Odrisamer Despaigne has surprised at every step of the way this season.
Perhaps it's time to stop being surprised.
Despaigne continued what's been a revelatory first month in the majors by approaching history Sunday, coming within four outs of his first no-hitter just five starts into his major league career. The 27-year-old had two outs in the eighth inning before a Daniel Murphy double dashed his chances at history. Still, Despaigne finished with 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the no-decision against the Mets.
It would have been fitting for Despaigne to make history so soon. The Cuban right-hander drew some interest as a free agent earlier this season, but he wasn't highly regarded enough to garner more than the $1 million minor league contract he signed with the Padres. Even then, there was some question as to whether the team viewed him as a starter or reliever.
Despaigne proceeded to breeze through the Padres' minor league system, and when Andrew Cashner went down with a shoulder injury last month the team decided to promote the righty. He responded by throwing seven shutout innings against the Giants in his first major league start, and he's allowed 1, 1, 2, and 1 runs in his four starts since.
Maybe most confusing is how he's achieved so much early success. Despaigne doesn't rack up the strikeouts -- he's got 17 in 34 1/3 innings after Sunday's start. It's not impeccable control that's been his calling card, either, as his three walks Sunday raised his season total to 11 through five starts.
Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal said Despaigne's secret weapon is his versatility.
"He's never going to show you the same pitch," Grandal said. "He's going to show you a different (arm) slot or different speed."
Indeed, per Fangraphs' PITCHf/x Despaigne throws pitches that range in velocity from 90.9 to 67.1 mph. No one pitch has emerged as a true out pitch -- none of his six (!) pitches has a swinging strike percentage over 10.0 per PITCHf/x, hence the lack of strikeouts -- but his ability to throw any pitch at any time has kept hitters off balance thus far.
For Despaigne, continued success will be all about his ability to effectively locate all his pitches. Pitchers have made careers out of spotting pitches without being overpowering, but mistakes will get hit hard. Without the strikeouts, his fantasy value leaves something to be desired -- as does the fact that he plays for the lowly Padres -- so it's hard to tout him as anything more than a deep mixed league option right now. But he's certainly worth a flyer, as he's currently owned in just 20 percent of Yahoo leagues.
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Searching for a reliever to fortify the back end of their bullpen, the Angels didn't have to look too far.
The Angels and Padres consummated a six-player trade on Saturday that saw Padres closer Huston Street migrate north to Anaheim. The Angels also got a minor league reliever in the deal, while the Padres received four prospects from the Halos.
"Huston's going to add to that group of players in the back end of the 'pen that we need to hold leads," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "As that group keeps growing, we're going to have a chance to really hold leads on a daily basis and not to have to go to guys too much to where maybe they're stretched a bit further than you're comfortable with."
Street will immediately slide into the closer role for the Angels, but not by any fault of Joe Smith. Smith, who held down the job after Ernesto Frieri was demoted and eventually traded, owns a 2.22 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 48/9 K/BB ratio over 44 2/3 innings this season. He hasn't blown a save since the end of May, racking up 15 saves on the year. Alas, with Street's arrival, both Smith and Jason Grilli lose any fantasy value they had previously.
On the Padres' end of the deal, the prized return appears to be Taylor Lindsey. The second baseman was the Angels' top-ranked prospect coming into the season per Baseball America, and he was the only prospect the team put on BA's Top 100 list, coming in at No. 93. It's been a forgettable year for the 22-year-old, as he's hit .247/.322/.398 while playing mostly with the Angels' Triple-A affiliate, but he owns a career .289/.340/.444 line in the minors and should make it to the majors for his bat.
The rest of the Angels' booty came in the form of reliever R.J. Alvarez, shortstop Jose Rondon and right-hander Elliot Morris. Rondon could be something -- CBS Sports' Jon Heyman cited a rival general manager who said the Angels organization thought Rondon "could be (Jean) Segura" -- but of the four, only Lindsey might have any real fantasy relevance before 2016.
Hanley Takes A Pounding
It was a rough night for Hanley Ramirez.
The shortstop was hit twice in the Dodgers' win over the Cardinals on Sunday, including taking a 99 mph fastball from Trevor Rosenthal to his left hand. Earlier in the game, Ramirez had been hit in the left shoulder by Carlos Martinez.
Clayton Kershaw took care of the baseball justice, hitting Matt Holliday in retaliation after Martinez' plunking of Hanley -- despite the fact that the HBP loaded the bases in the fourth inning -- but it was the second beaning that was particularly noteworthy. After taking the fastball off his hand, Ramirez exited the game and was taken for preliminary X-rays.
USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported those X-rays came back negative, but Ramirez will be examined before the Dodgers play the Pirates on Monday. It's a good bet that Hanley will get the day off, fracture or not, and he's still not out of the woods in regards to missing a more serious amount of time. Monday's examination will tell a lot about his immediate future.
National League Quick Hits: The Mets activated Jon Niese from the disabled list, and he'll make the start Monday against the Mariners. Niese owns a 2.96 ERA and 1.21 WHIP through 103 1/3 innings this season ... Alex Wood, who was briefly removed from the Braves rotation this season, struck out eight over six innings of one-run ball Sunday in a win over the Phillies. Wood owns a 3.24 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, and he's a solid starter in mixed leagues going forward ... Despaigne stole the show, but Zack Wheeler was on the other side of Sunday's pitching duel. Wheeler struck out seven and allowed only one run over six innings against the Padres. It was the fourth straight start, dating back to June 30, that Wheeler has thrown at least six innings with just one run allowed ... In a move that's been coming for weeks, the Braves released Dan Uggla. He'll be paid handsomely for his hardship, as the Braves still owe the second baseman roughly $18.5 million through the end of next season.
American League Quick Hits: C.J. Cron, who took over as the Angels' full-time designated hitter after they released Raul Ibanez in June, was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake on Saturday. Cron should be back with the club before the season is over, but the curious move makes his fantasy value non-existent in the near term ... Shane Victorino, who had been out since May 23, returned to the Red Sox' lineup on Saturday. The outfielder has three hits in seven at-bats, including a double and a run scored, since returning ... The Blue Jays are believed to be interested in Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia. Denorfia is 34 years old and isn't having a great year for the Padres, so he should come fairly cheap should the Jays go in that direction ... Fernando Rodney suffered his first blown save since May 13 as the Angels put up two runs in the ninth to walk it off. Six Angels hitters had at least two hits in the victory ... Mookie Betts became the latest cautionary tale for fantasy owners looking for the Next Big Thing after the Red Sox demoted him Saturday. Betts hit .235/.278/.382 in a brief stint with the club. He'll be back in the big leagues, likely with better results, before too long.