The list of fantasy excuses was shortened by a few names over the weekend. Lance Berkman was back in the Houston lineup. Wade Miller toed the rubber for Boston in his first American League start. Anna Benson's husband saw his first on-field action of 2005 on Thursday, the same day that Mike Cameron laced 'em up for his season debut. Heck, even Kevin Brown showed up for work on Sunday. We'll start our look back by breaking down some significant comebacks from injury:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
- The New York Mets hosted a second home opener of sorts on Thursday. Kris Benson started and pitched 4.2 innings in his 2005 debut. Also making his first start of the season was Mike Cameron, who patrolled right field and banged out two doubles hitting from the No. 5 position. For general manager Omar Minaya, it was his first look at the lineup he envisioned after re-tooling the roster during the offseason. Initial impressions were positive. Benson struck out Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu to end a scoreless first inning. He would punch out six in 4.2 innings before Aaron Heilman was called on to bail him out of trouble. For Cameron, Thursday's two-hit performance was merely a warm-up. He finished the weekend 8-for-14 with two homers, eight runs scored and four RBIs.
Is Benson worth a gamble? Fantasy skeptics would say no. After all, he owns a sub-.500 career record, a lifetime WHIP of 1.40 and has never won more than 12 games in a season. Why would this year be any different? Well, New York is an improved defensive team and they rank third in the NL in runs scored. Benson never enjoyed that kind of support in Pittsburgh. Right now a wait-and-see approach is a safe bet. He makes his next start at Wrigley Field, where his career ERA sits just below 5.00. As for Cameron, the buying frenzy has already begun. As long as fantasy owners are prepared to endure a dramatic drop in batting average, he should prove to be a valuable commodity. He was a 30/20 guy in 2004 and his run production should increase this year in an improved New York lineup. Give it a look, but he's probably already gone in your league.
- Lance Berkman sat on Sunday, one day after he doubled off Chris Reitsma for his first RBI of the season. The day off was scheduled. Manager Phil Garner did not want to overwork Berkman, who was activated Friday after missing the season's first month with knee problems. Resting Berkman also gave Garner an excuse to give Mike Lamb another start in left field. Lamb has been Houston's most prolific run producer in May, driving in 12 runs in eight starts while batting .303. On Sunday, while nearly every other Houston bat was quiet, Lamb produced one of only two hits surrendered by Mike Hampton.
Berkman isn't at risk of losing at-bats to Lamb, but fantasy owners should take notice anyway. Lamb is versatile (eligible at 1B, 2B, 3B and OF) and he currently leads Houston in RBIs (17) despite having only one homer on the season. Position eligibility is a big plus. Not too many guys can provide injury insurance at four different positions while maintaining his kind of productivity. The RBI run may seem a bit of a fluke on the surface, but dating back to last season, Lamb now has 33 RBIs in his past 51 games.
- Wade Miller was very impressive in his Boston debut. The familiar curve was there – even if the righty was very much out of his element in the American League. Miller struck out six and allowed only three hits in five innings of work. He averaged 15 wins per season from 2001-2003, establishing himself as one of the best strikeout pitchers in the National League in the process. He struggled with injuries last year, but looked sharp on Sunday. He'll face Seattle again in his second start of the season. Gun-shy fantasy owners who held out on his debut should be sure to activate him in advance of his next outing.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Nick Johnson, 1B, Was
Consistent yet unappreciated all season, Johnson finally grabbed the attention of fantasy owners with a recent spike in power. The former Yankee has hit safely in 27 of his 30 games this season, including eight straight. Since April 25, Johnson has three homers, 11 RBIs and seven runs scored in 10 games. While sluggers like Eric Chavez have struggled with men aboard, Johnson has excelled. Through Sunday, he was batting .474 with runners in scoring position.
- Ryan Madson, RP, Philadelphia
With Tim Worrell battling personal problems on the disabled list, Madson has moved into the primary set-up role for Philadelphia. Since allowing a two-run homer to Brad Hawpe on April 20, Madson has pitched nine scoreless innings, striking out 13 and allowing only two hits in the process. Madson provides fantasy insurance on two levels. First, closer Billy Wagner is injury prone. Worrell saved 19 games during Wagner's various DL stints in 2004. There's also the matter of Wagner's expendability. He's in the final year of his contract and probably won't factor into the team's bullpen plans beyond 2005. If things don't turn around soon, the team may shop their closer to a contender.
PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm
- Jeff Mathis, C, LAA (ETA – June 1)
The organization's catcher of the future struggled in 2004 after Double-A teammates Dallas McPherson and Casey Kotchman were promoted within the organization, depleting his supporting cast. Now at Triple-A, Mathis is once again looking like a top prospect. Through 18 games, he is batting .348 with five homers, seven doubles and 17 RBIs. The Angels may be hesitant to throw a rookie catcher into the middle of a pennant race, but their current stable of catchers is banged up and under-producing. The Orange County Register has reported that the team is considering calling up a minor league catcher, but Mathis may get passed over due to a minor thigh injury.
- Ricardo Rodriguez, SP, Tex (ETA – May 15)
After going 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA for the Rangers in 2004, Rodriguez narrowly missed out on securing the No. 5 spot in the Texas rotation during spring training. On Saturday he took a big step toward retuning to the majors, tossing a five-hit shutout with eight strikeouts for Triple-A Oklahoma. In his past three starts, Rodriguez has allowed only 11 hits and one run in 23 innings. Meanwhile, back in Texas, Pedro Astacio is doing everything he can to pitch his way out of the rotation.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Atl – In his past four starts, LaRoche is 7-for-17 with a homer and 10 RBIs. He proved himself to be a capable hitter down the stretch in 2004, closing with a .302 average and 10 homers after the All-Star break.
Bruce Chen, SP, Bal – May is normally not kind to Chen. He owns a career 5.11 ERA for the month, but through two starts this year is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 13 innings.
Jamey Carroll, 2B, Was – All Carroll did in a weekend series against the Giants was go 8-for-13 with five runs scored and a stolen base. He'll occupy the No. 2 spot in Washington's order until regular starter Jose Vidro (ankle) returns in 1-2 weeks.
Russ Adams, SS, Tor – Adams was hitless on Sunday, but started May on a tear, collecting nine hits in his first 19 at bats with two homers.
Alex Sanchez, CF, TB – In his first four games as Tampa Bay's leadoff hitter, Sanchez went 6-for-16 with two homers, two steals and seven runs scored. He failed to score on Saturday, snapping a team-record, 10-game streak with a run scored.
Brian Giles, RF, SD – Since snapping out of a 0-for-21 slump, Giles is 8-for-16 with two homers, nine RBIs and six runs scored. Apparently, Anna is out of his system. The hitless streak came after he caught a ceremonial first pitch from Anna Kournikova on April 29.
Daryle Ward, 1B, Pit – Ward hit .375 with six homers and 18 RBIs last May. His home run on Sunday was his fourth already this month and he enjoyed his third straight multi-hit game. With Craig Wilson on the DL, he should see regular starts at first base.
Shannon Stewart, LF, Min – Though he was hitless on Sunday, Stewart scored a run in his fourth consecutive game. He's batting .310 in May with five runs, a homer and two stolen bases.
Ryan Klesko, 1B, SD – Klesko homered on Sunday, giving him four on the young month to complement six runs scored and seven RBIs.
Pedro Astacio, SP, Tex – Ricardo Rodriguez pitched a five-hit shutout for Triple-A Oklahoma on Saturday, fueling speculation that Astacio, loser of his past three starts, might be on his way out of the Texas rotation.
Victor Zambrano, SP, NYM – The Mets are expected to monitor Zambrano's next starts closely. If he struggles, he may be replaced in the rotation by Aaron Heilman, who pitched 3.2 strong innings of relief on Thursday to improve to 3-2.
Victor Diaz, RF, NYM – Diaz was hitless on Sunday and is just 3-for-15 with seven strikeouts in May. The Mets may opt to return him to Triple-A so he can continue to get regular at-bats.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
.500 Colorado shortstop Clint Barmes' batting average in his first 11 home games at Coors Field in 2005. He is also a career .424 (39-for-92) hitter against left-handed pitching.