A Complete Masterpiece
Kyle Hendricks isn’t your typical ace. He doesn’t have a blazing fastball and he’s not going to overpower the opposing lineup. Still, the 30-year-old right-hander looked every bit the ace of the Cubs’ staff in his Opening Day assignment against the Brewers on Friday.
Utilizing a fastball that sits in the high 80s -- as well as a terrific changeup and curveball -- Hendricks needed only 103 pitches (74 strikes) to record a complete game shutout against the hard-hitting Brewers. He allowed just three hits on the night -- all of them singles to Orlando Arcia -- while piling up nine strikeouts. He did not walk a batter.
The majority of his strikeouts in Friday’s start came against the heart of the Brewers’ lineup -- with two each from Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura and Justin Smoak. Eight of his nine strikeouts came during the first four innings. No Brewers’ batter even reached second base during the game. Complete domination.
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It’s only the second time since 2003 that any pitcher has thrown a shutout on Opening Day. The only other hurler to accomplish that feat since then is Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw in 2013.
He became the first Cubs’ pitcher to throw a shutout on Opening Day since Bill Bonham did so to begin the 1974 season.
Hendricks has been nothing short of outstanding since joining the Cubs’ rotation in 2014. In 163 career games prior to Friday’s masterpiece, Hendricks sported a career 3.14 ERA and 1.11 WHIP across 966 innings. That’s mighty impressive.
Hendricks has never really received the love that he deserves in fantasy circles simply due to the lack of strikeouts. His career K/9 sits at 7.6 -- which matches the mark he had for the 2019 season. If Friday’s start is any indication that he’s going to improve in that area -- watch out.
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I’m A Belieber
The Indians received an unbelievable performance from their ace as well on Friday, as Shane Bieber made the Royals offense look silly at times -- racking up 14 strikeouts over six shutout innings.
His 14 punch-outs matched an Indians’ club record for most strikeouts on Opening Day. It was also the highest strikeout total for any Major League pitcher on Opening Day since Randy Johnson did so back in 1996.
Bieber scattered just four hits on the night -- all of them singles -- while walking one. Six different Royals’ hitters struck out twice against Bieber in this one -- Adalberto Mondesi, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Ryan McBroom, Maikel Franco and Bubba Starling.
The right-hander leaned heavily on his curveball in this one -- throwing 37 of his 97 pitches. He got a remarkable 13 whiffs on those 37 curveballs.
Bieber talked about his dominant performance after the game, telling reporters “I think when I get into a rhythm like that, I’m attacking, and so it’s two strikes, and that’s when I’m trying to miss barrels… If I can get a quick out on one of the first two or first three pitches, I would gladly take that and go deeper into the game, but I feel like I had a lot of three-pitch strikeouts today, and that was just me trying to be aggressive and get as deep in the ballgame as possible.”
In 38 NFBC Main Event drafts over the past few weeks, Bieber wound up as the sixth starting pitcher taken on average -- behind only Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Mike Clevinger. If Friday’s start was any indication, he just may ascend to the top of that list before next season’s drafts.
Cespedes For the Rest of Us
Yoenis Cespedes didn’t play in a Major League Baseball game in 2019 due to an assortment of injuries. He was limited to only 38 games during the 2018 season (and 81 in 2017) as well.
Before Friday’s opener against the Braves, Cespedes hadn’t played in a big league game since July 20th, 2018. By all accounts he worked extremely hard throughout the off-season and started to turn some heads during Spring Training 1.0 with how well he was swinging the bat.
When he showed back up to Summer Camp, it became clear that he was healthy and ready to go. Not only was he going to see plenty of at-bats as the club’s primary designated hitter, but there’s a very real possibility that he’s now well enough to see action in left field as well.
He was stationed as the DH in his return to action on Friday -- where the 34-year-old slugger played the role of hero. Cespedes broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning when he crushed a solo homer off of Braves’ right-hander Chris Martin. That would wind up being the only scoring in the entire contest, leading the Mets to an Opening Day victory.
Before the injuries, Cespedes was an absolute force in the middle of the Mets’ lineup. Is it so far-fetched to think that as long as his health cooperates, that he could be again in 2020? Fantasy owners who pulled the trigger on him in the later rounds of drafts certainly hope that Friday’s debut is just a taste of things to come.
One starter who did not have a memorable Opening Day was Rays’ right-hander Charlie Morton. In his start against the Blue Jays, the 36-year-old right-hander gave up six runs on seven hits over his four innings of work.
Now normally, over the course of a 162-game season, fantasy owners can afford to be patient. You’re not going to overreact and bench a guy that you drafted to be one of your top two starting pitchers, just because of one bad outing, right?
In this 60-game sprint season though, savvy owners need to pay attention to all of the available information. One of the most important bits of information that I found on Opening Day was the diminished velocity that Morton exhibited on Friday.
During the 2019 season, Morton had a maximum fastball velocity of 97.8 mph. It wasn’t something that he ramped up to either over the course of the season, as his maximum velocity out of the gate last year was still over 97 mph. His maximum velocity on his fastball during Friday’s disaster was only 93.9 mph.
It’s possible that he’s still not as stretched out as he would be in a normal season, and that’s the reason for the dip in velocity. Fantasy owners who are trying to make decisions for next week now have a difficult decision on their hands though. Do you roll with Morton against the Braves on Wednesday with the hope that his velocity climbs back up, or do you take a wait-and-see approach and see how he looks before putting him back in. Personally, I’ll be doing the latter.
American League Quick Hits: Dan Connolly of The Athletic reports that the Blue Jays will play their home games this season in Buffalo… Trey Mancini (cancer) revealed in a Zoom call Friday that he has five more chemotherapy treatments, the last of which is slated for September 21. Mancini said that he’s feeling well and is starting to see “the light at the end of the tunnel”. He’s still hopeful to return for the start of the 2021 season… Tyler Naquin (toe) is expected to need a few more days to recover, as he’s dealing with a hairline fracture in his right big toe.... Rob Bradford of WEEI reports that the health complication causing Eduardo Rodriguez (COVID-19) to be shut down is related to his heart… Yordan Alvarez (undisclosed), Jose Urquidy (undisclosed) and Cionel Perez (undisclosed) have been cleared to resume baseball activities, but Astros’ manager Dusty Baker cautioned that it will be awhile… The Rays placed right-hander Diego Castillo on the paternity leave list… The Rangers released veteran right-hander Cody Allen… Rangers manager Chris Woodward said Friday that Willie Calhoun (hip) will be in Saturday's lineup… Woodward also noted that the club will skip Jordan Lyles the first time through the starting rotation… Lourdes Gurriel sat out Friday’s game with a minor side issue, but he’s expected to return to the Blue Jays’ lineup on Saturday per manager Charlie Montoyo… Rays' manager Kevin Cash announced after Friday's game that Blake Snell (elbow) will start on Sunday… The Twins announced Friday that Rich Hill was scratched from his scheduled start on Saturday against the White Sox. Randy Dobnak will start in his place… Julio Teheran (COVID-19) threw two innings in a simulated game at the Angels' alternate training site on Friday… Aledmys Diaz was removed from Friday's season opener against the Mariners due to a right groin injury.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo belted a two-run homer in his MLB debut in a losing effort against the Blue Jays… Cavan Biggio slugged a three-run homer in that win over the Rays… Hyun-Jin Ryu allowed three runs over 4 ⅔ innings in his Blue Jays’ debut -- settling for a no-decision… C.J. Cron blasted a mammoth 447-foot solo home run in his Tigers’ debut… Jose Peraza went 4-for-5 with two doubles, two RBI and two runs scored in his Red Sox’ debut… J.D. Martinez went 3-for-5 and drove in three runs in a rout of the Orioles… Nathan Eovaldi struck out four over six innings of one-run ball in a victory there… Michael Brantley crushed a three-run homer as the Astros topped the Mariners… Justin Verlander fanned seven over six innings of two-run baseball in a win over the M’s… Jose Leclerc fired a scoreless ninth inning to protect a one-run lead against the Rockies… Lance Lynn punched out nine over six shutout innings in a victory over the Rockies… Yoan Moncada went 3-for-5 with a homer and three RBI in a losing effort against the Twins… Max Kepler swatted a pair of home runs off of Lucas Giolito as the Twins beat the White Sox in a high-scoring affair… Luis Robert went 2-for-4 with a single and a double in his highly-anticipated MLB debut… Lucas Giolito was rocked for seven runs on six hits over 3 ⅔ innings in a loss to the Twins… Jason Castro slugged a game-tying home run off of Liam Hendriks with one out in the ninth inning... The Angels would still go on to lose the game in the 10th inning though, as Matt Olson crushed a walk-off grand slam on the first (and only) pitch thrown by Hoby Milner... Ramon Laureano went 2-for-3 with a homer, two RBI and three runs scored in that one.
National League Quick Hits: Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported that the Yankees have agreed to a minor league deal with former Nationals’ southpaw Fernando Abad. He’ll report to the team’s alternate training site… Braves’ catchers Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers did not travel with the Braves for their series against the Mets after displaying symptoms of COVID-19… The Braves acquired Scott Schebler from the Reds for cash considerations… Zach Eflin (back) will start on Tuesday against the Yankees… The Marlins placed catcher Jorge Alfaro on the 10-day injured list -- with no explanation given. Francisco Cervelli will handle the bulk of the catching duties in his absence… The Marlins also signed Travis Snider to a minor league contract… An MRI on the injured back of Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw came back clean on Friday. He was also able to play catch without issue and termed his injury as “not too serious”. It sounds like it could be a short stay for him on the injured list… Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Jorge Mateo (COVID-19) has been cleared to return.
Jacob deGrom racked up eight strikeouts over five shutout innings in a no-decision against the Braves… Mike Soroka dazzled in six scoreless frames on the other side -- also winding up with a no-decision… Mike Moustakas went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBI in his Reds’ debut in a victory over the Tigers… Sonny Gray punched out nine over six innings of one-run ball in an impressive victory against the Tigers… Shogo Akiyama collected a single in his first MLB at-bat… Didi Gregorius went 2-for-3 with a solo homer in his Phillies’ debut, but it wasn’t enough to lead his team past the Marlins… Sandy Alcantara struck out seven over 6 ⅔ innings in a victory over the Phillies… Kwang Hyun Kim notched a save Friday against the Pirates in his MLB debut, despite allowing two runs (one earned) in the ninth inning… Jack Flaherty struck out six over seven innings of two-run baseball to defeat the Pirates… Sam Hilliard went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in a losing effort against the Rangers… Kole Calhoun went 2-for-4 including a solo home run in his Diamondbacks’ debut… Madison Bumgarner gave up three runs over 5 ⅔ innings in a losing effort against the Padres in his debut with the D’Backs… Chris Paddack fired six shutout innings in a victory over the Diamondbacks… Eric Hosmer drove in six runs -- with a pair of bases-clearing doubles -- to lead the Padres to victory… Tommy Pham swiped a pair of bases for the Padres... Max Muncy blasted a pair of home runs, doubled and scored three times as the Dodgers crushed the Giants again… Ross Stripling punched out seven over seven innings of one-run ball to beat the Giants.