in each of his first two starts, the A's curious choice of Chavez for their rotation is starting to look a lot less puzzling. The long-time reliever used to be more of a contact and flyball pitcher, but since last season, Chavez has been using his cutter and curve more often. The former has been a good ground ball pitch, while the latter has been an effective whiff- inducer. Whether Chavez's spiffed-up repertoire will allow him to have sustained success as a starter remains to be seen, but with one decent matchup (at the Angels) and one great matchup (at home versus the Astros), he is worth a try if you don't have to drop anyone of value to get him.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Chavez: Chris Tillman, Dan Straily, Jose Quintana

22. Robbie Ross, TEX (vs. SEA, vs. CHW)

With a 1.74 ERA over his first two starts, Ross has done a good job of preventing runs, though a 1.65 WHIP reveals that he has had to strand a lot of baserunners. Owners may worry that Ross' luck will run out this week, but eight walks in 10 1/3 innings have been responsible for that high WHIP. As a reliever, Ross sported very good control, so there's some hope he could straighten himself out as he adjusts to his new role. Also, as a starter so far, he has had few problems getting swings and misses. There is certainly risk involved in using Ross in standard mixed leagues at this point, but he has shown enough promise to offer the chance of a big payoff with two starts.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Ross: Jose Quintana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Corey Kluber

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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