Justin Verlander
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Baseball Daily Dose

Verlander on a Heater

by Matt Stroup
Updated On: May 22, 2019, 10:28 am ET

In the span of about six weeks, Justin Verlander’s season went from mildly disappointing to flat-out ridiculous. 

After his first three starts this season — as of April 8 — he had a 4.24 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, with 19 strikeouts in his first 17 innings. 

Since that time — what proved to be a high-water mark for his ERA and WHIP, and a low point for his overall effectiveness — Verlander has allowed one earned run or fewer in seven of his last eight starts, including eight innings of one-run ball against the White Sox on Tuesday, giving up just one hit and one walk with a season-high 12 strikeouts. 

Just how dominant has the 36-year-old been lately? Over his last three starts, he has allowed four hits and two runs in 22 innings, with five walks and 29 strikeouts. For the season, he’s now 8-1 with a 2.24 ERA and 0.73 WHIP — both of which would represent the best marks of his career if they held up. He’s also now carrying an 89/17 K/BB ratio, second only to teammate Gerrit Cole in strikeouts.

Overall, since joining Houston in 2017, Verlander — including Tuesday’s start — now has a 2.30 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 422/59 K/BB ratio in 320 1/3 stratospheric Astros innings. 

The time will come one of these years that Verlander’s stuff fades away. However, for the time being, I’m happy to say that as he shreds through his age-36 season, this guy is once again reminding us that he’s not human.

Simba Lost

In a shallow fantasy league, the offensive contributions of Andrelton Simmons may not even register as a blip on your radar. (As of this writing, he’s rostered in just 49 percent of Yahoo leagues.)

However, in leagues of a certain depth — and a certain rabid competitiveness among owners — it’s quite possible that Simba is (or was) a vital piece of glue holding your delicately constructed lineup together. Overstating things? Possibly. But let’s take a brief moment to reflect on all the things Simmons does reasonably well:

*He hits for average: a career-high .298 so far this season, and .286 since the start of 2016;

*He swats a handful of homers (14 and 11 the last two seasons, and three dingers so far this year);

*He drives in some runs — 69 and 75 the last two years, and 21 so far in 2019;

*He steals double-digit bags: 10, 19, 10 the last three seasons, and five already this year;

*He also plays legendary defense if you care about such things.

All in all, he’s quietly a player who contributes enough to either help you — or not completely crush you — in five categories. However, those fantasy owners who had the need and/or wherewithal to start him will now have to look elsewhere for a long-term replacement, as Simmons hit the IL on Tuesday with a Grade 3 left ankle sprain — and a potential multiple-month timetable.

Luis Rengifo — owner of a Simmons-esque .275 average with five homers and three steals at Triple-A — was called up to replace him. But Rengifo also had a .147 average in his first 34 at-bats in the big leagues this season, so it’s understandable if you’re not all that eager to wander down that path. 

As a readily available alternative, those looking to replace Simmons may want to consider Royals prospect Nicky Lopez. The 24-year-old is playing second base for KC, but has shortstop eligibility on Yahoo, where he’s rostered in 16 percent of leagues. Lopez, like Simmons, has a set of skills that should translate to solid-at-worst fantasy value — most notably the ability to get on base (.457 OBP at Triple-A this season; .393 in six games with the Royals), and the ability to steal bases (he had nine of them in the minors this year).

Editor’s Note: Stay ahead of the competition from wire to wire with rankings, customizable projections, trade evaluator, exclusive columns and more in our Season Pass. And start using optimized lineups on Yahoo!, DraftKings and FanDuel with our DFS Toolkit!

Don’t Rush Back

The Braves casually dropped word prior to Wednesday evening’s game that injured center fielder Ender Inciarte (back) hasn’t started baseball activities, and won’t be rushed back into action. This news doesn’t come as a big surprise for one main reason: Austin Riley is a force of nature. The 22-year-old third baseman-turned-left fielder has stepped into Inciarte’s lineup spot (with Ronald Acuna moving over to center), and hit .385 in his first seven big league games (including a 1-for-4 on Tuesday where he just missed a three-run homer in San Fran). 

In total, that leaves Riley — who hit 13 homers in his final 18 minor league games — with three home runs and six RBI in his first seven major league games, already hitting more balls of 105+ miles per hour on the first 80 pitches he saw in the big leagues than Inciarte has produced facing 9,508 pitches in his career.  

In summary: That’s a pretty random stat, but it’s also a telling one. And as much as we’re still in the very early days of the Austin Riley Experience, at this point it looks like Inciarte may not get his full-time job back unless someone else gets hurt. 

The Giancarlo Chronicles

Aaron Boone said on Tuesday (per ESPN writer Coley Harvey) that Giancarlo Stanton is “getting close to joining us”, but Boone added “probably not this weekend.”

That would have been straightforward enough. However, because things can’t be completely simple when it comes to Stanton and injuries in 2019, word came down on Tuesday evening that he was scratched from his rehab appearance at High-A Tampa due to “some tightness in his left knee/calf.” Boone said that the move was precautionary and Stanton might be able to play on Wednesday

Meanwhile, James Paxton (knee) threw a successful bullpen, and his next step is to throw a simulated game. That is expected to take place on Friday, with Paxton potentially returning to the rotation for his next turn after that. 

AL Quick Hits: In some positive Angels news, Shohei Ohtani (finger) was in the lineup on Tuesday and went 1-for-4. … Khris Davis was removed from Tuesday night’s game due to his ongoing hip issue, and is headed for a stint on the IL. … The Mariners placed Dee Gordon on the 10-day IL with a right wrist contusion, and Ryon Healy on the IL with lower back inflammation. … Trevor Bauer gave up four runs in six innings against the A’s and now has a 6.60 ERA over his last five starts. … Hunter Strickland (lat) is aiming for a mid-June return. … J.D. Martinez (illness) missed his second consecutive game. … Willie Calhoun left early with tightness in his left quad. … Yandy Diaz (hand) was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup. … Tyler Glasnow (elbow) threw a tennis ball on Monday and says he “should be back sooner than later.” … George Springer (back) was out of the lineup, but a return this weekend is “very possible”, according to A.J. Hinch. … Elvis Andrus was set to begin a minor league rehab assignment on Tuesday. … Lance Lynn struck out 11 against the Mariners, his most in a game since 2014. … The Rangers activated Shawn Kelley (throat surgery) from the IL, and he promptly picked up a save. … Rowdy Tellez broke out of a 15-game home run drought with two long balls and five RBI. … Masahiro Tanaka (leg) has been cleared to start on Thursday against the Orioles. … Nelson Cruz (wrist) hit in the batting cage on Tuesday as he aims to return on Friday. … Jesus Luzardo (shoulder) could start facing live hitters this weekend. … Mike Zunino (quad) is hoping to return in the next couple of weeks. … Clint Frazier homered for the first time in a month — hitting his seventh and eighth of the season — which also happened to push the Orioles over the century mark in terms of home runs allowed this season.

NL Quick Hits: Christian Yelich was scratched due to back discomfort. … Brandon Nimmo was scratched due to a stiff neck and is headed for an MRI on Wednesday. … Brendan Rodgers was on the bench for a second consecutive game on Tuesday. … Yasiel Puig (shoulder) was out of the lineup, but is targeting a Wednesday return. … Julio Urias has been reinstated from administrative leave, but could still face a potential suspension from Major League Baseball after being arrested last week on suspicion of domestic battery. … David Peralta left Tuesday's game with right shoulder soreness. ... Javier Baez (heel) hit a walk-off RBI single as a pinch-hitter on Tuesday and could return to the starting lineup on Wednesday. … Luke Jackson took a blown save and a loss, which could mean more save chances for Sean Newcomb in the near future. ... Gregory Polanco was scratched due to a jammed finger on his left hand. … Julio Teheran held the Giants to one run in 5 2/3 innings and has allowed just two earned runs in 22 2/3 innings in May to lower his season ERA to 3.67. ... Scooter Gennett (groin) is hoping to return in “a couple of weeks”, though he says it’s “still too early” to determine an exact timetable. … Pete Alonso launched home run No. 16. … After allowing 10 hits in each of his last two starts, German Marquez gave up just three hits in eight shutout innings against the Pirates. 

Matt Stroup

Matt Stroup covers basketball, football and sometimes baseball for NBC Sports Edge — and has covered eight Olympics as a TV writer for NBC. An avid fantasy player and rabid Atlanta sports fan since the 1990s, he would golf, bowl and play pickup basketball 365 days a year if it was acceptable. You can follow him on Twitter @MattStroup