It's still very early in the season, but it's never too early to gloat over the success of pitching sleepers I had targeted this spring. Of course I may have missed the boat on one or two also (Yes, Jake Peavy, I'm talking to you). We'll hit on these pitchers and more as we cover the pitching landscape Clint Eastwood Style.
• In St. Louis, Jaime Garcia has gotten off to a great start. He has just a single win, but sports a nifty 1.42 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. The .224 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) indicates it won't always be such smooth sailing, but his minor league numbers also suggest that there's plenty of room for improvement in the strikeout department. The only question with Garcia is how his surgically-repaired arm holds up. Thus far, he has gone at least six innings in every start and shown no signs of distress. Look for more quality work from Mr. Garcia.
• I was extremely down on Francisco Liriano after last season, but the early hype from the winter leagues had me intrigued. Many experts will tell you to ignore pretty much all of the hyperbole you hear every spring. While there's certainly merit to that thought, I think you have to look at each case on its own. Is there a reason for the hype? In this case there certainly was. During the '08 and '09 seasons, Liriano's fastball was almost a full four mph off his first two seasons. Ironically, he was throwing that diminished fastball even more than when it was dominant. It's purely conjecture, but it seemed like he was leery of throwing the slider. Either Liriano had doubts in his mind about his arm or the slider just wasn't doing the job at reduced velocities. Reports this spring had his fastball hitting 95 and the slider looking like its' pre-Tommy John self. In this case, the hype was warranted. Now, two full seasons removed from surgery, look for Liriano to approach his incredible rookie form.
• Another young pitcher I liked to have a nice fantasy impact was Brian Matusz. His 4.38 ERA doesn't look all that special, but much of that damage was done in the eighth inning of a start against a strong Tampa Bay lineup. After seven shutout innings, Matusz was probably left in a little too long. He's struck out 27 hitters in 24.2 innings and his 3.65 BB/9 is actually almost a full walk higher than his minor league average. Want more reason to believe? His .330 BABIP should come down. Matusz is getting a little fantasy love, but there's plenty of reason to expect even bigger things.
• David Price may still have a rough outing or two, but it's time we bump him up to that second level of fantasy starters. His four-hit shutout of Toronto was one of the better performances of the year. He's now struck out 26 hitters against just nine walks. I'm a believer.
• Although he comes with risk, there are strong signs that Daisuke Matsuzaka could be a serious fantasy asset when he rejoins the Red Sox. In 16.2 innings at Triple-A, he's struck out 13 hitters against just one walk. Matsuzaka will probably never be an asset in the WHIP category, but he will get the Ks and should win his share of games even if the Boston offense isn't what it once was.
• The downfall of C.J. Wilson as a reliever was always his control. As recently as the '08 season, he posted 5.22 BB/9. Evidently, the starting rotation agrees with him as he's lowered the walks to a more manageable 3.20 per nine. Durability may prove to be an issue, but right now, he looks like a mixed league pitcher.
• Brandon Morrow didn't get a win and wasn't quite as brilliant as his last time out, but his start against the Rays on Sunday reinforced just how good his stuff is. In six innings, he gave up just three hits and struck out eight batters. Six walks were his undoing, but you've got to like the direction he's headed. He's a definite asset in A.L. leagues and with just a small improvement in his control, he could be mixed league viable.
• Want to look like a genius by picking up a fantasy ace before he takes off? Ervin Santana is your man. He started the year with two clunkers, but everyone forgets that he had virtually no spring training due to an inflamed bursa sac, which was reportedly not pitching related. People also forget that though his final numbers were ugly, he did go 7-3 after the break in '09. Santana followed his first two starts with a complete game gem against Toronto. Santana's numbers are also dampened by two outings against the Yankees. Expect Santana to gain consistency as he gets more innings under his belt. Get him now, while that 4.72 ERA scares others away.
• Ready to jump ship after Neftali Feliz's blown save Friday? Don't worry; lifeboats will not be needed. He was dominant as usual. Austin Jackson beat out a dribbler in the hole. Johnny Damon followed with a broken bat bloop double. Magglio Ordonez drove both of them in with a single to right, the only hard hit of the inning. The way Feliz attacks the plate is reminiscent of Dennis Eckersley in his prime. Feliz doesn't have the same pinpoint control, but "Eck" didn't throw 102 mph.
• Abandon ship on Jim Johnson. He may have received a W for Sunday's effort, but not before he blew a two-run lead. His ERA sits at 7.04 and the leash is running out. If rookie Kam Mickolio can string a couple good outings together, he could insert himself into a save situation. If not, Koji Uehara may quickly be thrust into the role when he returns from the DL. He's probably the best bet to close for the rest of the year if Mike Gonzalez does not return. Gonzalez was supposed to begin a rehab assignment this week, but he's going to see Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Just mentioning Dr. Andrews made my elbow a little achy.
• Just when you think the light bulb has turned on for Mike Pelfrey, he threw 70 pitches in two innings Sunday night. He re-grouped and was able to get the win, but it was definitely not a good outing. The guy throws 92 mph with great movement; meanwhile he's pitching like Paul Byrd against the '27 Yankees. If Sunday's outing didn't sour you on Pelfrey, maybe the unsustainable 90.5 percent strand rate will. We may see an improvement over last year's numbers, but Pelfrey is not the breakout ace that some are painting him to be.
Dave Bush owners ... I'm sorry.
• The aforementioned Peavy has fallen short of even the most modest expectations. An impressive spring had me drooling over a No. 1 fantasy starter at a 10th-round price, but Peavy has imploded. When a pitcher's K/9 and BB/9 are a matching 6.04, you know things aren't going well. Peavy seemed to be laboring with every pitch during Thursday's seven-walk outing against the Rays. His velocity didn't appear to be down, but his pitches were missing the zone in all different directions. I'd be surprised if a DL stint is not in his immediate future. I still like him as a low-end ace if he's healthy, but we know how that story could turn out.
• Did you realize that Bronson Arroyo posted a 2.24 ERA after the beak last year? Did you realize that was last year? He's now put up three straight starts with five or more earned runs. Even those in the deepest of leagues need to bench him until there is some sign of life. Innings eaters can help, even in fantasy, but not when they come attached to a 7.43 ERA.
Check back Thursday, as we get a little more offensive.
* All statistics current as of April 25.