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Strike Zone

Notes: Bundy, Musgrove Rise Up Ranks

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: April 8, 2021, 1:08 am ET

Hi! Please join me in overreacting to less than a week’s worth of results.


American League notes


- The Jays’ original plan was to take a look at Julian Merryweather as a starter this year, but that never materialized because back issues kept him out of game action until March 26. At that point, it looked like he might spend some time at the alternate site before getting a spot in the Jays’ pen. Toronto, though, decided to carry him initially, and he wound up with a save after pitching the 10th inning on Opening Day. Three days later, he got another one, this one coming in the ninth. My original thought was to not show all that much optimism here because the Jays still might want to stretch him out later. Really, though, Merryweather is 29 and has never had much luck at staying healthy; pitching an inning at a time could be the best thing for him. It’s quite the bummer for those who drafted Jordan Romano, who was supposed to be the answer here. I wouldn’t go dropping Romano just yet; Merryweather needs to be handled carefully and still might wind up hurt regardless. Romano still looks like an excellent reliever himself, just probably not quite as excellent as Merryweather.


- With George Springer (oblique) perhaps returning this weekend, it’s worth noting that Randal Grichuk is 8-for-16 with a homer and three walks already, while Rowdy Tellez has reached base only once, courtesy of a HBP, in 16 plate appearances. Tellez is probably going to take a backseat for a spell.


- There weren’t much in the way of bright spots for the Red Sox in their opening series against Baltimore, but Tanner Houck looked very good, even if he ended up being charged with three runs. Houck averaged 92 mph with his fastball in his impressive audition last September, but he was up to 94 mph in his 2021 debut, and the wildness that plagued him early in spring training wasn’t in evidence. Houck was only a part of the season-opening rotation because of Eduardo Rodriguez’s setback, and it seems he’s due to head back to the minors this weekend. That’ll be a mistake, though; he might be Boston’s best pitcher right now, and he’ll be worthy of consideration in mixed leagues once he’s officially in the rotation.


- Matt Barnes lost some velocity in his second inning of work Tuesday, but he was up from last year in both his season debut and his first inning Tuesday. That’s a good sign as he tries to bounce back from a 2020 campaign in which his peripherals were much worse than usual. I’ve been projecting Adam Ottavino as the better reliever for the Red Sox, but it’s clear manager Alex Cora favors Barnes as his top closing option. For the long haul, it’s worth remembering that both Barnes and Ottavino are free agents after the season and will be trade bait if the Red Sox fail to remain in contention.


- The trade to the Yankees wasn’t any good for Rougned Odor’s fantasy value for the short term, but perhaps it could help him out for the long haul. I think Odor can get back to being a useful player, but in a world in which Jonathan Schoop struggles to find work every winter, there might not be a whole lot to be gained from rehabbing Odor’s career. The Yankees will probably occasionally use Odor at second and DJ LeMahieu at first until Luke Voit returns.


- I actually dropped Nate Lowe from the second edition of my Undervalued Players column because of the questions about his role in Texas; with the team talking up Ronald Guzman, who is out of options, there was some speculation that Lowe would open up in the minors. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, because Lowe currently leads the majors with 14 RBI. Lowe probably won’t be a star all year long, but he’s capable of remaining a solid mixed-league option. He’s better at making contact than his troublesome strikeout rates suggest, and the power production will be there. He just needs to do enough to convince the Rangers to keep him in the lineup against lefties, and it helps his case there that alternatives like Guzman and Willie Calhoun are also left-handed.


- It appears that Rays manager Kevin Cash might be content to run with Diego Castillo as a traditional closer. Thus far, the team has had three save situations, and Castillo has been held back for each, pitching the ninth inning and only the ninth inning. Castillo did blow his opportunity Tuesday against the Red Sox by giving up a solo homer to Christian Vazquez, but that’s his only blemish to date. He’s struck out five of the 11 batters he’s faced and walked none.


- While Geovany Soto was easily the top ranked Tigers reliever on my board going into the year, I figured the team would favor Bryan Garcia in the ninth initially. That hasn’t been the case, and though Soto struggled in converting his first save chance, he’s looked good in three innings since. He’s definitely the Tigers reliever to have rostered right now. It is worth keeping an eye on Michael Fulmer, however; perhaps the Tigers will seek to return him to the rotation now that his stuff is coming back, but if he’s left in the pen, he could prove to be the team’s best righty reliever.


- Dylan Bundy took a big step forward as a pitcher in his first year with the Angels, but I’ve still been wary of recommending him because of his tumbling velocity. Well, he’s reversed that trend this year, averaging 92 mph with his fastball in his first start and 93 mph on Tuesday. Last year, he was generally right around 90 mph. His spin rate is also up on all of his pitches. Health hasn’t been much of an issue lately, so he might be a top-25 SP this year.


- The Orioles’ Cedric Mullins is hitting .524 after five games and swiped his first base on Tuesday. The OBP probably won’t be there in the end to make him a decent leadoff man, but the Orioles seem pretty fond of him at the top of the order. With his stolen base ability, he’ll probably have mixed league value for as long as he continues to get the extra at-bat per game.


- Trevor Rosenthal’s shoulder situation appears to have taken quite the turn for the worse, which means Jake Diekman should be rostered everywhere. If this had materialized a couple of weeks ago, I would have been jumping up and down recommending J.B. Wendelken as a saves sleeper. Wendelken, though, has seen his velocity sink by two mph in the early going. Lou Trivino, on the other hand, has picked up some steam this year and has allowed just one hit (a solo homer, unfortunately), walked none and struck out five through 4 2/3 innings. The A’s have Sergio Romo, too, and A.J. Puk still looking to settle into a role, so probably no one besides Diekman is a good enough bet to justify a pickup in a shallow league at this point.

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National League notes


- It was a great relief that Fernando Tatis Jr. apparently didn’t tear any ligaments or tendons when he sustained his left shoulder subluxation during Monday’s game. The Padres did put him on the IL anyway, but they might let him return as soon as his 10 days are up. At that point, one will just have to hope it never happens again over the course of his 1,000 or so swings this season. I’m no doctor, but given that it’s a problem that can reoccur, I’d suggest looking to trade Tatis in a month or so, assuming that he comes back strong and one can get full value for him.


- I should have just stuck with my first instinct and ranked Mark Melancon as a top-15 RP. In spite of the spring noise about Emilio Pagan, Padres manager Jayce Tingler has settled on Melancon in the ninth. I think that’s the right call, even though Pagan and Drew Pomeranz both project as better pitchers.


- Joe Musgrove was already one of my favorites for this season, and I wasn’t expecting the big uptick he showed in the stuff department in his debut; all of his pitches were up 1-1.5 mph with increased spin rate in his start against the Diamondbacks. Musgrove is a little bigger of an injury risk than most, but I’d currently put him in the top 15 among SPs for the rest of the year (I had him 21st initially).


- That big velocity boost that Statcast credited Freddy Peralta with in his two-inning relief appearance last week didn’t stick around for his first start Tuesday, but he still impressed in striking out eight and allowing just one hit over five innings against the Cubs. Control has always been an issue for Peralta and that’s probably not going to change this year, but his other big problem was that he kept giving up more hits than one would expect the last two seasons; he finished with BABIPs of .338 and .328 despite being a big-time flyball pitcher. Now he has the best defense of his career behind him, and ramping up his breaking-ball usage should help some with his flyball tendencies. I don’t entirely trust him, but I like what I’m seeing.


- Unfortunately for Orlando Arcia, when the Brewers finally opted to move on Tuesday, they sent their former starting shortstop to a Braves team that figures to view him as a true backup. Arcia reversed his offensive decline last year, hitting .260/.317/.416 with the best hard-hit rate of his career and also a nice drop in his strikeout rate. However, reviews on Arcia’s defense have long been mixed, and the Brewers are hopeful Luis Urias will prove to be an upgrade at shortstop. Urias will be a lineup fixture now, but he probably won’t offer enough power or speed to be helpful in shallow leagues. Daniel Robertson can replace Arcia as the third baseman against left-handers and should be an upgrade there. This could also open the door for free agent Jedd Gyorko to return to the Brewers after being frozen out all winter.


- There’s no word yet on when any of the Nationals on the IL without designations might return, but Tanner Rainey should be the favorite for saves until Brad Hand comes back. Ryan Zimmerman could be worth playing in mixed leagues for as long as Josh Bell is out, but for all we know, Bell might return in a day or two.


- It doesn’t seem like the Cardinals’ plan to have Alex Reyes throw 100 innings this year so that he could be a candidate for next season’s rotation meshes with sticking him in the closer’s role, but he’s definitely manager Mike Shildt’s go-to guy at the moment. Jordan Hicks’ velocity is on the way back up, so the Cardinals could have quite the three-headed monster at the back of their pen. I still suspect that Giovanny Gallegos will wind up being the most valuable of the bunch.


- It took five games (and one homer off the bench), but the Rockies finally gave Sam Hilliard his first start Tuesday. He rewarded them with a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth and also walked twice. I’m not a fan of Hilliard the player, but I thought the Rockies were and it was baffling to see him excluded from the lineup throughout the Dodgers series. Hilliard’s power and speed combination, combined with the Coors Field factor, made him pretty interesting for fantasy purposes, but, obviously, he’ll need to play more than this to be of use. If the Rockies really want to see more of Garrett Hampson, just use him at second and Ryan McMahon at third.


- Hilliard’s homer came off Chris Devenski, who was taking over for the injured Joakim Soria (calf) in the closer’s role in Arizona even though his stuff has nosedived this year. Between this and the Kevin Ginkel-Stefan Crichton saga last year, I don’t have much faith in Torey Lovullo’s ability to run a bullpen at this point. I mean, it’s not Lovullo’s fault that the front office isn’t giving him much to work with, but consistently picking the worst option with the game on the line is a definite flaw. I’d suggest both Lovullo and fantasy leaguers stay far away from Devenski right now. Perhaps Crichton will wind up with a couple of saves before Soria returns.

Matthew Pouliot

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of NBC Sports Edge and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.