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Mostly MLB Notes: Talking Clayton Kershaw, closers and a look around the league

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Clayton Kershaw had never spent a day on the DL before now (USAT)

After staying up to watch the first game of the season played in Australia, I made this tweet, wondering why no one was talking about Clayton Kershaw topping out at 88 mph. He was making an earlier than usual first start of the year, so maybe he wasn’t quite ready thanks to a truncated spring, or it could just be that the radar gun was off. Sticking to my plan to draft starting pitchers early this year, I decided to brush it off (after all, he produced a silly 17.7 SwStr% during that outing despite the decreased FB velocity, as his slider and curve looked as filthy as ever) and once again took Kershaw in a big money NFBC league a few days later, only to have the news of his back injury break about an hour after I did so. At first, the issue seemed minor, but it’s become clear Kershaw is missing all of April in something of a best-case scenario, which isn’t ideal as someone who owns him in four of my five fantasy leagues. Considering this is the same teres muscle that will sideline Jurickson Profar 10-12 weeks, and Kershaw is a pitcher (although he hasn’t torn his like Profar did, supposedly), I’m not overly optimistic, but then again, I can’t really see getting equal value in a trade at this point either. Kershaw owners likely just have to keep their fingers crossed and hope for a healthy version for the final five months of the year.

[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

As if the Kershaw injury wasn’t bad enough, I grabbed Stephen Strasburg with my next pick in the aforementioned NFBC league. I’m not too worried about his lackluster first outing from a results standpoint, but his lack of velocity sure is worth noting. As Dave Cameron states in this article, the radar gun seemed to be low for every starter in this game, but Strasburg isn’t exactly known for starting the season off with decreased velocity in the past either. It’s easy to panic over small samples at the beginning of the year, but K rates and velocity typically stabilize quickly, so this shouldn’t be totally ignored. With Yu Darvish also sidelined with a neck problem, it’s safe to say my SP heavy strategy isn’t off to the best start…One pitcher whose velocity looked strong right out of the gate is Jose Fernandez, who averaged 96.3 mph during his dominant first outing of the season. He was the No. 4 pitcher on my board entering the year, but considering the question marks with Kershaw, Strasburg and Darvish, there probably isn’t a hurler I’d rather own in fantasy leagues right now.

Fernandez lacks a long track record and likely won’t throw more than 200 innings in 2014, but not only does he arguably have the best stuff in baseball, he has something else to his advantage not talked about enough: Marlins Park. Since its inception two years ago, it has decreased home runs by a whopping 31 percent; the next closest in all of baseball has been AT&T Park at 24 percent, with only one other suppressing HR by more than 20 percent (PNC Park). No stadium in the American League has decreased HR by more than 16 percent over the past three years. Before PETCO Park moved its fences in, it decreased HR by 23 percent from 2010-2012. In other words, Fernandez isn’t only one of the league’s best pitchers, he also happens to throw in the National League and in the most-friendly pitcher’s park when it comes to suppressing home runs in all of baseball.

Headlines of the Week: Man Threatens His Girlfriend With His Anger Management Workbook...North Korea: Students Required To Get Kim Jong-un Haircut...This Norwegian Teen Got A McDonald’s Receipt Tattooed On His Arm...Cheese Factory In Siberia Closed After Employees Bathe In Milk...Condoms ‘Too Big’ For Indian Men...Utah Woman Named Crispi Allegedly Tried To Set Ex’s House On Fire With Bacon...Wal-Mart Has A Lower Acceptance Rate Than Harvard...Man Swept Out To Sea During Beach Baptism...Coffee Smoking Becoming Popular Among Teens...Va. Couple Wins Lottery Three Times In Same Month...Man Survives Accident That Put Chainsaw Into His Neck...Maine Man In Search Of Valuable Mineral Performs C-section On Dead Porcupine, Saves Baby...Malawian Man Lets Hyena Eat His Genitals Because Witch Doctor Said It Would Make Him Rich.

Closers are always the most volatile position in fantasy baseball, but I can’t remember such a crazy amount of change within the first few days of the season as this one. Nate Jones (another proud member of my NFBC team!) was thought to be the heavy favorite to enter 2014 in the stopper role, only manager Robin Ventura decided to name Matt Lindstrom (someone with a career 2.18 K/BB ratio and 1.42 WHIP) the team’s closer instead. Any hope of this arrangement being short-lived has since been lost thanks to Jones allowing two runs without retiring a batter Wednesday against the Twins. Jones should be held onto in deeper leagues, but worse pitchers than Lindstrom have recorded 30+ save seasons before…Who knows what’s going on in Houston’s pen, but Chad Qualls was used in the eighth inning during the team’s win Tuesday, while Matt Albers pitched a clean ninth to protect a four-run lead. As a result, Albers should be added by those desperate for saves, while Jesse Crain remains someone to stash on the DL. Having said that, the bet here is Josh Fields eventually emerges as the best option among this committee...Casey Janssen continues to prove injury prone, and unlike most of the other surprise closer replacements early on, alternative Sergio Santos doesn’t represent much of a downgrade from a pure talent level. He has the upside to be a top-10 fantasy closer from here on out.

Police Blotter: Naked Man On Cocaine Busted On Tricycle...Accused Serial Killer ‘Son Of Sal’ Files Long, Bizarre List Of Witnesses...Bandit Jailed For 15 Years Robs Same Store Day After Release...Fairbanks Campus Priest Charged With DUI, Drugs And Weapons.

Francisco Rodriguez has been another hot waiver wire add after manager Ron Roenicke unexpectedly called upon him to close out the Brewers’ first game of the season Monday. Roenicke claims Jim Henderson will regain the ninth-inning role once he fixes some mechanical issues, but Rodriguez is plenty capable of keeping the closer’s role himself...It appears Jonathan Broxton not only is going to return from the disabled list next week but immediately move into Cincinnati’s closer’s role, making him a must-add in fantasy leagues…It turns out Bobby Parnell’s lost velocity all spring was a sign of injury, and it appears he’s going to have to undergo Tommy John surgery. Jose Valverde gets first crack at closing for the Mets, but who knows how long it will last. He actually had a 2.92 ERA and 1.17 WHIP from 2007-2012 before last year’s hiccup (5.59 ERA, although that was in just 19.1 innings). His ERA ranked 15th best in baseball while his WHIP ranked 20th over that six-year span (minimum 350.0 innings), so while other options like Jeurys Familia and Vic Black (Joel Hanrahan?) may become alternatives at some point, I’d personally put Valverde as the favorite to finish with the most saves in New York’s pen in 2014.

This guy is a real hockey aficionado.

Loading fresh fish into a truck with a forklift fail.

If you aren’t watching “Hannibal,” you should be. It’s already one of the best non-comedy network TV shows ever…I didn’t hate the “How I Met Your Mother” series finale as much as some did, but it was definitely time for that show to come to an end (actually, that time was more like 2-3 seasons ago).

Justin Smoak has been the most added player in Yahoo leagues so far, which makes sense as someone not hyped entering the year yet has a strong pedigree and is off to a hot start with a homer and six RBI over the first two games of the season. Smoak has been hitting cleanup, which is suddenly even more valuable in a Mariners’ lineup that features Robinson Cano and Brad Miller directly in front of him (on a side note, Miller is probably the player I’m most upset not owning any shares of this year. I bumped him up my cheat sheet late, although probably not as much as I should have. A top-five fantasy SS season isn’t out of the question. In fact, I might prefer him over a hobbled Jose Reyes over the rest of 2014). Smoak hit 11 homers over the final 51 games last season, and after suppressing run scoring by an MLB-high 22 percent from 2010-2012, Safeco Field became neutral last year after they moved the fences in, which is a pretty significant change. Yes, it’s just two games, but Smoak is 27 years old, so I see no reason why owners shouldn’t be adding him in hopes of the long anticipated breakout finally happening in 2014.

Song of the Week: Jack White – “High Ball Stepper.”

Longread of the Week: The Manhunt For Christopher Dorner.

Quick Hits: Injuries haven’t been relegated solely to pitchers in the early going, as Wilson Ramos and Jose Reyes find themselves on the DL. Ramos’ 4-5 week timetable is one thing, but how much the hamate injury affects his power after returning is another. It’s an injury that often hurts power production, so this could be a blow to Ramos’ fantasy owners even after he returns. It’s more of the same for Reyes. The key with him is whether the hamstring soreness affects his base stealing once he returns…With two on in the eighth inning of Monday’s game, Josh Donaldson hit a ball off the very top of the centerfield fence, which might have been the longest single in the history of baseball. If it wasn’t bad enough he missed a three-run homer by six inches, for some reason, the A’s base runners failed to score, including the one who started at second base, costing Donaldson at least one (and likely two) RBI…If the first few games are any indication, the Rockies’ centerfield situation is going to be a huge disappointment for fantasy owners, as it looks like a full blown committee, with the guy with the most upside (Corey Dickerson) on the short side of it…Here’s the Giants getting screwed by the new challenge system. Sticking with San Francisco, it’s nice to see manager Bruce Bochy do the right thing and bat Brandon Belt (and Hunter Pence vs. lefties) second in the order while Marco Scutaro is out. Last year, Belt hit .410 with eight homers over 78 at-bats in spring training, only to hit .235/.287/.353 with two homers over 85 ABs in April. This year, he hit zero home runs with 21 strikeouts over 57 spring at bats, only to begin the regular season with two bombs, four runs scored and four RBI over the first two games. Go figure.

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