The Yu Darvish debut looked like a train wreck in the first inning, but I wound up being impressed with him by the end of the Monday night. And with a little help from his Texas offensive mates, the man who launched 1,000 puns is now 1-0 in the majors.
The Mariners plated four runs off Darvish in the first inning, taking advantage of the import's wildness (he opened the game walking Chone Figgins on four straight pitches) and a little good fortune as well (Ichiro Suzuki dunked a flair into shallow left field, as cheap a hit as you'll see). I don't think this was a case of Darvish being nervous or intimidated; to the contrary, I get the idea he probably had too much adrenaline on the mound and it messed with his mechanics. He retired 10 batters in a row later in the evening, and finished with a reasonable line given the messy first frame: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 5 K. Darvish also uncorked a wild pitch and hit one batter (hey, it saves the WHIP). Here's some scouting video to satisfy the basement tape requirement.
My two biggest concerns with Darvish going forward are his home park (we all know the Arlington story by now) and the likelihood that he'll quickly run up pitch counts since he's going to collect plenty of strikeouts and walks. It's not that easy to win games if you're regularly leaving before the seventh inning. He'll need to be around the plate more than he was Monday: only 59 of his 111 pitches were strikes. But Darvish's experience, maturity and personality have him well prepared for the challenge in front of him — he's considered more "Americanized" than previous big-name Japanese starters — and the Texas lineup figures to keep him well supported with runs.
Add it all up and I'm still less sold on Darvish as a 2012 fantasy prospect than the industry average, but it's not the same distance you saw a month or two ago. If I were doing a Shuffle Up for starting pitchers right now, I'd probably consider him a reasonable No. 3 for most mixed leagues, someone in the 25-36 ranking range. Maybe that's not lofty enough to get him in a redraft, but my strategy is never about targeting specific players anyway. There's a reasonable price where almost anyone makes sense, and there's a lofty price where I'll walk away from just about anyone. You're invited to share your Darvish notes and observations in the comments.
One last word on Darvish: he gets the anemic Twins offense for his second start, in Minnesota no less, on the weekend. This might be the best draw you can get in the American League this year. Enjoy that one, gamers.
• As far as the Tom Milone debut goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Everyone will gladly take an eight-inning victory with no runs allowed (4 H, 3 BB), but Milone didn't strike anyone out, either. The Royals did what they could to help Milone out, running into three outs on the bases (though give Josh Reddick credit for erasing Jason Bourgeois with a terrific first-inning throw). Here's the video on Milone, scout away.
Milone's snappy K/BB rate in the minors last year was a testament in knowing how to pitch, not a statement about a power arm or raw stuff. Perhaps he's going to be a Mark Buehrle type, a lefty who will work quickly, use his defense, and try to let batters get themselves out. The Athletics should have a decent defensive outfield for this pursuit, with a converted center fielder in left field (Cereal Crisp), along with Yoenis Cespedes in center and Reddick in right. Milone's next turn comes Sunday in Seattle, a reasonable streaming start if you're not tied to K/9. I'll be starting Milone again, naturally.
• The Boston bullpen was the big story as the Red Sox and Blue Jays renewed acquaintances, but by the end of Monday night, it was the YYZ singing the closer blues. Sergio Santos unraveled in the ninth (2 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 1 K), his second blown save in three days. He's walked four batters, against just one strikeout, over his 2.1 innings of work this year. It's time to see if Francisco Cordero makes sense as a save hedge in your league; the veteran reliever is owned in 52 percent of Yahoo! leagues right now. Coco, beware.
The Red Sox bullpen, meanwhile, did a 180 from the Detroit Breakdown over the weekend. Scott Atchinson was terrific over three crisp innings (1 H, 0 R, 3 K) and Alfredo Aceves was creamy smooth in the ninth, needing just 15 pitches en route to the handshake. Aceves mixed his pitches well and got ahead of everyone, ultimately mowing the Jays down on two routine grounders and a strikeout. Aceves is never going to make the radar gun pop, but he's capable of handling any bullpen role if he throws like he did Monday. (And with this rebound, I can happily end my personal ban of alfredo sauces. It was a tough 24 hours, but I felt I owed it to the roto gods.)
One more Boston word before we move on: Kevin Youkilis has been a hot mess all spring. He's 0-for-12 with five strikeouts (and no walks) over his three games, and this is on the heels of a terrible camp (.195/.353/.220, nine strikeouts in 41 at-bats). Don't forget that he's been a high-attrition player his entire career, someone who tends to break down. Starting in 2006, here are Youk's games played by season: 147, 145, 145, 136, 102, 120. I'll be shocked if he gets over 130 games this year, and even when he's on the field, I'm not convinced you'll like the production. As soon as he cranks out some numbers at the dish — sooner or later he'll have a big game or a strong series — you might want to start quietly shopping him.
• Okay, one last Pianow Roto Arcade Pro-Am League is going to happen. This is my maximum, has to be. I'm already over-extended for 2012, but the games are fun and we had a fantastic group in the last one. I hope we can match that pool this time around. (If this league is of no interest to you, please skip this entire bullet.)
The auction will be Wednesday at 8 pm eastern time. It's an auction format, so you'll need four hours clear (I guess we'll finish in 3:30 or so but you never know). We'll play 5x5 mixed roto, head-to-head (with 10-14 owners, TBD), using daily transactions and an acquire cap of 50.
I know, I know, a lot of you hate any limits or restrictions on the game, and generally I'll agree with that. But given this league is a mouth I don't have ideal time to feed, it has to be a hybrid format. That's the only way I can make it work. If you don't care for the format, that's your constitutional right. Feel free to start up a league with your favorite specs, the windows are still open.
I'll consider three things as I pick the pool of players: how well I know you, how respectful I think you'll be to the other owners in the league, and how well you answer the Twitter question below. This league is not a pursuit where I need to find the best owners in the land; I know most of you are good at this game anyway. I want people who will be enjoyable to play against over the next six months. I want a fun experience for all. I want a smooth takeoff, a smooth flight and a smooth landing.
If you want in the game, go onto Twitter and answer this question: what is your favorite album of the 1990s, and why? Don't tell me what you think my favorite record is; I want to know your slant on this. Include the hashtag #pianowleague and only submit one entry; anyone who spams the ballot box will be eliminated from consideration. Ready, steady, go.
Snippets: I don't have anything fresh or insightful to offer on Omar Infante and his three homers (two Monday). He only hit 15 over the last two seasons, over 1150 at-bats. Trust the larger body of data, obviously. The bigger worry in Miami is Giancarlo Stanton, who is battling a sore knee and didn't go at Philly. … Slumping (I know, it's insanely early to use that word) Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas were both rested Monday but will be back in Tuesday's lineup, per Ned Flanders Yost. … Hector Santiago was given a friendly save chance — just hold onto this three-run lead, son — and converted at Cleveland, though Jose Lopez started the inning with a solo homer. Santiago struck out two of the next three men, needing 24 pitches in all. Addison Reed and Matt Thornton combined for four outs in middle relief, bridging a strong start from Chris Sale (6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K, Salfino approved). … A couple of infield errors tripped up Brandon Beachy in Houston, as the Astros scored four runs off him (three unearned) over five innings. Beachy will be home on Sunday against Milwaukee. … Daniel Murphy's bat and glove toppled the Nats in the ninth, pushing the Mets to their fourth straight win. Henry Rodriguez took the loss, in part due to his throwing error in the final inning. … Ike Davis is off to an 0-for-15 start, a big worry given how Valley Fever wrecked his spring training. … Hardly anyone had optimistic things to say about Ivan Nova this winter, but his camp wasn't as bad as you might think (ignore the ERA and focus on the 17:3 K:BB ratio) and he was effective in Monday's win at Baltimore (2 R, 0 BB, 7 K). He's pitching for his rotation spot, but I think Nova manages to keep it.
They say Barry Zito's new windup baffled the Rockies on Monday. I'm afraid to watch the video and get sucked in on this one. Do what feels right. As for Brandon Belt resting, don't blame Bruce Bochy this time: the kid told the skipper he was pressing, which basically forces Bochy to offer one head-clearing day. … There are only two matinees on the Tuesday schedule but they should be fun to watch: Tampa phenom Matt Moore opposes the Detroit wrecking crew at 1:05 pm ET, and Clayton Kershaw has the Dodgers home opener against Pittsburgh at 4:10 pm ET (accompanied by the subtle poetry of Vin Scully). Clear your afternoon now. Does Moore remind you of Kershaw a little bit? I see some overlap here. … I'm not going to waste much space here talking about contract extensions, because generally they offer no immediate and actionable angle for today's roto player. Anyway, Ian Kinsler and Carlos Santana got paid, good news if you like baseball in Texas or Cleveland. That's all we need to say. … B.J. Upton (back) has started his rehab assignment. He went 0-for-2 Monday and didn't report any setbacks. … The Wednesday slate doesn't offer a lot of streamable options, but looking at the 50-percent and under crowd, maybe you can try Erik Bedard at Los Angeles or Bruce Chen at Oakland. Bedard is owned in 48 percent of Yahoo! leagues, a fair number; I see him more as a keeper, not a temp. Staying healthy is usually his biggest obstacle, and he's in a terrific park. Chen (six percent) is more of a longshot pick, not that Oakland's offense and park should scare anyone.