The sharp fantasy player is trained to be skeptical of fast starts from recycled veterans and ordinary journeymen. It's early, we say. It's probably a mirage, we warn. Don't take the bait, we whisper. Sell high, we advise.
Well, you can take all of that generic bunk and shove it in the shredder when it comes to Jarrod Washburn(notes), 2009. We're three months into the new season and it's time to accept that this isn't a good start – it's a good season.
Washburn's latest turn was a beauty Monday night – a one-hit special against Baltimore, facing just one man over the minimum. Washburn threw 75 of 110 pitches for strikes, didn't walk anyone, struck out just three, used his defense, cruise control. The entire game took just 2:09 to complete (Pearl Jam wouldn't be through its encores yet). Another tidy effort from the AL's most unheralded lefty; he's getting a ton of mileage from his new toy, a sinking two-seam fastball.
In truth the gem he threw Monday was out of character for what Washburn has morphed into this season – a quietly reliable arm, someone who gives you a useful outing just about every time. A 3.08 ERA and 1.10 WHIP are excellent in today's game, even in the post-steroid era. He's collected 11 quality starts and on three other occasional he's allowed four runs (that won't kill you). He's averaging 6.5 innings per start. Mixed-league owners should have a rotation spot dedicated for this guy.
A look under the statistical hood more or less backs up Washburn. His FIP is higher than his season ERA, but it's still under 4. He's never going to be a strikeout ace but he's currently got the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. Fly balls are down a spec, ground balls up a spec. He's keeping the ball in the park but there's nothing crazy with his HR/FB (9.2 percent).
What about that 5-6 record? Aye, that's the rub. But help could be on the way – Washburn is a free agent at the end of the year and the Mariners are expected to aggressively shop Washburn (and Erik Bedard(notes)) to contending teams as the trading season heats up. As fickle as wins can be, I'm going to assume Washburn's winning chances would go up in a lot of other cities. The Dodgers, for one club, look like a perfect fit. There's still time to get on board.
• Young pitching can break your heart but you have to admire what Oakland lefty Brett Anderson(notes) did at Fenway Park on Monday night (9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K), a masterpiece in 111 pitches (video evidence here). That makes it 16 whiffs over his last two turns – he got seven Tigers last week – but I'm still leery on the weekend assignment, a start on the road against Tampa Bay's power-and-speed crew. Scout Anderson on the weekend, but use him at your own peril.
John Smoltz(notes) continued to struggle on the other side of Yawkey Way, working through six rough frames (10 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 3 K). I'm pulling for Smoltz and I want to believe him when he says "I'm almost there . . . I really am" – but I can't recommend him this weekend, even with the Royals on the schedule.
• No one wants to believe in the Jason Marquis(notes) pitch-to-contact story, but he got it done yet again on Monday, scattering nine baserunners over eight scoreless innings against the Nats. I'm a little concerned about all of the Colorado pitchers at this time of year – Coors Field in recent seasons has seen major offensive spikes during July and August – but Marquis deserves at least a little benefit of the doubt at this point. He'll get the Braves, in the thin air, on the weekend.
• Ian Snell's(notes) decision to visit Triple-A seems to be working out: 14 innings, one unearned run, two walks, 23 punchouts. It doesn't mean he'll do a thing when he gets back to Pittsburgh, but we at least have to take him seriously.
• Matt Diaz(notes) was on a 13-for-21 streak before the Cubs shut him down Monday (0-for-4), but it looks like Diaz could get a shot at taking over for Jeff Francoeur(notes) full-time. Bobby Cox isn't afraid to stick with what's working – note how he benched Kelly Johnson(notes) for Martin Prado(notes) a couple of weeks back. In very deep mixed groups, you might want to give Diaz some run this week and see what sticks – a trip to Colorado comes on the weekend.
Injury Blog: Aramis Ramirez(notes) (shoulder) returned to the Cubs lineup and went 0-for-4. Take it from the source, some rust is expected here. "I haven't played in two months," Ramirez told the team's official site. "I went down to the minors and got nine at-bats, but it's not the same."… Kevin Slowey(notes) got good news on his wrist MRI – he's only got a strain. He'll rest for a couple of days, then look to start a throwing program. … Hanley Ramirez(notes) (hip flexor) remains day-to-day and missed his second start Monday. Before the game manager Fredi Gonzalez said Ramirez would be available to pinch hit – and would likely play Tuesday – but Ramirez stayed on the bench even as the Fish put together a ninth-inning rally against Brian Wilson(notes) that fell just short. Stay tuned. … Randy Johnson(notes) has a strained shoulder and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks. … As discussed in the Philadelphia Party earlier tonight, Raul Ibanez(notes) (groin) has started his rehab assignment and will play two more games over the next three days before the team re-evaluates. … Yuniesky Betancourt(notes) (hamstring) is aiming at a return after the All-Star break. … Although Scott Downs(notes) (toe) will throw again Tuesday, his return probably won't come until after the All-Star break. Jason Frasor(notes) recorded a white-knuckle save in the Bronx Monday. … Carlos Guillen(notes) (shoulder) took batting practice at Comerica Park Monday and is hoping to be ready for game action by the end of the month. He's been out since May 5, however, and no one in Detroit is setting a firm timetable. … Edwin Encarnacion(notes) is 2-for-12 with five strikeouts since returning from a chip fracture in his left wrist.
Speed Round: Rick Porcello(notes) has hit a rough patch of late and the Tigers recognize this; he'll skip one turn into the All-Star break. … The Royals acquired Ryan Freel(notes) from the Cubs for a player to be named later. I guess he'll make a matching set to go along with Alberto Callaspo(notes) and Willie Bloomquist(notes). … The Rangers got Josh Hamilton(notes) back (two hits) and Ian Kinsler(notes) off the skids (homer, breaking an 0-for-24 stretch), but nonetheless they got blown out in the OC as Kevin Millwood(notes) finally had that horrendous turn we've all been afraid of (5 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 3 BB, 0 K). "I just didn't hit my spots," Millwood shrugged afterwards. … Randy Wells(notes) couldn't buy a win for a while, but he's pitched in better luck of late, scoring four consecutive victories and allowing just seven runs over that stretch. He's got a hammer-lock on his rotation spot. … Ricky Romero(notes) better be owned in every mixed league you play in. The breakout year continued Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium; his line (6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 5 K) becomes a lot better when you consider the venue and opponent. Andy Pettitte(notes) took the loss on the other side and his season has a simple explanation thus far: sharp on the road (2.79 ERA), messy in the homer-friendly Stadium (5.72 ERA, 1.66 WHIP). Pettitte goes to Anaheim on the weekend. … The hits keep coming for Derrek Lee(notes) (homer No. 16) and Pablo Sandoval(notes) (game-deciding grand slam); throw your appreciation party in the comments, please.