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MLB Opening Day Notes

Here’s what I saw from Thursday’s Opening Day:

  • Mark Teixeira — He entered the game 1 for 17 in his career vs. Justin Verlander, but he hit a towering shot to right field off of Verlander that tallied 3 runs for the Bombers.  More important than ending his personal slump against Verlander is the fact that Teixeira is showing signs of life.  March/April is by far the worst month(s) of his career as he possesses just a line of .235/.342/.411 in that time frame.  It is just one game, but if Teixeira gets off to a good start, it should bode very well for him going forward.
  • Russell Martin — 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 SB while batting 9th in his debut for the Yankees.  I see what happened here.  Martin loses the silly “J. Martin” on the back of his jersey since the Yankees don’t have names on their jerseys and he becomes a new player.  Tough to say if he regains any power, but I think the speed will be there to get back to double digit SB.
  • Austin Jackson — 1 for 4 with 3 K’s.  Remember when I included him as one of my top bust candidates for the year?  Yeah, this is why.  His contact rate is much too poor to sustain a batting average as high as his .293 mark last year.  Sophomore slump for sure.
  • Justin Verlander — 6 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 4 B, 8 K and a no decision.  Verlander owns a 5.07 ERA in March/April, so this Opening Day start would qualify as an improvement over past performances in the early going.  If he avoids a poor first month of the season then he will be pretty awesome.  Verlander gets the Orioles next, which should present as a bit of an easier task.
  • Jeff Mathis — 2 for 4 with a HR and a double.  Don’t get too excited now as the performance upped his career numbers to just a .200 AVG and .582 OPS.  Not to mention it was against Luke Hochevar and the Royals.
  • Jered Weaver — 6 1/3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K and the victory to boot.  Some people felt that Weaver would be in for a regression this year and questioned whether or not that he could sustain the incredible 9.35 K/9 rate that he posted last year.  Well, after posting a ratio of 21 K/2 BB in 17 2/3 IP in Spring Training and after his very strong Opening Day start, Weaver is out to prove that he is here to stay as an ace.  He should do just fine.
  • Fernando Rodney — 1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K with the save.  Looks good in the box score, but it was a pretty ugly save.  Alex Gordon nearly took him deep for a walkoff shot, but the ball sliced foul.  If he keeps putting guys on then he will eventually get burned and there will be a changing of the guard in Anaheim’s bullpen.  I would love to see Jordan Walden get a chance to close games out for the Halos.
  • Alex Gordon and Kila Ka’aihue — After both of these guys finished Spring Training white hot, they combined to go 0 for 8 with 4 K’s against the Angels.  They did receive a tough assignment against Jered Weaver, but it still would’ve been more encouraging to see them at least scrape off one hit.  Gordon did almost hit a walk-off HR off Fernando Rodney, but the ball went just foul.  Too bad “almost” doesn’t count in the box score.  My guess is that you will have to be patient with these guys if you own them on your fantasy team.  They are both serious sleeper candidates, but hopefully they don’t sleep all season long.
  • Aaron Crow — 1 1/3 perfect innings with 3 K’s in relief for the Royals in his Major League debut.  Crow is a former 1st round pick and could eventually have a career as a starting pitcher, but for now he will pitch in middle relief and could play himself into a greater role eventually.
  • Jason Heyward — In his first AB of the 2011 season, the J-Hey Kid ripped a letter high fastball from Livan Hernandez over the fence in right field.  If you recall, in his Major League debut last year, on his very first Major League swing, he crushed a ball to deep right-center field for a HR.  So hitting a HR in his first AB in consecutive seasons puts him in the history book alongside Kaz Matsui (out of all people) to accomplish the feat.  Anyway, Heyward is an absolute beast and it goes without saying that I have a huge man crush on him right now.  Unfortunately, manager Fredi Gonzalez has him batting 6th in the lineup where his near .400 OBP will go to waste in front of Alex Gonzalez, Freddie Freeman, and the pitcher.  Heyward needs to be batting 2nd or 3rd in the lineup to utilize his maximum potential, so let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.
  • Derek Lowe — 5 2/3 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K and the W.  Lowe is an absolute workhorse having pitched in at least 32 starts in each of the last 9 seasons since he became a full-time starting pitcher.  He will have games like the one he had an Opening Day against the Nationals, but then he will also have games where he gets absolutely knocked around.  You just have to pick and choose which games to start him in if you own him.  Check out how he has done versus his opponent’s hitters in his career and make the wise decision.  Lowe gets the Brewers in Milwaukee next.
  • Craig Kimbrel — Kimbrel pitched a perfect 9th inning with 2 K’s to notch his first save of the season.  The left-handed Jonny Venters, who Kimbrel is believed to be splitting closing duties with this season, pitched the 8th inning against some tough righties.  If there was ever a time to put Kimbrel in the 8th inning instead of the 9th this was it, but Fredi Gonzalez saved the right-handed Kimbrel for the 9th.  Kimbrel has massive potential and as long as he is throwing well he should be the fireman for the Braves.  WHITE MARMOL!
  • Rickie Weeks — 2 for 5 with a HR, 2 RBI, 1 R.  Weeks hit a leadoff blast against Edinson Volquez and he is definitely going to be an asset for the Brewers and fantasy teams until he gets injured.
  • Ryan Braun — 2 for 3 with a HR, 1 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB.  You didn’t need to read his stat line to know that he is a stud.  NL MVP?
  • Yovani Gallardo — 6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K.  For a team that he has struggled mightily against in his career, this outing for Gallardo should be considered a success.  He left the game with the lead, but the bullpen couldn’t secure the victory for him.  At the very least, Gallardo should be an ace through the All-Star break, but he typically comes unraveled afterward.  However, I think that he puts things together better this year and really makes a name for himself.
  • John Axford — 2/3 IP, 2 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K charged with the blown save and the loss after serving up a walkoff blast to Ramon Hernandez.  Yikes.  This is not what the Brewers envisioned from their closer to start the year after he mowed down hitters as a rookie last year.  Axford’s Minor League history suggests that he could be very ineffective if his control evades him, so this is going to be something that needs to be monitored in the first couple of weeks.  The Brewers are a team that is built to contend this season with Prince Fielder’s free agency looming, so if Axford continues to falter the Brewers do have Takashi Saito as an option as long as he stays healthy.
  • Drew Stubbs — 2 for 5 with a HR, 1 RBI, 2 R as he led off for the Reds.  Stubbs definitely could stick as the leadoff hitter for the team this season after losing the job early last year.  He was one of three players who hit 20 HR and logged 30 SB last year and he definitely could do it again.  He will strike out a lot and hurt in the AVG category, but you take what you can get from him.
  • Edinson Volquez — 6 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.  This is his first full season back from Tommy John surgery and I would expect him to post lines similar to this one all season long.  He is a pitcher that has always struggled with his control and coming back from a major arm operation could only make things worse.  Volquez isn’t worth the headache.
  • Albert Pujols — 0 for 5 with 3 GIDPs.  That’s not a line that you’ll see often from the big man.  Just consider it a tiny blip.
  • Cameron Maybin — 2 for 5 with a HR, 1 RBI, 1 R.  Put him in a new uniform and look what he can do.  He still figures to get hurt by playing his home games in Petco Park, but hey, I wouldn’t mind starting him on the road.
  • Orlando Hudson — 0 for 2 with 1 RBI and 2 BB as he made his Padres debut as the #3 hitter.  Going to be a long season for the Padres if the O-Dawg is the team’s primary #3 hitter.  Oh where oh where art thou, Adrian?
  • Matt Kemp — 1 for 1 with 2 R, 3 BB, and 1 SB.  Kemp with 3 walks?  That is pretty unheard of considering his career high in walks is 53.  If somehow he is able to improve his walk rate this season then he should reestablish himself as one of the elite.  The stolen base he had is equally as important as he was just 19 for 34 in SB attempts last year.  Remember when I said that Davey Lopes, the new first base coach for the Dodgers, would help Kemp get his running game back on track?  Yeah, take this as evidence.
  • Clayton Kershaw — 7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K.  In what you knew was going to be a pitcher’s duel with Tim Lincecum, Kershaw sure held up his end of the bargain and if he displays that type of control all season long then he will be the best pitcher in baseball this season.  His less than desirable walk rate in the past couple of years is the only thing that has prevented him from ascending to the upper echelon of pitchers, so with a walk rate of 3.00 BB/9 or lower this season, Kershaw should be taking home the Cy Young hardware.
  • Brandon Belt — In his Major League debut, the left-handed hitting Belt faced a very tough assignment by going up against the southpaw Clayton Kershaw for three plate appearances and then seeing Jonathan Broxton in the 9th inning with a chance to tie the game.  Overall, it was a pretty impressive debut for the highly touted prospect.  He hit a bloop single in his first AB, then drew a walk and then a strikeout, and then lined out to end the game.  The most important thing to take from Belt’s debut is the type of at-bats that he had against two very good pitchers.  He went very deep into the count and took some close pitches to display the advanced plate approach that he has for someone of his age.  This guy is going to be fun to follow this year, though if he struggles in the first few weeks, he could be sent back down to AAA upon Cody Ross’ return.