Closing Time: Brave new world for Schafer, Lowe

Grab a comfortable seat and settle in, we'll be in this space for the next six months discussing fantasy baseball happenings on a nightly basis. Our primary focus will always be on the closing carousel and the unowned gems you need to be scouting, but anything with significant roto importance will get play from us.

First up, some Sunday night bullets from Atlanta's tidy victory at Philly, and then we'll check in with a collection of loose ends from around baseball.

Jordan Schafer made a splash this spring with a dynamic camp (.324/.378/.471, five steals), earning a starting job and pushing Josh Anderson out of Atlanta. The Braves don't want to put too much pressure on the 22-year-old and he might be batting eighth for a while, but he certainly had a snappy debut on Sunday, clouting a homer to left-center field in his first at-bat and adding a single later. He's got 15-15 potential out of the box (he collected 10 homers and 12 steals in 84 Double-A games last year), though the bags usually don't translate to the eighth spot in the order.

Jeff Francoeur parlayed a new stance with an old approach – see it, swing at it – in his first at-bat, driving a ball to the left-field bleachers. He went hitless in his other three trips, though in one at-bat he worked the count full and showed unusual patience (for him) on a couple of borderline pitches (including the one that punched him out).

Mike Gonzalez was all over the place in a rocky ninth inning, throwing 28 pitches (13 balls) and allowing the tying run to come to the plate (he started the frame ahead 4-0 – no save situation). On a different night Gonzo might have come out of the game – the Braves had Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan warming up during the inning – but Charlie Manuel's left-handed run of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez gave Bobby Cox a decent reason to stick with the southpaw Gonzalez. Ultimately the Atlanta closer got it together, striking out Howard and Ibanez to wrap it up.

Derek Lowe generally has excellent control anytime he steps to the mound, but when he commands his pitches like he did Sunday he's almost impossible to beat. Lowe's eight brilliant innings (2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K) had to remind you of Greg Maddux a little bit, and Lowe got out of the game needing just 97 pitches. He'll make his home debut next weekend against the Nationals.

Brett Myers threw a couple of fat pitches early (three homers allowed, and a fourth just missed) but he rallied reasonably well and salvaged six innings from the assignment (8 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 6 K). The recurring gopher-ball problem is what keeps Myers from consistently being one of the NL's best pitchers. His next turn comes in Colorado.

It was a little odd seeing Brad Lidge work in a four-run deficit on opening night, but given that the Phillies and Braves don't play Monday, it's probably no big deal. Lidge needed just nine pitches en route to a perfect inning.

Generally we're not going to waste space telling you Chipper Jones went 2-for-4 or Brian McCann hit another homer, but it's a stand-alone game on opening night, we'll make an exception. Yunel Escobar (1-for-4) missed a homer by about a foot, settling for a double.

Nasty weather in the Chicago area has already squashed the Royals and White Sox for Monday. Weather permitting, Mark Buehrle and Gil Meche will go at it Tuesday. Trey Hillman has an interesting lineup set to go when the Royals finally open their season; Coco Crisp, David DeJesus and intriguing sleeper Mark Teahen will be the top three, while Mike Aviles is slated to hit ninth. "I met with (Aviles) and told him not to read too much into that as far as a confidence level," Hillman told the Kansas City Star. "It's really going to be driven by who is in that three spot. If that's Teahen, then it will probably be one-two-three the way you've seen it (late in spring training)."

B.J. Ryan picked up a vote of confidence from GM J.P. Ricciardi, for whatever that's worth. Stay ready, Scott Downs.

Joey Devine (elbow) still hasn't seen Dr. James Andrews yet, but the Athletics know this is a long-term project; the reliever has been put on the 60-day disabled list. Brad Ziegler gets first crack at the closing gig with Devine out of the way, with Santiago Casilla an interesting Plan B.

Tony La Russa likes to fill out a different lineup card on a daily basis, so don't be thrown by the fact that Skip Schumaker won't start Monday against Pittsburgh lefty Paul Maholm. Brendan Ryan gets the call instead. "I know that Skip is going to play a lot," said La Russa, explaining his genius reasoning. "This is a lineup that gives you a better chance to win (the one game)."

The tone continues to be optimistic on Alex Rodriguez's rehab; hitting coach Kevin Long told the New York Post that Rodriguez is "70 percent" right now. A return sometime in May still looks like the logical timetable, but an April appearance apparently isn't out of the question.

Bronson Arroyo (carpal tunnel) has avoided the DL for the time being, though his first turn has been pushed back to Sunday. Off his messy spring there's no way I'd roll with this guy in Week 1, no matter the format. Sticking with the Reds, Willy Taveras (illness) won't play against the Mets on Monday; look for Jerry Hairston Jr. to play left field and bat leadoff, while Darnell McDonald picks up the start in center.

The Rays consider Jason Isringhausen (elbow) a work in progress right now, and he's been put on the 15-day DL to further work on his arm strength.

Mike Napoli (shoulder) caught nine innings in a minor league game over the weekend and will open the year in his usual role, splitting time with Jeff Mathis.

Tony Clark, Chad Tracy and Eric Byrnes will be in Monday's lineup for the D-Backs against Colorado; Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds will not.

Just one handshake to note from Sunday, and it didn't come in an official game – Brian Wilson worked a perfect inning against Los Angeles en route to his first save of the spring. Apparently his nagging finger issue won't be a concern entering Week 1. And with that, we're at our word count – bring on the real opening day.

Programming Note: Roto Arcade will be hosting a continuous opening day blog on Monday; Andy Behrens will open things up and I'm the closer. Please join us and welcome the new season. Dress is casual; internet connection required.


Images via Associated Press