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Strasburg scares Nats, fantasy owners again

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AP Photo/Alex Brandon

As if the Washington Nationals aren’t having enough trouble this season with their shoddy defense, the offensive struggles of Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman and the health of Anthony Rendon, right-hander Stephen Strasburg left his Tuesday outing after three innings and 64 pitches due to what he described later as a chiropractic issue near his shoulder. Strasburg, who grimaced several times while allowing the only two Miami Marlins runs of a 2-1 loss, saw his ERA rise to 4.73, his WHIP to 1.61. Now his fantasy owners have to wonder if he’ll make his next start or perhaps need a stint on the disabled list. It’s just another tale in the oft-misinterpreted career of this ace who might never have that Cy Young Award season, but is still pretty successful.

As of this writing, it’s too soon to tell if the Strasburg injury is significant, but his longtime dynasty owners shouldn’t be complaining. First of all, it’s still the first week of May, and Strasburg remains likely to get plenty more chances to improve his numbers and deliver another standout season. Sure, he has a track record of leaving outings early with odd injuries, but he has averaged 31 starts and 210 whiffs the past three seasons. Then, as with outfielder Bryce Harper, who finally seems to be getting his statistical act together but is considerably younger, Strasburg is seldom praised for his statistical achievements, but rather viewed negatively for not reaching even greater heights. Yet this is a pitcher with a career ERA of 3.10 and nearly 100 more strikeouts than innings pitched, and last season he was top-10 in Cy Young voting. Strasburg is not a disappointment and assuming this injury isn’t a big deal, it remains wise to buy low on him if anyone’s curiously selling, along with most of his teammates. The Nationals are going to win a lot of games.

However, it’s worth noting that if Strasburg does need to miss time, capable right-hander Tanner Roark waits in the wings for his chance. Roark won 15 games last season, and deservedly so. Roark can’t match Strasburg for strikeout prowess, but his 2.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP bested him last season. Roark was bypassed in the rotation last week by rookie A.J. Cole, and Roark actually saved Monday’s game, so the organization might leave him in the bullpen regardless. But if Strasburg, or any other Nationals starter, is out long term, Roark is the likely beneficiary, and he’s good and readily available.

NL report: Meanwhile, the pitcher who faced Strasburg, Miami Marlins right-hander Mat Latos, finally earned his first victory by tossing six innings of one-run ball, though he issued five walks. Latos still has an inflated ERA, but it’s a reasonable 3.37 since his first outing, and his fastball velocity is on par with last season. This could still be a top-50 starting pitcher, yet few seem to want to invest because of one awful, miserable outing. … The Cincinnati Reds gave struggling outfielder Marlon Byrd a shot in the No. 2 lineup spot against lefty Jeff Locke and he responded with a homer, double and four RBIs. Shortstop Zack Cozart has been hitting second of late, but while he’s out, there’s opportunity for others in daily formats. … New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon became the majors’ first five-game winner, striking out nine Baltimore Orioles against no walks over 7 2/3 innings Tuesday. He allowed one run. Colon is not young but so what, he finds a way. ... The brutal Philadelphia Phillies offense was toyed with by Atlanta Braves right-hander Shelby Miller, who needed a mere 99 pitches for the shutout. Miller has pitched well in 2015, even against reasonable offenses, but his ERA is nearly twice as good as his FIP. In other words, it shouldn’t be this good. … The Braves continue to get power from Kelly Johnson, though fantasy owners have been cold to react. Johnson has six home runs and is playing regularly. … The San Diego Padres say rookie catcher Austin Hedges will start Wednesday, but perhaps it’s more interesting that Derek Norris, a top-five catcher in fantasy off to a great start, could soon get starts at first base. That would sure make Hedges a lot more interesting for fantasy if we knew he’d play. … The first start for Phillies right-hander Chad Billingsley in more than two years was predictably a rough one, though it’s hard to imagine who would rely on him other than, of course, the Phillies.

AL report: Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb has a partial ligament tear in his elbow but aims to hold off on Tommy John surgery by pitching through it, similar to New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Pitchers have done this before and some have even succeeded, but let’s just say trading for Cobb right now is not wise. Cobb is really good when healthy, but this will be the fourth consecutive season he doesn’t start more than 27 times. … I’ve been generally pessimistic about Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda, as he too isn’t someone who has started 30 games in a season himself. He is healthy, though, and his eight shutout innings Tuesday in Toronto lowered his ERA to 2.97. He has walked three against 38 strikeouts. Pineda should be owned in all formats. … Orioles third baseman Manny Machado doesn’t seem a great fit for leading off, but he did it for the third time Tuesday, and hit a late home run. It’s something to monitor. Machado would see more at-bats and potentially steal more bases if it continues. … Remember when Detroit Tigers right-hander Shane Greene was all the rage with one earned run permitted over his first three outings? On Tuesday the team with the least runs scored in baseball, the Chicago White Sox, scored five off him. Greene has allowed 20 earned in three outings. Move on. .. .Texas Rangers lefty Wandy Rodriguez seemed to have little shot against the first-place Houston Astros Tuesday, as DFS owners ganged up against him, so naturally he gave up only three hits and a run over eight standout innings for his first American League win. This success isn’t likely to continue, though.