April 30, 2010

The DL slot is fantasy baseball's security blanket. It can help managers feel better about their teams. Sure you're team is toiling at the bottom of your league's standings, but on Saturday that will all change when you can put Daisuke Matsuzaka into your rotation.

Players often look better than they actually are when they sit on the DL, especially when they start the season injured. It's the same type of unproven optimism that every fantasy manager has immediately after the draft.

You see, Matsuzaka hasn't thrown a pitch in the majors in 2010, so there's no evidence to show that last year's poor performance was an aberration. There is still hope that the Red Sox righty can bounce back to his '08 form when he won 18 games and had a 2.90 earned run average in 29 appearances.

Matsuzaka, Cliff Lee, Ian Kinsler and Brad Lidge are set to make their season debuts either Friday or Saturday (or in Lidge's case, the Phils' next save opportunity). Many hopeful fantasy owners can finally see if their draft investments on these players will pay off.

However, their returns will shake up lineups and send some early season contributors to the bench, the bullpen, or even the minors.

Lee's (abdominal injury) return will make the biggest fantasy impact of all the players coming off the DL this weekend. Not just because the lefty has won 36 games over the last two seasons, but also because of the changes the Mariners will need to make to accompany him.

Lee is obviously a must-start every time he takes the mound. His fantasy owners should pull him off the DL, plug him into the starting lineup, and expect an above-average outing from him Friday night at home against the Rangers.

During Lee's absence, fellow starters Ian Snell, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister were all competing for the final two spots in the Mariners rotation. All three began the season as intriguing AL-only fantasy options. It appeared that Snell and Vargas had the inside track to hold down the back end of the rotation.

However, not only has Fister been the best of the three, his 1.67 ERA and 0.93 walks plus hits per inning through 27 innings has made him a worthwhile mixed league fantasy starter. Vargas has gone 2-1 with a mid-3.00's ERA and Snell has struggled.

Lee's return will send Snell to the bullpen, and a trip to the fantasy waiver wire should also be in his future.

When Kinsler sprained his ankle in the preseason, the Rangers originally hoped for an April 10 return, but that date seemed extremely optimistic. Kinsler will return before May... one day before. Coincidentally, his first at-bat of will most likely come against Lee as the Rangers travel to Safeco.

Like Lee, Kinsler is a player that can be moved straight from the fantasy DL to the starting lineup. The second baseman had two hits and drove in two runs in Wednesday's rehab start with the Class AA Frisco Roughriders.

Kinsler's return could mean the end for Joaquin Arias, who has been an excellent plug-and-play replacement, especially in AL-only leagues. Arias is batting .333 with nine runs scored and a stolen base in 16 games. Unfortunately for Arias owners, Andres Blanco is a better defender and can play multiple positions. The Rangers will have to designate one of those two players for assignment, or trade them, to make room for Kinsler.

However, there is a chance that they will keep both and move first baseman Ryan Garko. Garko is hitting a paltry .071. No matter who leaves the team, all three of these players have little fantasy value thanks to Kinsler's return.

Both the Phillies and Lidge's fantasy owners are hoping that the reliever's return is coming at the perfect time ... "hoping" being the key word.

Current closer Ryan Madson has blown two of his last three save opportunities, after picking up saves in his first three chances. Madson started the season so well that the Phillies reportedly planned on letting Lidge work his way back into the closer role once he returned to the big leagues. Since Madson has struggled of late, the rumblings around Philly are that Lidge will close this weekend.

Lidge is coming off multiple surgeries (knee, elbow). He picked up 31 saves last year, which was OK. He had 11 blown saves and eight losses, which was bad. He posted a 7.21 ERA, which was awful.

Fantasy owners should cross their fingers in hopes that Lidge can perform closer to his '08 level, when he had 41 saves and a sub-2.00 ERA.

The Red Sox expect Matsuzaka (back, neck) to start Saturday at Baltimore. He threw a 69-pitch simulated game on Monday, and pitching coach John Farrell said he had good "action" on his pitches.

His return to the rotation will push knuckleballer Tim Wakefield into the bullpen. Wakefield is a decent AL-only option when he's a starter, but he has little fantasy value when he moves to the pen.

The move will likely mark the end of either Alan Embree or Scott Schoeneweis.

Matsuzaka is a player that many fantasy owners took a flier on in the middle-to-late rounds of the fantasy draft. At the very least, he'll be an above-average source of strikeouts and wins. He does have the potential to be a very good third starter in fantasy or an OK second starter, but just be wary of his career 1.40 WHIP.

Unlike the first four players listed, Zimmerman has played this season. He has, however, missed seven consecutive games with a hamstring injury. The Nationals hope to get the slugging third baseman back into the starting lineup Friday for the series in Florida. The team thinks it will be better to start him off in a warmer climate.

Zimmerman has dealt with hamstring issues off and on throughout the season's opening month. What's been frustrating for his fantasy owners is that despite missing seven games and being limited in a handful of others, he's never gone on the DL. So it's been a daily chore to see if he'll be playing or not.

The good news is that there are reports that the Nationals are being cautious with Zimmerman. Whether he's able to play this weekend or not, I expect him to be back to every day duty next week.

If Blanton (oblique) had his way, he'd start the Phillies' next game. Even though he allowed five runs (including two homers) in five innings during his Class AA start on Wednesday, Blanton is telling anyone who's listening that he's ready to go.

Blanton could start for the Phillies as early as Monday. He'll be welcomed back to the rotation, especially after the team had to put starter J.A. Happ on the DL with a forearm strain. Right-hander Nelson Figueroa started in Happ's spot last week, and Blanton will take over the spot if he can return.

The team expects Happ back in less than a month.

Those above are coming back soon, but there are plenty of other players still icing down their aches and pains. The Twins are calling Justin Morneau's back problem, "stiffness." Whatever it is, it's scary for a player who missed most of September '09 with a vertebrae fracture. He insists it is unrelated to last year's injury. There's a chance he suits up Friday against Cleveland, but it's still an iffy situation. ... The news isn't so good for Brett Anderson, whose injury has progressed in terminology from forearm cramping, to left elbow tightness, to a left flexor musculotendinous junction strain. In more legible medical jargon, it's a strained flexor tendon. The A's say that it is a minor tear and have placed Anderson on the 15-day DL as of April 25. He'll probably miss most or all of May. Although a replacement hasn't been named, expect either Vin Mazzaro or Trevor Cahill to be called up from the minors. Cahill won 10 games last season and is worth a flier in AL-only formats. ... Manny Ramirez landed on the 15-day DL after he aggravated a right calf strain. Desperate NL-only managers might want to add Xavier Paul who will take Ramirez's roster spot. Reed Johnson will also get more AB's while Ramirez is out. ... Although he appears unlikely to join Ramirez on the DL, Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal missed two straight games with a hamstring strain. Furcal is hitting .309 with 16 runs scored and eight steals. A leg injury could slow him down. ... San Francisco second baseman Freddy Sanchez (shoulder) is just under two weeks away from his estimated return date of May 11. ... Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf (back) is scheduled to make a rehab start Friday and could be back with the club May 10. Ohlendorf won 11 games last season with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. He's available in nearly every fantasy league. ... Jair Jurrjens strained a hamstring in the first inning of the Braves game on Thursday. The extent of the starter's injury is unknown. ... A's center fielder Coco Crisp is expected to miss most of May while he continues to rehab his fractured left pinky. ... Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran was fitted for a knee brace, which will set back his recovery. A return in June seems optimistic now.

* All stats up-to-date as of 04/29/10.

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