I know it's easy to dismiss Brandon Inge out of hand. It's convenient to play the regression-to-the-mean card and brush him aside. You point to that .237/.304/.394 career line and laugh him off. Brandon Inge isn't making outs for my team this summer, you scoff.
All reasonable points, but there's another side to the Inge argument – and it's something we have to consider as we maneuver deeper leagues. And now that Inge has three homers (and a steal) through three days of the regular season (he clocked No. 3 Wednesday in Toronto), now is as good a time as any to reopen the Inge file.
The Detroit veteran was already on my radar to some extent entering the 2009 season for one simple reason: he's a catcher-eligible player who's not forced to play the position. This means Inge will get more at-bats than the typical backstop, and he won't have to deal with the wear and tear of that physically-demanding job. In the 16-team blog-league bloodbath, I tabbed Inge as my catcher, grabbing him in the last round with pick No. 398. His productive spring (five homers, .576 slugging) made it a little easier to pull the trigger.
Okay, so what about the terrible career stats? In truth, they're a little misleading. Inge has never hit well as a catcher his entire career (.199/.260/.330) but his haul at third base is significantly better (.257/.326/.427). No one's going to confuse Inge with Mike Schmidt anytime soon, of course, but a .257 catcher with some pop will have play in a deeper mixed group. If he's able to even approach what he did in 2006 (.253-83-27-83-7), we're looking at a valuable commodity as a stand-in catcher. (For a little perspective, here's a look at what the fantasy catching pool did in 2008; you'll notice no one hit 27 homers, and only a few players topped 83 runs or seven steals.)
Look, at the end of the day, it's not about the names, it's about the numbers. I don't care if I get passing yards from Tony Romo or Tyler Thigpen. Home runs count the same no matter who hits them. Brandon Inge might just surprise a few people this year, and it's my job to encourage you to keep an open mind about this. Examine the situation and see what you make of it.
• Brian Fuentes had a messy blown save against Oakland Wednesday night (4 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 1 K), and it's hard to tell if the glass is half full or half empty. The A's got a handful of cheap hits against Fuentes – a swinging bunt from Kurt Suzuki, an infield hit from Mark Ellis, and a soft-liner from Nomar Garciaparra that Gary Matthews Jr. misjudged – and Fuentes owners can take heart that the set-up men (Jose Arredondo, Scot Shields) didn't pitch well, either. That established, Fuentes was topping out in the high 80s with most of his fastballs, and he was nicked up and ineffective for most of the spring. Anaheim isn't going to make any rash changes after one bad outing, but this is a name-brand closer we'll have to keep a close eye on.
• Carlos Villanueva passed the eye test in his first closing assignment, dispatching the Giants with a 1-2-3 ninth (two strikeouts). The Brewers will probably have to lean on Villanueva for a while because Trevor Hoffman (strained oblique) isn't even throwing yet.
• Chris Volstad struggled with his command now and again during his five innings against Washington, but he still had enough raw stuff to ring up seven strikeouts (and a victory) over his five-inning stint. It's going to be very interesting to see how the intriguing Marlins hang with the Mets this weekend.
Emilio Bonifacio keeps humming along, with two more hits, two more runs, and another stolen base. While your opponents were hemming, hawing and hedging Monday (many in the fantasy industry were doing the same thing), hopefully you saw the potential here and took a chance. There's obviously no guarantee he turns into Luis Castillo circa 1999, but there's a chance this opening week is the legitimate start of a breakout season. No one can say he's a sure thing, but you have to take a swing at upside when it presents itself.
• Elijah Dukes finally got on the field (1-for-3, two walks, caught stealing) while Lastings Milledge rode the pine (he later made an out as a pinch-hitter). The Nats have the look of a team that could get off to a horrendous start, and there's no way of knowing how funky Manny Acta might get with the lineup card.
• The Braves hit three more homers (Brian McCann, Matt Diaz,
Logan Jordan Schafer) and piled up 11 runs in Philly, but it wasn't enough as their bullpen absolutely imploded in the bottom of the seventh. There wasn't a big hit in Philadelphia's eight-run rally – the Phils nicked the Braves to death with a collection of walks and singles. Peter Moylan got the worst of it on the mound; as well as he pitched all spring, maybe he's not all the way back from elbow surgery.
• Dexter Fowler's first start was a success: a homer, two runs, a walk, and a couple of nice plays in center field. Just what Clint Hurdle needs, another reason to have a different lineup card every day. Troy Tulowitzki finally got back to the batting slot he deserves – the No. 2 position – and came through with a 2-2-1-0 line, with three walks.
• Two games into the season and the Yankees still don't have a strikeout from their high-priced starting rotation. Chien-Ming Wang got knocked around for nine hits and seven runs over 3.2 innings, and that was enough for the Orioles even as they never scored again. Koji Uehara didn't strike out any Yanks either, but he was effective enough in his five-inning debut (5 H, 1 R, 1 BB). You already knew Nick Markakis is a roto god (3-for-3, homer), so let's not waste too much time discussing that.
• Scott Kazmir runs up the pitch count like nobody's business, which is why so many of his turns end at six innings or less. That was the case in Boston Wednesday, but the Rays aren't going to quibble with the end result (5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 4 K). Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and Akinori Iwamura (batting ninth) combined for nine hits, and Tampa Bay didn't have any trouble getting to playoff star Jon Lester (5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 5 K).
Handshakes: Francisco Rodriguez had some trouble finding the plate and an infield error didn't help, but he stranded three Reds and recorded his second save . . . George Sherrill got a one-out save when the Yankees put together a rally in the ninth; good work if you can get it . . . Jonathan Broxton had another breeze of an inning (nine pitches, two strikeouts) and looks like one of the best closer values of the year . . . Brad Ziegler picked up his second save in two days with a scoreless ninth, staying in the game even after a Howie Kendrick line drive struck him on the lower left leg . . . Joe Nathan, automatic as usual (perfect ninth) . . . Matt Capps got the last two outs in St. Louis, cleaning up the Tyler Yates mess . . . Joakim Soria got on the field this time for the save, on the heels of two perfect set-up innings from Juan Cruz (Zack Greinke was outstanding as well) . . . Frank Francisco needed 19 pitches to put the Indians away, though only one man reached base.
Speed Round: Chipper Jones is dealing with a sore thumb and got the day off; look for him on Friday . . . The Dodgers plan to sit Rafael Furcal on Thursday and Russell Martin on Friday; Joe Torre wants to make sure he doesn't wear out either of those guys (his use of Martin last year bordered on abuse). . . Yovani Gallardo brought the goods at San Francisco (6 IP, 2 R, 6 K) and also hit a home run . . . Nick Adenhart worked six scoreless innings (5 K) before the Angels bullpen let him down . . . Somehow Zach Duke worked into the seventh inning in St. Louis and allowed just three runs (one earned). Todd Wellemeyer (5 IP, 12 H, 5 R) was hammered on the other side . . . Delmon Young was on the Minnesota bench for the second time in three games . . . Brandon Webb (shoulder) has been scratched from his weekend start but the Snakes don't sound overly concerned . . . The Jays will try to avoid using B.J. Ryan on consecutive days, which means Scott Downs should have value no matter how Ryan performs . . . Ichiro Suzuki (ulcer) might be back as soon as next Wednesday . . . The Twins say Joe Mauer (back) is making progres in his rehab, but no timetable for a return has been set yet . . . Jarrod Saltalamacchia is battling an inner-ear infection and left Wednesday's game early; consider him day-to-day. Taylor Teagarden was already set to start Thursday, a day game following a night game.
Thursday AM Update: Terrible news out of California; Nick Adenhart and two other people were killed last night after being struck by a hit-and-run driver. Adenhart was just 22, so much ahead of him. My deepest condolences to those close to Adenhart and the other victims.
- Brandon Inge