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Fantasy First Pitch for Week 17

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The All-Star break is finally over. If you're planning on dealing with your baseball withdrawal by watching as many games as you can stand this weekend, you will get to watch a lot of aces, as teams have used the break to reset their rotations.

The downside to this embarrassment of weekend pitching riches, of course, is when Fantasy Week 17 (July 21 -27) rolls around, it's mostly the pitchers at the back of rotations who will open series on Monday and Tuesday. And that will make for some uninspiring two-start options, as those same hurlers will take the mound again next weekend.

Must start two-start options
1. Chris Sale vs. KC, at MIN
2. Adam Wainwright vs. TB, at CHC
3. Julio Teheran vs. MIA, vs. SD
4. Cliff Lee vs. SF, vs. ARI
5. Scott Kazmir vs. HOU, at TEX
6. Mat Latos at MIL, vs. WAS
7. Hyun-Jin Ryu at PIT, at SF
8. Mike Minor vs. MIA, vs. SD
9. Doug Fister at COL, at CIN

Week 17 will not only be marked by a paucity of higher-end two-start pitchers, but by a great deal of uncertainty. By next weekend, the pre-waiver trade deadline will be just days away, and that could tangle some rotations. Also, some teams are still trying to figure out how to fill out the back of their rotations. Going into the break, many Fantasy owners assumed that Taijuan Walker would return to the Mariners' rotation right away, but now it is unclear when he will be recalled to make his next start. In fact, CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman has reported that the Rays have inquired about getting Walker in a trade, so for all we know, he could have already made his last start for Seattle.

And will Danny Salazar finally return to the Indians' rotation this week? He is a leading candidate to fill an opening in the rotation on Tuesday, but whether he could parlay that into a possible two-start week or a ticket back to Columbus remains to be seen. The Twins' back of the rotation is also in flux, so could prospects Trevor May and/or Alex Meyer finally get the call? Heading into the weekend, therer are far more questions than answers.

Cliff Lee (elbow), Jonathon Niese (shoulder) and Collin McHugh (finger) present their own form of uncertainty, as each is scheduled to return from the disabled list to make two starts this week. All are recommended starts to varying degrees, but each is riskier than usual after experiencing a layoff. C.J. Wilson (ankle) is eligible to return next weekend, and if he is ready to come off the DL, he could spoil a two-start week for either Matt Shoemaker or Hector Santiago.

With so many moving parts, this week's two-start pitcher rankings could get some refreshing between now and the lineup deadline, so be sure to check back for Monday's update. For now, though, here's how the 45 projected two-start pitchers stack up.

Monday update: As expected, some of the muddled rotation situations got clearer over the weekend, though others remain to be sorted out. Salazar will be recalled to start for the Indians on Tuesday at the Twins, but he will still have to duke it out with T.J. House, Zach McAllister and, eventually, Justin Masterson (knee), for one of the final two spots in the rotation. The Twins, however, have yet to name a starter to oppose Salazar, but given that May pitched for Triple-A Rochester on Saturday, he appears to be out of the picture.

Lee and Niese are both scheduled to return from the DL on Monday, so both line up for two starts as anticipated. McHugh will remain on the DL to make at least one rehab start, so a two-start week is no longer possible for him. Wilson has yet to throw off a mound, so his return this week looks unlikely, making the two-start weeks for Shoemaker and Santiago appear safe from preemption.

While McHugh gets removed from this week's list of two-start pitchers, Nick Martinez (side) gets added. He will come off the DL to start at the Yankees on Tuesday, which puts him in line to also start Sunday against the Athletics.

Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble

10. Jake Odorizzi, TB (at STL, vs. BOS)

Odorizzi's streak of consecutive starts with three or fewer earned runs has reached seven, and over this stretch, he has compiled a 2.28 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. He's been getting more swings-and-misses lately than he was earlier in the season, but a bigger key to his recent success has been pitching mostly at home. Five out of those seven starts came at Tropicana Field, and Odorizzi gets another outing there next weekend. Before then, he will visit Busch Stadium, which is also partial to pitchers. The Cardinals are also very pitcher-friendly, as they have the lowest-scoring and least-powerful offense in the National League that is more than 30 miles from the Mexican border. With a 41 percent flyball rate, Odorizzi is never entirely safe, but he has a good chance of extending his hot streak in Week 17.

Start Odorizzi over the following one-start pitchers: Alex Cobb, Homer Bailey, Anibal Sanchez

11. Jonathon Niese, NYM (at SEA, at MIL)

Niese enters the second half still on the 15-day disabled list, but all indications are that he will be ready to make a start at the Mariners, which would line him up for a second start at the Brewers. Only a two-and-a-half week layoff due to a shoulder strain keeps Niese from being a must-start option, given the meager two-start alternatives this week. Niese's reduced velocity and pitch-to-contact ways are less of an issue when he doubles up his innings, especially given that he typically goes deep into games. The lefty is averaging 3.59 pitches per plate appearance, which helped him to pitch seven-plus innings seven times in the first half. Niese also lasted six-plus innings in all but three of his 16 starts prior to his most recent appearance, when he was knocked out in the first inning by a line drive off his lower back. Perhaps with rest, Niese will throw harder and miss a few more bats, but even if he doesn't, his control, aversion to extra-base hits and efficiency are good enough to make him viable this week.

Start Niese over the following one-start pitchers: Anibal Sanchez, James Shields, Chris Archer

12. Rick Porcello, DET (at ARI, at LAA)

Porcello's greatest asset is his sinker, but over his first 12 starts of the season, it had betrayed him. Opponents put up a .187 Isolated Power on the pitch, as opposed to a .111 mark last season, but Porcello has found his groove again recently. Over his last six starts, his sinker has yielded an .053 Isolated Power, and overall Porcello has held hitters to a .223/.272/.299 slash line. Even though strikeouts continue to be scarce, Porcello has been so proficient at getting grounders that he can be trusted in two-start weeks. The Angels have been an above-average team at hitting for power against ground ball pitchers, posting a .141 Iso (as opposed to the major league average of .117), so that matchup does make Porcello something less than a must-start.

Start Porcello over the following one-start pitchers: James Shields, Chris Archer, Ervin Santana

13. Jimmy Nelson, MIL (vs. CIN, vs. NYM)

After having dominated the Pacific Coast League, Nelson arrived in Milwaukee just before the break with much fanfare ... and then he delivered a dud of a start against the Cardinals. It was actually Nelson's second big league start of the year, and his first effort -- at the Marlins back in May -- went much better. Even in last week's outing, Nelson showed the ability to get whiffs, inducing 10 of them in 98 pitches, and based on his minor league track record, he should be able to do a better job of getting grounders and stranding runners going forward. Even highly talented pitchers don't always have an easy time transitioning to the majors, but Nelson's high ceiling makes him worth starting this week.

Start Nelson over the following one-start pitchers: Chris Archer, Ervin Santana, Tim Hudson

14. Matt Shoemaker, LAA (vs. BAL, vs. DET)

Shoemaker has been a swingman for the Angels, which has kept him from staying in the rotation for extended stretches. As we saw with Drew Smyly earlier this season, that can make it difficult for Shoemaker to actually deliver two starts, even when the schedule suggests that is what is in his future for the coming week. Fantasy owners can't control how Shoemaker will be used, but they can take comfort in knowing that he has actually been more effective as a starter than as a reliever. Though he sports a 4.15 ERA while in the rotation, Shoemaker has racked up 52 strikeouts and only 12 walks and four home runs in 52 innings as a starter this year. A .356 BABIP has held Shoemaker back from an impressive stat line, and it is likely the result of bad luck, especially since he has yielded a normal-looking 21 percent line drive rate as a starter (per StatCorner.com). Shoemaker has been too prone to allowing home runs on the road, but with two home starts, he could provide a nice return. In fact, he could be worth a rotation spot, even if he only makes one of his starts.

Start Shoemaker over the following one-start pitchers: Ervin Santana, Tim Hudson, Jason Hammel

15. Jacob deGrom, NYM (at SEA, at MIL)

Two-start pitchers to avoid
21. Tom Koehler at ATL, at HOU
22. Drew Hutchison vs. BOS, at NYY
23. Jake Peavy at TOR, at TB
24. Jeremy Guthrie at CHW, vs. CLE
25. Miguel Gonzalez at LAA, at SEA
26. Bud Norris at LAA, at SEA
27. Hector Santiago vs. BAL, vs. DET
28. Kyle Hendricks vs. SD, vs. STL
29. Yusmeiro Petit at PHI, vs. LAD
30. Roenis Elias vs. NYM, vs. BAL
31. Edinson Volquez vs. LAD, at COL
32. Shane Greene vs. TEX, vs. TOR
33. Jacob Turner at ATL, at HOU
34. Miles Mikolas at NYY, vs. OAK
35. Roberto Hernandez vs. SF, vs. ARI
36. J.A. Happ vs. BOS, at NYY
37. Eric Stults at CHC, at ATL
38. Bruce Chen at CHW, vs. CLE
39. Chase Whitley vs. TEX, vs. TOR
40. Scott Carroll vs. KC, at MIN
41. Yohan Pino vs. CLE, vs. DET
42. Vidal Nuno vs. DET, at PHI
43. Nick Martinez at NYY, vs. OAK
44. Kris Johnson vs. CLE, vs. CHW
45. Franklin Morales vs. WAS, vs. PIT

Before deGrom embarked on a five-start run that has produced a 1.65 ERA and 38 strikeouts over 32 2/3 innings, he hadn't been showing much consistency with his whiff rate or control, and he had been all too consistent in allowing flyballs. Since then, he has thrown 65 percent of his pitches for strikes, 14 percent for whiffs and he has induced as many grounders as flies and line drives. It's hard to know how much to trust those results, though, as deGrom has faced both the Marlins and Braves twice over that five-start span, and his third opponent -- the Pirates -- are not great contact hitters either. The Mariners will be the best contact-hitting squad deGrom has seen in some time, and while the Brewers do their share of swinging-and-missing, they are the best offensive team he will have faced this year. In fact, the Brew Crew already whacked deGrom around for three runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings in an earlier start this season. Because he does have a history of good control and better ground ball tendencies than what he showed in his early starts this season, deGrom is worth a flier. He just may disappoint those looking for similar performances to those he has had recently.

Start the following one-start pitchers over deGrom: James Shields, Chris Archer, Ervin Santana

16. Wily Peralta, MIL (vs. CIN, vs. NYM)

When Peralta got through the first two months of the season with suprisingly good control, owners had reason to be encouraged, but a 2.12 ERA through his first 10 starts seemed a bit much. Regression came swiftly and strongly for Peralta, as his ERA over his next eight starts was an unsightly 6.38. He was a less consistent strike-thrower over that span, but unfavorable BABIP and strand rates were largely responsible for the damage. Peralta never stopped being a good ground ball pitcher, and his control has generally been decent, if not stellar. Take away all of the white noise that that has created the appearance of inconsistency, and what you have is a pitcher much like Charlie Morton, but with a better lineup to back him. Morton is a pretty reliable two-start option, and Peralta is even more so.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Peralta: Chris Archer, Ervin Santana, Tim Hudson

17. Ryan Vogelsong, SF (at PHI, vs. LAD)

Matt Cain has gotten a boost over his career from making home starts at AT&T Park, but he isn't the only Giants pitcher to reap that benefit. While Vogelsong is carrying a 5.18 ERA on the road, he has a 3.04 home ERA, and it's the third time in four seasons that he has had an ERA under 3.10 at home. Both Cain and Vogelsong are fairly average when it comes to avoiding contact and pitching with control, but Vogelsong is a little harder to trust. Both this season and in the past, Cain has been more effective at getting outs on balls in play, while Vogelsong has been notably inefficient, averaging 3.92 pitches per plate appearance and fewer than six innings per start. That matters less in a two-start week, but it's part of what makes Vogelsong a less attractive option than the above pitchers on this list.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Vogelsong: Ervin Santana, Tim Hudson, Jason Hammel

18. Justin Verlander, DET (at ARI, at LAA)

It's no longer realistic to expect Verlander to blow hitters away, but in late June, he seemed to have figured out a way to succeed with lesser stuff. Over a three-start span, Verlander pitched with pinpoint control, walking just two batters over 19 innings while garnering 20 strikeouts. In his final two starts before the break, Verlander continued to avoid walks, but according to BrooksBaseball.net, his average fastball velocity languished at 92.5 mph. as opposed to 94.0 mph in his prior starts. The results weren't pretty, as Verlander notched only seven Ks in 12 1/3 innings while allwoing nine runs, all earned. There's been more bad than good for Verlander this season, but he has shown signs of promise, like in his recent three-game rebound. It's probably best to sit him, but he's a reasonable last-resort choice.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Verlander: Tim Hudson, Jason Hammel, Lance Lynn

19. John Lackey, BOS (at TOR, at TB)

Lackey is in the midst of a four-game slide of his own, and it may not be coincidental that three of those starts have come away from Fenway Park. Even though Lackey has experienced a renaissance in his two seasons since returning from Tommy John surgery, in both 2013 and 2014, he has struggled on the road. This season's 4.47 road ERA bests last season's mark by single point, and in both campaigns, he has been highly vulnerable to home runs in away games. The one start that Lackey has pitched at home during his slump came against the slugging Orioles, as a pair of homers neutralized the impact of 11 strikeouts. A road start against the Blue Jays is dangerous, even without Edwin Encarnacion, and the Rays' offense has found new life in recent weeks. Lackey owners can look forward to a home stand in Fantasy Week 18 (July 28-Aug. 3), but until then, they should first see if they can find a safer back-of-the-rotation option.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Lackey: Jason Hammel, Lance Lynn, Jordan Zimmermann

20. T.J. House, CLE (at MIN, at KC)

House's Fantasy stats -- a 1-2 record with a 4.40 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and 30 strikeouts over 45 innings -- are hardly noteworthy, at least in a good way. His supporting stats, including a 64 percent ground ball rate, 66 percent strikes thrown rate and 10 percent whiff rate, are actually pretty enticing. House has deserved better results, but he has been victimized by a .293 batting average on grounders that looks just plain unlucky, and by four short-distance home runs (according to ESPN Hit Tracker's criteria). With a 3.57 ERA over his last four starts, the turnaround has already begun for House, and with starts against the Twins and Royals this week, it could easily continue. Both teams are among the bottom third in the majors in batting average against ground ball pitchers.

Start the following one-start pitchers over House: Lance Lynn, Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Salazar

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Player News
Athletics' Jesse Chavez happy with spring showing
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Athletics pitcher Jesse Chavez allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings while striking out one in Thursday's 6-4 win over the Giants.

Chavez, who was on the mound just two days after the birth of his daughter, is happy with his performance this spring, the Bay Area News Group reports.

"I feel good," Chavez said. "I’ve put some men on, but I’ve pitched out of some jams. I’ve showed them I won’t let it snowball."

Chavez believes he needs to improve at changing the eye level of batters.

"I’ve got to get them to change eye levels better," Chavez said. "The last two or three starts, I haven’t been able to do that. The pitches that I’m trying to elevate they’re fouling off (instead of swinging and missing) and that runs up my pitch count."

Chavez has posted a 4.50 ERA in 16 innings as he competes for a spot in the rotation.


Giants' Bochy: Joe Panik pressing, remains starter at second base
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:09 am ET) Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday that while infielder Joe Panik might be pressing, he remains the team's starter at second base without reservations, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Panik is just 8 for 50 this spring after going hitless in four at-bats Thursday, though he has delivered three doubles and two home runs. He's looking for a strong follow-up to an impressive rookie season in which he hit .305/.343/.368 in 269 at-bats.


Pirates P A.J. Burnett changes tune about shifting
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:38 am ET) Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett has not had the highest of opinions when it comes to infield-shifting in the past. In 2013, he let some reporters know what he thought about shifting at the time.

When asked about a shift of shortstop Clint Barmes that year, Burnett stated, “I do not have a problem with (Barmes), I had a problem with the (expletive) shift. We play people in the wrong spot.”

But Burnett seemed to change his tune when reflecting upon the subject.

“As much as I complained about the shifts, they helped,” Burnett said. “They really did. It's that one a game, you've got a no-hitter for four or five innings and one gets through, and where you're like … ‘(expletive) shift.'

“But (shifts) saves you more than anything, and that's the truth.”

The 38-year-old has lost some steam on his fastball at this point in his career and he knows that.

“It took me getting a little older to realize that I'm not able to blow it by guys anymore and ground balls are just as good,” he said.

Burnett has posted a 6.39 ERA with nine earned runs, eight walks and 12 strikeouts in four starts this spring.


Time running out for Matt Lindstrom to win spot with Angels
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:35 am ET) Angels pticher Matt Lindstrom can opt out of his contract if he's not placed on the active roster five days before the regular-season opener, and he believes he may not have an opening to fill in the bullpen, MLB.com reports.

"There's a ton of guys in here that have shown they can compete at this level," Lindstrom said. "I just hope I can be one of those guys that breaks camp with the team. It'd be fun to be on a team like this, that has so much potential, especially with how many games they won last year. The pitching staff's going to be solid no matter which way they go, but I'm hoping to be a part of that."

Lindstrom has given up seven runs in 4 2/3 spring innings but is excited about how his arm feels this spring.

"I can just tell the ball's coming out better," Lindstrom said. "Hopefully, that can just translate to outs."


Giants' Tim Lincecum strikes out seven Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:22 am ET) Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum allowed four runs (three earned) on four hits and two walks in five innings while racking up seven strikeouts in Thursday's spring start against the A's.

"It comes down to one or two pitches per inning," Lincecum said on alternating good and bad innings, per MLB.com. "I just have to keep my pitches down. The ones that they're hitting are the ones that are up. Leadoff batters are locking in to some of the first pitches."

Lincecum has dealt with neck issues and mediocre performances but has looked much better over the last week, following a one-run outing Saturday by matching his seven strikeouts in his previous four outings. He appears on track to open the season as the team's No. 5 starter.


Rockies' Brandon Barnes displays new swing this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) Rockies outfielder Brandon Barnes brought a brand-new swing to spring training that features a high leg kick as he looks to cut down the strikeouts and "be the best version of me," the Denver Post reports.

"I tried to refine who I am and what type of player I am in the box," Barnes said Thursday. "I'm not a guy who's going to hit 30 home runs. I know that. I'm the big guy who needs to be a pest, drive the ball into gaps, hit doubles, use my speed to my advantage, bunt, all those things."

Barnes lost 10 pounds this offseason as he looked to come to camp more athletic and less stiff in the batter's box.

"We have this tremendous athlete, and you see him in the outfield and it shows up daily," manager Walt Weiss said. "But you saw him in the box last season, and there was some stiffness to his approach. And I'm saying, 'Be that guy in the box.' It made sense to him."

Barnes indicated that he's committed to the new approach that pulls the focus away from home runs.

"I had to go back and do some soul-searching to figure out who I was," Barnes said. "I'm the guy who goes out and plays really hard."


Rangers' Shin-Soo Choo goes hitless in return Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (triceps) returned to the lineup Thursday, going 0 for 4 while serving as the designated hitter in his team's 6-3 win over the Rockies.

Choo had been sidelined since March 15 due to a triceps injury and was reported to be targeting a return Saturday, but he was able to remain in for the entire game Thursday, picking up four at-bats in his role as DH. He's managed just four hits in 22 at-bats this spring.


Rangers' Fujikawa confident in return from Tommy John surgery
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Rangers pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa is scheduled to pitch Friday, and the Rangers will be keeping a close eye on the pitcher to determine if he has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery or if he'll need time in the minors to open the season, MLB.com reports.

Fujikawa hasn't allowed a run in four Cactus League outings but has struggled a bit in two camp games. He remains confident his recovery is on track.

"This is still spring training, not the regular season," Fujikawa said. "It's only going to get better. Coming into spring training, the surgery was out of my mind. As a player, I am really confident. I am not sure what my role will be, but I'll be confident whatever the situation is."

Manager Jeff Banister is looking for the pitcher to build off his spring success.

"The guy is coming off Tommy John," Banister said. "There are good days and bad days. He has logged a couple of good ones. Let's see that continue."


Twins Trevor Plouffe wants to cement his place at third
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe is completely aware of the threat that Miguel Sano brings when it comes to the third base spot. Sano is considered by many to be a can't-miss player. But Plouffe is trying not to let that affect him or his play. 

“You can’t think about anything like that,” Plouffe said. “You can’t worry about what other people are saying about you. I’m more focused on getting this organization out of this rut that we’ve dug ourselves over the last four years.”

After moving around the infield for years, Plouffe seems to have found his place at third. The 28-year-old has a batting average of .245 with 62 home runs, 224 RBI and 398 strikeouts in five seasons.


Rangers' Ross Ohlendorf (groin) leaves Thursday's game
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Rangers pitcher Ross Ohlendorf was removed from Thursday's game against the Rockies due to recurring tightness in his right groin, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

Ohlendorf tossed a scoreless inning and struck out two Thursday in his first appearance since March 15 but continued to battle groin issues. He's competing for a spot in the bullpen.


 
 
 
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