Phillies starter Cliff Lee spent a little over two months on the disabled list between mid-May and mid-July last season due to a flexor pronator strain in his left elbow. He returned, made three starts, then went back on the disabled list through the end of the regular season for the same reason. Phillies team doctors did not recommend surgery for the lefty, only rehab.
Lee started Thursday’s Grapefruit League exhibition against the Astros with fine results: over two innings, he yielded two hits, walked none, and struck out none. He said he felt “normal” after the game, but the next day, he felt a twinge in his elbow. An MRI revealed swelling in the same area as last season’s injury, per CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury.
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This is bad news on multiple levels for the Phillies. They’re already projected to be among baseball’s worst teams, if not the actual worst. FanGraphs projects them to finish 70-92. As a result of being so bad, the Phillies are hoping to trade Lee before his contract expires after the season. The odds of trading Lee, especially for anything of any significance, took a serious hit with news of his barking elbow. The Rangers, following the loss of Yu Darvish, could have potentially swung a deal for Lee. The Red Sox or Yankees, both of which have expressed interest in Cole Hamels, may have considered Lee as a cheaper alternative.
Lee would have been scheduled to make his next start on Tuesday, but that has been cancelled. Instead, he’ll do some light throwing, and Dr. James Andrews will review his MRI. If Andrews recommends surgery, Lee would require six to eight months of recovery, knocking out his 2015 season and ending his Phillies career.
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Prince Fielder Goes Yard
Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder hit his first Cactus League home run Sunday against the Indians, a fifth-inning blast off of Anthony Swarzak. It was the first time Rangers fans saw him go deep since May 8 last season, just a short period before his season ended due to neck problems. He had surgery on his neck towards the end of the month, ending his season.
Prior to the injury, Fielder had been a model of consistency, registering 162 games played in four of the previous five seasons (and 161 in that other season). Though his offense performance had been declining, it was more or less in stride with the league-wide decline. He had still mashed at least 25 home runs and driven in 100 runs in each of the previous three seasons.
Fielder was declared healthy by Dr. Drew Dossett last month, and all things are go for him this spring. He makes for a nice bounce-back pick and could garner some extra fantasy value if he happens to slip a little bit beyond his average draft slot of 49 in Yahoo leagues.
Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale announced Sunday that Josh Collmenter would have the honor of starting on Opening Day. It’s the first Opening Day start for the right-hander, and he’s the third different pitcher to toe the rubber on Opening Day in as many seasons for the club.
Collmenter has swung back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen for the D-Backs. He finished fifth in Rookie of the Year balloting in 2011 following 24 solid starts and seven relief appearances, culminating in a 3.38 ERA. He spent the next two seasons pitching mostly out of the bullpen, then returned to the rotation last season. In 28 starts and five relief appearances in 2014, Collmenter posted a 3.46 ERA and a 115/39 K/BB ratio in 179 1/3 innings.
Collmenter doesn’t have the kind of stats that make you think of an Opening Day starter – he’s no Jon Lester or Felix Hernandez. However, he does do two things very well which leads to his success: he has great control, and he induces weak contact. The right-hander walked only 5.1 percent of batters as a starter last season, the 11th-lowest rate among 87 qualified starters, per FanGraphs. He also induced pop-ups at a 9.2 percent rate, which is actually much lower than his 13.2 career average. Since the start of the 2011 season, only four pitchers (min. 500 IP) posted a higher infield fly ball rate than Collmenter: Bruce Chen, Marco Estrada, John Lackey, and Jon Lester. If he can continue doing those two things well, he should continue to succeed on the mound in Arizona.
Chase Utley Still Not Ready
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is nursing a sprained right ankle and manager Ryne Sandberg is still not sure when the veteran will get into his first Grapefruit League game, per Salisbury. “This week? That’s hard to tell,” Sandberg said. “It would be later in the week if he does. But everything else is good.”
Utley has been working out, hitting, running, and fielding ground balls. When he is finally deemed fit to play, he should get plenty of playing time in spring action for the Phillies. The 36-year-old played a full season in 2014 for the first time since 2009. In the time since, he’s battled a torn ligament in his right thumb, patellar tendinitis in his right knee, patellar chondromalacia in his left knee, and a strained right oblique. Despite all those injuries, Utley still ranked among the game’s more productive second basemen between 2010-13. But the clean bill of health certainly helped in 2014, as Utley’s 4.1 WAR was the eighth best among second basemen (min. 400 PA), per FanGraphs.
What fantasy owners should realize about Utley, though, is that he runs out of steam quickly. He has a career .890 first-half OPS compared to .824 in the second half. The two months with his lowest OPS? August and September, at .769 and .802, respectively. Last season, the split was more severe, as he was productive in April and May before going into an offensive tailspin. His OPS by month, starting in April: .978, .830, .616, .735, .691, .620. For those who have already selected Utley, it may be wise to take what value he gives you in the early months before getting value in a mid-season trade.
CC Sabathia Feeling Good
Yankees starter CC Sabathia live batting practice on Sunday and walked away feeling "so good", as MLB.com's Bryan Hoch reports. Sabathia threw 29 pitches, using his full repertoire, to Yankees minor leaguers Greg Bird and Rob Refsnyder. Sabathia said, "I've been able to participate in every drill and haven't had where I've needed a day [off]. I feel good about how we're going and the pace that we're moving at."
Sabathia made only eight starts last season to the tune of a 5.28 ERA before going on the disabled list with a degenerative knee issue. The Yankees plan to have him throw a two-inning simulated game before getting him into Grapefruit League action shortly thereafter. The left-hander believes he’ll be ready for the regular season. Sabathia will slot into the middle of the rotation behind Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda.