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Fantasy First Pitch for Week 4

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Fantasy Week 4 (April 21-27) provides owners with the greatest bounty of two-start pitchers so far this season, but it's not necessarily the biggest collection of good two-start pitchers.

As of this writing, there are 46 projected two-start pitchers, and that number could grow to 48 by the end of the weekend. However, 19 of those pitchers make this week's "avoid" list for owners in standard mixed leagues, and some of the pitchers on the "bubble" list, such as Zach McAllister and R.A. Dickey, have more than their share of downside.

One addition to the list could be Cole Hamels, who will make his return from a shoulder injury either Tuesday or Wednesday. A Tuesday season debut would put Hamels on track for starts against both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, but if he waits until Wednesday, it's A.J. Burnett who would inherit two starts for the Phillies. Hamels is a must-start no matter what, while Burnett is only more than a borderline start if he gets two outings.

Mike Minor (shoulder) is also likely to come off the disabled list and make his 2014 debut in Week 4, though he would only get one start. Wherever he gets inserted into the Braves' rotation, he is unlikely to endanger a projected two-start week for Julio Teheran.

Must start two-start options
1. Felix Hernandez vs. HOU, vs. TEX
2. Adam Wainwright at NYM, vs. PIT
3. Yu Darvish at OAK, at SEA
4. Cliff Lee at LAD, at ARI
5. Chris Sale at DET, vs. TB
6. Justin Verlander vs. CHW, at MIN
7. Masahiro Tanaka at BOS, vs. LAA
8. James Shields at CLE, at BAL
9. Johnny Cueto at PIT, at ATL
10. Jon Lester vs. NYY, at TOR
11. Julio Teheran vs. MIA, vs. CIN
12. Anibal Sanchez vs. CHW, at MIN
13. Hyun-Jin Ryu vs. PHI, vs. COL
14. Andrew Cashner at MIL, at WAS
15. Francisco Liriano vs. CIN, at STL

Though far less enticing than Hamels, Erasmo Ramirez also has a chance to join the ranks of two-start pitchers. The Mariners have a day off on Thursday, and they could use that to skip Brandon Maurer on Saturday, moving both Felix Hernandez and Ramirez up a day. Should Ramirez pitch both on Tuesday against the Astros and on Sunday against the Rangers, he would be worth starting in AL-only leagues.

There could also be a subtraction from this week's cohort of two-start pitchers. Jake Arrieta (shoulder) may get activated from the DL to make a start during the Cubs' weekend series at the Brewers, and that could take away a second Week 4 start from either Jason Hammel or Travis Wood.

These are the moving parts that Fantasy owners need to be aware of this weekend, but for now, here are the pitchers you can count on for two starts for the next scoring period. There are few sure things among this group, so when you're combing the waiver wire for pitching help, you may be best off resisting the temptation to add starts to your rotation.

Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble

16. Danny Salazar, CLE (vs. KC, at SF)

Aside from his 17 strikeouts in 14 innings, it's hard to find the silver lining in Salazar's dismal start to the season. He has yet to make it six innings deep into any start, is continuing to experience decreased velocity, and each time out, Salazar has had trouble finding the plate. In Thursday's start against the Tigers, it looked like Salazar might finally be rounding into form, but everything fell apart for him in a horrendous fifth inning. He showed a glimpse of what he was last season, and that promise makes Salazar worth starting in standard mixed leagues for this two-start week, though there's reason to exercise caution in shallower formats.

Start Salazar over the following one-start pitchers: Ervin Santana, Marco Estrada, Hiroki Kuroda

17. Clay Buchholz, BOS (vs. BAL, at TOR)

Buchholz is the owner of an ugly 5.51 ERA and 1.71 WHIP, but most of the damage was done in his season debut against the Brewers. He turned in consecutive quality starts on the road at the Yankees and White Sox, neither of which is an easy assignment. In each of his starts, Buchholz has thrown strikes and coaxed swings and misses, so he looks like a fairly safe bet to stay on a roll. It's also very encouraging that Buchholz has been good at Rogers Centre over his career, posting a 1.49 ERA there over 10 starts, with only two home runs allowed.

Start Buchholz over the following one-start pitchers: Shelby Miller, C.J. Wilson, Yordano Ventura

18. Dan Straily, OAK (vs.TEX, at HOU)

Straily hasn't been throwing hard, with his fastball velocity averaging in the upper 80s (down from the lower 90s), but he's picked up his strikeout pace from his first two seasons. He actually started getting swinging strikes at a higher rate late last season, as he was getting more movement on his fastball, and so far this year, he has induced whiffs on 14 percent of his pitches. Extra-base hits have been an issue for Straily so far, even though he has yet to visit a hitters' park. That's mainly what keeps Straily from being a must-start this week.

Start Straily over the following one-start pitchers: Chris Archer, Lance Lynn, Sonny Gray

19. Dillon Gee, NYM (vs. STL, vs. MIA)

Two-start pitchers to avoid
28. Jake Odorizzi vs. MIN, at CHW
29. Edinson Volquez vs. CIN, at STL
30. Ian Kennedy at MIL, at WAS
31. Kyle Gibson at TB, vs. DET
32. Tommy Milone vs. TEX, at HOU
33. Miguel Gonzalez at TOR, vs. KC
34. Jason Hammel vs. ARI, at MIL
35. Mike Leake at PIT, at ATL
36. Taylor Jordan vs. LAA, vs. SD
37. Bronson Arroyo at CHC, vs. PHI
38. Brandon McCarthy at CHC, vs. PHI
39. Tom Koehler at ATL, at NYM
40. John Danks at DET, vs. TB
41. Scott Feldman at SEA, vs. OAK
42. Jorge De La Rosa vs. SF, at LAD
43. Ryan Vogelsong at COL, vs. CLE
44. Jeremy Guthrie at CLE, at BAL
45. Dallas Keuchel at SEA, vs. OAK
46. Paul Maholm vs. PHI, vs. COL

I had hopes for Gee to fulfill some of the strikeout potential that he showed two seasons ago, but that hasn't panned out so far. He is getting swinging strikes at a below-average rate (6.7 percent), which has contributed to just 17 Ks in 26 2/3 innings. Maybe the whiffs will come, and maybe they won't, but in the mean time, he's just been highly efficient, averaging 3.54 pitches per plate appearance and 6 2/3 innings per start. That, along with a start against the contact-challenged Marlins, just might make for a very productive week.

Start Gee over the following one-start pitchers: Tyson Ross, Zack Wheeler, Dan Haren

20. Wily Peralta, MIL (vs. SD, vs. CHC)

As a hard-thrower, Peralta appears to have some promise as a strikeout pitcher, but that hasn't played out yet this season. He was trending that way in the second half of last season with a 7.6 K/9 ratio, and just maybe over time, he can build on that pattern. For now, owners can still have confidence that Peralta will minimize extra-base hits, as he boasts a 63 percent ground ball rate. He has seemingly made strides in his control as well, having issued two walks or fewer in each of his three starts. Toss in a pair of good matchups, and Peralta could be a wily pickup.

Start Peralta over the following one-start pitchers: Zack Wheeler, Dan Haren, Matt Garza

21. Tanner Roark, WAS (vs. LAA, vs. SD)

Roark was sensational as a rookie last season, finishing with a 1.51 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. Though he clearly overperformed, he showed the potential to be useful to Fantasy owners in a Doug Fister sort of way. This year, Roark's control hasn't been as good, and his flyball rate has roughly doubled, from 22 to 43 percent, but he has still been effective enough to deliver quality starts in two of his three appearances. His worst start happened to be against the Braves, who were his toughest opponent, but he could take advantage of the Padres, just as he has already done with the Mets and Marlins. And who's to say that Roark can't get back to his grounder-churning, strike-throwing ways? He's worth a shot in a week where good two-start options aren't all that plentiful.

Start Roark over the following one-start pitchers: Justin Masterson, John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija

22. Garrett Richards, LAA (at WAS, at NYY)

Over his career, Richards has struggled with control more as a starter than as a reliever, and he has carried that trend over into this season. Because he has allowed all of three extra-base hits so far (all doubles), Richards hasn't had to pay for the 10 walks he has issued over 19 innings, but the Nationals and Yankees are the best power-hitting teams he will have faced to date. With better matchups, Richards would certainly be worth a gamble in a two-start week, but this time, he's closer to being a last resort option in standard mixed leagues.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Richards: Matt Garza, Justin Masterson, John Lackey

23. Jenrry Mejia, NYM (vs. STL, vs. MIA)

Fantasy owners shouldn't sweat Mejia's meaty walk total (11 in 16 innings), as he has thrown 65 percent of his pitches for strikes. There is also much to like in Mejia's stat line, such as 18 strikeouts, a 13.8 percent swinging strike rate and a 55 percent ground ball rate. He also faces the Marlins in his second start, so this is a no-brainer, right? Then again, Mejia has yet to pitch more than six innings in a start, lasting merely five innings in his last two outings, and he left his most recent one due to a popped blister on the middle finger of his right hand. That makes Mejia a risk to either get his next start pushed back, endangering his two-start week, or to just be ineffective. If the blister heals up by his next start, he could wind up paying off in a big way, but the safe move is to bench him in favor of a more certain option.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Mejia: Justin Masterson, John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija

24. Wei-Yin Chen, BAL (at BOS, vs. KC)

As a flyball pitcher, it stands to reason that Chen is risky to use when facing power-hitting lineups, but his tendencies to avoid walks and induce popups come in handy when opposing lesser hitters. That's how Chen's young season has unfolded so far, as his best start has come against the Rays, who have struggled to score runs. The Royals have been even less potent than the Rays, so that start alone makes Chen worth considering. However, while the Red Sox haven't hit all that well, all they need is for David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts to get untracked to wreak a little havoc. Chen's not a terrible choice for squeezing an extra start onto your roster, but there is some disaster potential here.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Chen: Jeff Samardzija, Michael Pineda, Corey Kluber

25. Travis Wood, CHC (vs. ARI, at MIL)

In each of his seasons as a Cub, Wood has been more prone to allowing home runs at Wrigley Field than on the road, and he now owns a career 1.1 HR/9 ratio at the Friendly Confines. So far this season, he has escaped two home starts and a start at Yankee Stadium with only one home run allowed, but with a third home start this week, his luck could run out. If the Diamondbacks don't get to Wood, then there is a good chance that the Brewers will at Miller Park. The positives on Wood's 2014 resume -- most notably a 9.5 K/9 ratio and a 48 percent ground ball rate -- look too good to be true, so Week 4 could very well be when the lefty gets his comeuppance.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Wood: Chris Tillman, CC Sabathia, Drew Smyly

26. Zach McAllister, CLE (vs. KC, at SF)

Thanks to a fast start that has produced a 2-0 record, 2.04 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, McAllister is gaining notice in Fantasy circles, and he just might be a trendy two-start pickup. The problem with relying on McAllister for a boost is that none of what he's done looks sustainable. He's already yielded 20 flyballs and 11 line drives, and typically he would have allowed a couple of those to have left the park. Those two dingers alone would have lifted his ERA to 3.06 (assuming they were solo shots) and his WHIP to 1.30. McAllister's 3.90 xFIP is actually a better indicator of what to expect for his ERA going forward. Only a good matchup versus the Royals and a visit to pitcher-friendly AT&T Park make McAllister a potentially viable start this week.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Arroyo: Drew Smyly, Jose Quintana, Jesse Chavez

27. R.A. Dickey, TOR (vs. BAL, vs. BOS)

Dickey's usually reliable control has largely abandoned him this year, so if you're starting him this coming week, it's only because you have faith that he can rediscover it. His second start of the season (versus the Yankees on April 5) was the only time we have seen the Dickey of old, but since that was all of two weeks ago, it's not completely irrational to hold out hope for a rebound. There's nothing wrong with Dickey's knuckleball velocity and swing-and-miss rate of 10 percent, so if he can do a better job of locating his pitches, he could snap out of his slump and justify the use of an active roster spot.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Chavez: Jose Quintana, Jesse Chavez, A.J. Burnett (whether with one start or two)

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
A-Rod will not play in Yankees' spring opener Tuesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:51 am ET) Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez will not play in the team's spring opener Tuesday against the Phillies. His name was not highlighted on the roster of players selected to travel to Clearwater, Fla., per NJ.com.

Rodriguez, however, was scheduled to DH and bat fourth in Monday's intrasquad game. There is no word yet if he will play in Wednesday's spring game against the Phillies.


Mets' Matt Harvey faces batters for the second time this spring
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:45 am ET) Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey (elbow) faced batters Monday for the second time this spring. He threw 26 pitches, while pitching to David Wright and Curtis Granderson, per NJ.com.

Harvey, who will make his spring debut March 6, has not pitched in a major-league game since Aug. 2013.


Yankees' Brendan Ryan 'progressing nicely'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:45 am ET) Yankees infielder Brendan Ryan said Monday that his recovery from a mid-back muscle strain is "progressing nicely," the Star-Ledger reports.

Ryan, who hurt his back doing bicep curls, said he's targeting a late-week return from the issue. He also missed much of last year's spring training with an unrelated back injury.


Phillies' Chase Utley misses Monday workout
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:40 am ET) Phillies second baseman Chase Utley didn't work out Monday as he continues to recover from an ankle issue, MLB.com reports.

Utley won't play in the spring opener and said Monday that he'll miss this week's slate of games entirely, the Philadelphia Daily News reports. The second baseman that while his ankle has improved in the last week, it's still pretty swollen and he has yet to begin running.

Utley suffered the ankle injury in January after stepping on a baseball.


Mariners' Rickie Weeks will also play at first base this spring
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:38 am ET) Rickie Weeks has primarily been working in the outfield since arriving for spring training, but Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said Monday that Weeks will also work at first base later this spring, per MLB.com.

“He will be that backup first baseman in case something happens,” said McClendon, noting he’s leaning more toward Weeks than fellow utility man Willie Bloomquist as a backup first baseman.


Mariners DH Nelson Cruz to see time in right field 'on occasion'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:35 am ET) Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz will see time in right field "on occasion" in order to let the team stream players through the designated-hiter slot, MLB.com reports.

"He’ll play out there in the season on occasion, because it’s nice to be able to rotate him out of that DH spot and give somebody else a day off and get him back on his feet," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "How much he’ll play in the spring, I’m not sure. But it would be safe to say he’ll play his share of games during the season in right field."

Cruz will primarly serve as a designated hitter by the Mariners but has played 744 games in right field in his career and 833 games in the outfield overall. While he's not on defense, the team is expected to use Seth Smith against most righties and Justin Ruggiano against most southpaws.


Viola: Mets' prospect Leathersich is a poor man's Sid Fernandez
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) Mets relief prospect Jack Leathersich has made a name for himself in the minors as a strikeout artist, as over his four-year career he is striking out 15.2 batters per nine innings. The left-hander is only 24 years old, meaning he could have a long and bright future with the Mets.

"If it all clicks, there's that lefty the Mets have been looking for in the big leagues and he's going to be there for a long time," Mets' Triple-A pitching coach Frank Viola said. "I compare him to a lesser man's Sid Fernandez."

Although, as good as Leathersich has been striking out batters, he has had his issues, particularly with his control. He has walked 4.9 batters per nine innings during his minor-league career.

"We'll give him a chance to see if he can get some left-handed hitters out in spring training," manager Terry Collins said. "You look at his numbers, he strikes people out. You look at his minor-league career, he strikes guys out. This isn't the minor leagues. I can clear that up real fast. This is a little different game. They're not going to swing at some of that stuff up here until you show me you can get them out in certain places, then they'll start to chase. But they're going to make you throw the ball over first. So we'll give him the opportunities."


Cardinals' Wainwright (abdominal) throws off mound Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:18 am ET) Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright was back on the mound Monday to throw his first bullpen session since being sidelined last week due to an abdominal strain, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wainwright threw 30-40 pitches and mixed in his curveball.

Monday marked the first time Wainwright was on the mound since the first official day for pitchers and catchers 10 days ago.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Wainwright will have to face hitters in batting practice before being able to pitch in a game.


Cardinals' Jon Jay 'not far behind,' Bourjos has 'a different swing'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:18 am ET) Cardinals manager Mike Matheny indicated Sunday that outfielder Peter Bourjos (hip) should be ready for the start of the exhibition season and has shown a noticeable difference in his swing, while outfielder Jon Jay (wrist) is "not far behind," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

"It’s looking like Peter is moving that direction (of being ready)," Matheny said. "Jon is going to be close. He’s getting stronger and everything is measuring out pretty well. Not far behind. He pushed it a little further."

Bourjos has had trouble keeping his hip flexible the last few seasons after having surgery to remove an impingement in the hip.

“I think right now I feel like I’m in a better position to hit more pitches," Bourjos said. "In the fast few years, I’ve been trying to work around my hip. I didn’t really know it, but I didn’t have that same range of motion."

"It’s very noticeable what he’s worked on," Matheny said of Bourjos. "We can’t get inside his body to know what it feels like, but it’s a different swing for sure. He always has moved well. He moved well last year. He’s driving balls that he couldn’t necessarily drive before."

Jay, who is working his way back from wrist surgery, is continuing to target being ready for opening night April 5. He noted that he'll be able to receive his full complement of spring-training at-bats in the last two weeks of the preseason, if necessary.

"We’re working to where I get 100 percent comfortable and then go from there," Jay said.. "I’m a cage guy. Once I feel good about my swing in the cage, I can take it anywhere. I want to get right inside."


Phillies' Ruf will be under the microscope in left field this spring
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:11 am ET) Phillies outfielder Darin Ruf will be competing with Grady Sizemore, Odubel Herrera and Jordan Danks for playing time -- and potentially the starting job -- in left field this spring. The Phillies hope Ruf will be up to the challenge and make the decision difficult as to who to keep on the roster, per The Philadelphia Daily News.

"It all depends on him," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said of Ruf, who has played parts of the last three seasons with the Phillies. "He's going to get opportunities to play. Sizemore looks very good. The decisions that we make will be based on performance here in spring, whether we think they can help us on a regular basis during the season. And once we break with the team, it's going to be about [manager Ryne Sandberg] trying to put the best team out there to win baseball games."

Ruf is a natural first baseman, but he has been learning to play in left field since 2012. Still, the Phillies have to see if they can trust him on a regular basis playing the position.

"I don't know," Amaro said. "He could. He could. We'll find out. We'll find out a little more about him. He's not an outfielder per se, but he seems to move fine out there and he doesn't seem to make mistakes. It's still a learning process for him . . . You can't lose sight of the defense. And we have to be aware of that. We have to win games playing all phases of the games. Defense and pitching are important. Guys have to be good enough defensively not to be liabilities out there, so they can help us win games."


 
 
 
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