On Monday afternoon, colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft and I debated the relatively disappointing early-season numbers from Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg, touching on his lack of wins, his lower strikeout rate and the fact that the No. 3 starting pitcher in ESPN average live drafts entered Monday's outing in Atlanta outside the top 50 starters on the Player Rater. We did not need to discuss Strasburg's durability.
After Strasburg struggled a bit in the first inning yet again Monday but still finished with more than passable numbers (6 innings, 2 runs, 8 strikeouts), Nationals fans and fantasy owners were reminded that there are worse things than merely "average" numbers: Strasburg was diagnosed with right forearm tightness. He's scheduled to be re-examined Tuesday. While Strasburg told reporters he thinks he will make his next start (scheduled for Saturday at Pittsburgh), let's just say, given his injury history, the Nationals are likely to play it safe with him.
After all, Strasburg is an ace expected of big things, and coming off the ridiculous hoopla of 2012, when his season was shut down prematurely before the end of September, caution seems warranted. In a vacuum, forearm tightness is often a precursor to elbow ligament damage. Of course, Strasburg already has undergone one Tommy John surgery (in 2011). During the game, he could be seen shaking his arm on a few occasions, likely trying to ease discomfort in the forearm. His command was also way off, as he issued four walks, throwing only 53 of 93 pitches for strikes. And his ERA since winning Opening Day is an un-Strasburg-like 3.86, while opponents are hitting .379 off him in the first inning.
For now, don't panic. Yes, Strasburg isn't pitching like the ace many expected, but it's still April. Let's hope a few days of rest fixes the issue and he doesn't require a DL stint (or much worse). Trying to sell Strasburg at this point for fair value seems as unlikely as his making his weekend start; fantasy owners have to know that while there seemed to be little injury risk when Monday began, it's there in spades now.
Meanwhile, Strasburg wasn't the only player to suffer an injury Monday night. Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton tried to leg out an infield hit in extra innings against the New York Mets but fell to the ground grabbing his right hamstring. It's a strain and is serious enough to have already landed the top-15 pick in ESPN live drafts on the disabled list. It's a shame, of course, especially since Stanton's bat finally got going over the weekend, when he slugged his first three home runs of the season.
Don't try to sell what was originally a second-round pick for whatever you can get. That's not wise. Even if Stanton needs to miss a month, remember last May, when he mashed 12 home runs and hit .343 with 30 RBIs. A healthy Stanton is capable of this in any month, but we might have to wait until June for his first full healthy month.
The Marlins are not expected to call up intriguing outfield prospect Christian Yelich any time soon, so assume a terrible lineup becomes that much more so. The messy Marlins also placed first baseman Joe Mahoney, whom I also have touted lately, on the DL. Marcell Ozuna, a power hitter who swings and misses a lot, was promoted from Double-A Jacksonville and could be worth an NL-only look if he sees opportunity.
In addition, Los Angeles Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos left the 19-inning marathon loss to the Oakland Athletics prematurely because of a pulled hamstring and is expected to be placed on the DL Tuesday, with shortstop Erick Aybar coming off it. Bourjos was thriving as the leadoff hitter, so this is indeed bad news, but look for Aybar to smoothly replace him in that role, adding to his value. Mike Trout, so disappointing as the No. 29 outfielder on the Player Rater so far, should move to center field, though that doesn't add value in most fantasy leagues.
Box score bits (NL): Want more injuries? Mets third baseman David Wright missed Monday's game because of a sore neck. Wright is off to a terrific start, so hopefully he plays Tuesday. ... Those of you who own Cincinnati Reds outfielder Chris Heisey should move on; he's on the DL now because of a hamstring strain and wasn't hitting anyway (.173). Donald Lutz was called up from Double-A Pensacola, but Xavier Paul started in Heisey's place and was hitless in four at-bats, though he knocked in a run. Spend a buck on Paul in NL-only formats but avoid him in mixed leagues unless it's really deep. Lutz has some pop and more upside, but he might not get to play. ... San Diego Padres lefty Clayton Richard was reliable in 2012. But after another pounding Monday (5 runs in 5 2/3 innings), he finishes April winless, with more walks than strikeouts and a 7.94 ERA and 1.90 WHIP. Obviously he should be avoided. ... It's easy to not like Milwaukee Brewers infielder Yuniesky Betancourt, but his home run Monday gave him five already, and he has knocked in 20 runs. He's the No. 8 third baseman on the Player Rater, and 11th at second base, which tells you second base has been more productive in fantasy so far. This will stop, of course, but he's eligible at three infield spots (oddly, not shortstop) and worth at least a short-term look at middle infield.
Box score bits (AL): Right-hander Dan Straily was summoned from Triple-A Sacramento to replace injured Brett Anderson against the Angels, but the outing did not go well. Straily allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings. Anderson, meanwhile, was needed to pitch in relief and did so effectively, allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings. He is expected to make his next start, and Straily, who is loaded with strikeout potential, is expected to be demoted. ... Seattle Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders came off the DL and homered in his first at-bat. Saunders is owned in barely 5 percent of ESPN leagues, but let's remember that he hit 19 home runs and stole 21 bases last year, and neither of those stats seemed fluky. ... Cleveland Indians afterthought Ryan Raburn wouldn't have been in my daily lineup Monday since he was facing right-hander Wade Davis. Raburn hits lefties far better. Still, he homered twice, singled twice and knocked in four. Don't invest in him but note that he does have the potential for double-digit home runs. ... Similarly, don't invest in right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, despite his seven shutout innings of three-hit ball. The last time Jimenez, who still has a 7.13 ERA, pitched well, he followed it up with a pair of seven-run performances.