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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
Sonny Gray turns in another gem
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:01 am ET) Athletics pitcher Sonny Gray turned in another gem Thursday night against the Angels in Anaheim. The right-hander permitted three runs on six hits and three walks while striking out six over seven innings of a no-decision. Of his 103 pitches, 66 were strikes.

Over his last four starts covering 27 2/3 innings, Gray has allowed 12 earned runs. He owns a 3.03 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP over 27 starts (178 innings). His next start will come Tuesday at home against Seattle.

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by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:51 am ET) Royals outfielder Alex Gordon clubbed his 17th home run Thursday against the Twins. 

Gordon struck in the bottom of the seventh inning. He took a 93 mph fastball from from Ryan Pressly out to right center for the solo shot. Gordon also singled earlier in the contest. He finished 2 for 5, with two runs scored and two RBI. Gordon has now hit five home runs in his last 11 games. 


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by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
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Wilson was pulled after putting two men on base with two outs. Wilson did not factor into the decision. He’ll take on the Astros in his next start.


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by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:43 am ET) Astros catcher Jason Castro belted a grand slam Thursday against the Rangers.

Castro struck in the bottom of the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, he sent a 96 mph fastball out to right for the grand slam. Castro also singled and walked earlier in the contest. He finished 2 for 3, with one run scored and four RBI.


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by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
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Charlie Morton goes four innings in rehab start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton went four innings during a rehab start Thursday.

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(12:26 am ET) Tigers pitcher Luke Putkonen was knocked around in his first rehab appearance.

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by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:10 am ET) Royals pitcher Bruce Chen had a big time meltdown Thursday against the Twins.

Chen entered with the game tied in the top of the 10th inning. After notching a strikeout against the first batter he faced, Chen gave up a triple and two walks to load the bases. Two singles quickly gave the Twins a three-run lead. Chen was then able to induce a pop out for the second out of the inning. With two outs, he allowed two straight doubles, plating another three runs.

When all was said and done, Chen gave up six runs on five hits during his one inning of work. His record dropped to 2-4. 


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Guthrie exited with the game tied, picking up the no-decision. He’ll take on the Rangers in his next start.


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(12:06 am ET) Twins pitcher Tommy Milone had a rough start Thursday against the Royals.

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Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie had similar struggles during the start, giving Milone the no-decision. He’ll take on the White Sox in his next start.


 
 
 
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