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Clayton Kershaw
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Strike Zone

Notes: Kershaw’s Return

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: April 17, 2019, 4:20 am ET

Clayton Kershaw’s season debut Monday against the Reds started off inauspiciously, with former teammate Yasiel Puig taking him deep for a two-run shot in the first inning. As it turned out, though, those were the only runs Kershaw allowed in seven innings. It proved to be a pretty encouraging outing even with his fastball averaging 89.9 mph.

Hopes of Kershaw recovering some of the velocity he lost last year were pretty well dashed when he came down with a shoulder problem this spring. That he averaged 90 mph against the Reds was about what was expected given where he was in his rehab assignment. Kershaw compensated by throwing his fastball just one-third of the time. He unleashed a few more curves, which was good news, and he showed a bit more separation between his fastball and slider than he did at the end of last year. It got very confusing last October when Kershaw would throw a 90-mph fastball and an 89-mph slider on consecutive pitches. Against the Reds, he was at 87 mph with his slider, giving the pitch some additional movement and messing with the timing of hitters.

Of course, it’d still be nice if Kershaw gained some additional arm strength the further removed he gets from the shoulder injury, but if not, a Kershaw with a 90-mph fastball and an 87-mph slider is still most likely a top-20 SP. I’d definitely settle for this current version if it makes him less likely to break down again.

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American League notes

- The Blue Jays sending down Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was less about his poor start offensively (.175/.250/.275 in 40 AB) and more about his suddenly erratic throws from second base. Gurriel prefers playing shortstop and was penciled in there before the late Freddy Galvis signing, but he has plenty of experience at second and his defensive numbers were fine there before he developed what seemed to be a case of the yips. Hopefully he overcomes it quickly. If not, he might be an outfielder when he returns to the majors.

- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is batting .321/.406/.500 in 28 minor league at-bats since returning from his strained oblique. Meanwhile, Brandon Drury is at .140/.183/.211 with 25 strikeouts in 57 at-bats for the big club. The switch can’t possibly come soon enough.

- I was a little surprised the Indians didn’t cut Hanley Ramirez, rather than Brad Miller, when they activated Jason Kipnis from the IL over the weekend. I was hopeful that Ramirez would show he had something left, but his whiff rate has been terrible thus far and he’s not hitting the ball as hard as usual when he does make contact. I’m good with the idea of giving him a couple of more weeks, but it’s hard to be optimistic at this point. Miller likely had more to offer offensively, plus he can play several positions (not particularly well, but the numbers have never hated him as much as scouts seem to). That the Indians are lefty heavy probably had a lot to do with the decision; a resurgent Ramirez in the middle of their order would be quite a boon. Miller should land somewhere else quickly, but Cleveland was just about his best possible situation for fantasy purposes.

- The Indians did have one more option that they didn’t take; they could have sent down Jake Bauers, who is hitting .191/.283/.298 in 47 at-bats after hitting .143/.263/.238 in his final 41 games of last year. That’s probably premature, especially in light of the fact that he’s struck out just nine times in his 53 plate appearances this season, but he does need to show something soon. I had Bauers 245th in my top 300 this year, mostly because he was going to be an everyday guy in a great place for lefty power in Cleveland. I’m not a big believer in his bat.

- It’s probably safe to write off Greg Bird for another year after the Yankees first baseman was diagnosed with a plantar fascia tear. He was off to a thoroughly unimpressive start anyway, and if the Yankees begin to have any injury luck at all, they shouldn’t have much need of him by the time he’s ready to play again. Up in Bird’s place is Mike Ford, who was off to a crazy .410/.467/.897 start with five homers in 10 games in Triple-A. Ford’s bat has long been interesting, but he was a disappointment in Triple-A last year after failing to make the Mariners as a Rule 5 pick and it seemed likely that he’d be doomed to a career as a quad-A player. That still might be the case, but I look forward to seeing what he can do over the next couple of weeks.

- Why did the Red Sox pick Blake Swihart over Sandy Leon this spring, merely to reverse course 2 ½ weeks into the season? The only reason that makes much sense is that Chris Sale and the rest of the pitchers made it known that they missed throwing to Leon. That’s as much a Christian Vazquez issue as a Swihart one; the Red Sox had pitched just as poorly with Vazquez behind the plate as with Swihart, even though Vazquez did all of the catching for Sale and David Price. Still, there was no way that Vazquez was going to be the one to go. Swihart is never going to fulfill the potential it looked like he had five years ago, but I think he’s capable of putting up decent numbers with the bat. Defense is the tougher call; Swihart had ample potential behind the plate, but injuries have robbed him of development time and it’s hard to say whether he’ll ever be a realistic option as a starting catcher. If he lands in the right situation now, he could offer up some fantasy value. However, he would have been much more likely to wind up in a good situation had this move come over the winter, rather than in mid-April.

- The good news is that Leon magically added six mph to Sale’s fastball in his debut Tuesday. The bad is that Sale still wasn’t any good at all in a loss to the Yankees. Still, that Sale rediscovered his fastball is really all that matters here. If there’s any opportunity to buy low, this is the time to do it.


National League notes

- Considering that I was actually recommending drafting Chris Archer this spring for the first time in several years, it was pretty alarming to see him come out averaging 92 mph with his fastball in his initial start against the Cardinals this month. Fortunately, things have improved from there; he was in the 93-94 mph range in his last two starts, which leaves him about one mile per hour short of his typical velocity. He’s been very successful, too, though that’s mostly because he’s stranding 93% of his baserunners, instead of his usual 72%. I’ll never entirely trust him, but if the velocity keeps creeping up, I do like him as a top-20 SP.

- Gregory Polanco (shoulder) is still looking for his first extra-base hit in 25 minor league at-bats, but he has gone 4-for-12 with a couple of steals since moving up to Triple-A on his rehab assignment. Whether he’ll return with his power intact was always a question as he made his way back from shoulder surgery. The early returns aren’t thrilling, but he’ll probably get another week to find his stroke before coming off the IL.

- It’s too bad David Robertson is hurt, but at least the sore elbow provides an explanation for his uncharacteristic ugly start. He had pitched himself out of the saves mix for the short term anyway, but he should get back to being himself, hopefully in a few weeks. Hector Neris seems like the favorite for saves in the wide-open Phillies pen at the moment.

- Scott Kingery’s .524 average really catches the eye, but I’m not sure there’s anything especially different about him so far. He’d be worth grabbing in mixed leagues if pretty much any Phillies regular (J.T. Realmuto excepted) lands on the IL, but he’s not likely to overtake Cesar Hernandez should everyone stay healthy. He’d have a better chance of winning the third base job, but Maikel Franco has looked terrific.

- Stephen Strasburg’s velocity has been down about 1.5 mph, and though he was throwing a bit harder Tuesday, he managed to give up three homers to the lowly Giants. Strasburg is getting about as many swings and misses as usual, and his groundball rate is actually up from his usual mark. He has had a couple of previous seasons in which he threw a little softer in April and built velocity in May and June, so hopefully that will happen again. The 5.56 ERA is disappointing, but I don’t think it’s panic time.

- There was no good reason for the Braves to send down Touki Toussaint to begin the season, but he’s back now and presumably going into the rotation with both Sean Newcomb and Kyle Wright demoted (Mike Foltynewicz will get the other spot upon returning from the IL). Toussaint will likely walk a few too many to emerge as a top fantasy starter anytime soon, but he should still have some value in mixed leagues.

- Another slow start has cost Ender Inciarte the leadoff spot in Atlanta’s lineup; over the course of his career, Inciarte has a .310 OBP in April and May, a .325 OBP in June and July and a .365 OBP in August and September. It’s a big blow to Inciarte’s fantasy value that he’ll be batting seventh rather than first, though he should still be of some use in mixed leagues. Ozzie Albies, who was already in the top spot against lefties, will be the full-time leadoff man now, giving his value a nice boost. He has a fine 8/7 K/BB ratio through 68 plate appearances (compared to 116/36 in 684 PA last year), but considering that he’s still swinging very aggressively and his contact rate is up only a tad, it’s not something that figures to last. He is a top-five fantasy second baseman, though.

- More shoulder inflammation has put Arodys Vizcaino on the shelf, which should make A.J. Minter the full-time closer in Atlanta. There’s little telling what the Braves will end up getting from Vizcaino, which seems like one more reason for them to go out and sign Craig Kimbrel. There’s always the chance that Vizcaino will come back strong, but he is droppable in mixed leagues.

- I expressed some concern about Nolan Arenado’s awful exit velocity numbers last week, but it’s come up since then. On Monday alone, he hit two balls 103 mph, which was as many 103-mph drives as he had totaled in 47 at-bats when last week’s column was written. So, it seems like things are returning to normal there.

- The supposed top three relievers in the Marlins pen finished Tuesday’s game with ERAs of 7.88 (Drew Steckenrider), 8.10 (Adam Conley) and 9.00 (Sergio Romo), so the door would seem to be wide open for either Nick Anderson (1.17 ERA, 16/2 K/BB ratio in 7 2/3 IP) or Tayron Guerrero (0.00 ERA, 9/5 K/BB ratio in 7 2/3 IP) to pick up some saves. Anderson’s 48.5% strikeout rate really stands out. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher, but that’s not such a bad thing in Miami. Guerrero has a 100-mph fastball, but also a long history of control issues. Anderson seems like the better pickup at the moment.