Robbie Ray didn't look quite right during his first start of the season Friday, walking five and lasting just 3.1 innings, and we learned why Saturday. Ray told reporters he felt tightness in his left forearm and had an MRI that revealed a Grade 1 flexor strain.
Ray was placed on the 15-day IL as a result of the injury and will be shut down from throwing for a minimum of two weeks. Ray's velocity had been up in spring training, but it was down a bit in the first outing, and he didn't even throw the new splitter he debuted in camp. Chris Flexen pitched in relief of Ray Friday and will step into the rotation for however long Ray is out.
That will likely be about a month or so, at least. Ray will play catch to start his recovery program if he feels okay in two weeks, and then he will have to work his way back to full strength. That probably isn't going to take any less than three weeks, in all likelihood, even in a best-case scenario; a longer absence is, of course, wholly possible.
Flexor strain injuries are worrisome because they can sometimes be a precursor to more serious injuries, though as The Athletic's Corey Brock points out, Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzalez missed a month with a similar injury two years ago. Hopefully, that won't be the case for Ray, but this is a big blow for Fantasy players who drafted him as a No. 2 starting pitcher – something I did in many leagues, including two different leagues where I also lost Justin Verlander to the IL this week. Great.
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There are some pitchers who flashed this weekend to consider adding if you lost Ray. They might not replace what you were hoping to get from Ray, but there's plenty of upside here among these five, who should be prioritized in this order on waivers:
- Graham Ashcraft, Reds (65%) – Ashcraft showed some interesting skills as a rookie, generating a bunch of weak contact on the ground, but his 15.3 strikeout rate rendered him largely ineffective. He spent the offseason working to add another breaking ball to generate more whiffs, and went out in the first outing and struck out six in seven innings against the Pirates. He got 10 whiffs on 95 pitches, a decent rate, though nothing spectacular necessarily. It's too early to say he's a new pitcher, but he was impressive enough to say he's worth adding in all leagues.
- Mike Clevinger, White Sox (32%) – Clevinger's velocity was up in his first outing, as he averaged 94.7 mph with his fastball. That's not quite where he was at his peak, but it was 1.1 mph up from last year, and he looked a lot more effective than he did a year ago as well. Clevinger generated 13 whiffs on 98 pitches while leaning almost exclusively on his four-seam fastball and slider, finishing the outing with eight strikeouts in five innings. He also walked three and hit two batters, so he wasn't especially sharp, but he showed enough to think he could be a useful Fantasy option this season.
- Justin Steele, Cubs (54%) – Steele pretty much went pitch-for-pitch with Brandon Woodruff Saturday, tossing six shutout innings with just one walk and eight strikeouts. That continues a theme from the end of last season, when he had 65 strikeouts and a 1.49 ERA in 54.1 innings over his final 10 starts. Steele has gone all-in on a fastball-slider combo, and that continued in his first outing, as those two pitches accounted for 80 of his 84 total pitches. It's fair to wonder how sustainable this is, but he's been doing a peak Patrick Corbin impression for a while now and probably deserves to be more widely rostered than he is.
- Mackenzie Gore, Nationals (44%) – Gore was one of the key players I wanted to keep an eye on in his first start, and he acquitted himself quite well against a very tough Braves lineup. Gore limited the Braves to just one earned run despite four walks in the outing. Control is going to be an issue for him moving forward, but he did get six strikeouts in 5.1 innings, and the Braves hitters clearly had a tough time picking him up, as he allowed just an 81.5 mph average exit velocity. Against this lineup, that's eye-opening.
- Jhony Brito, Yankees (22%) – Brito looked pretty good in his big-league debut against the Giants Sunday. He limited them to two hits in five shutout innings of work, striking out six while leaning heavily on a changeup that could be a legitimate plus pitch for him. Brito threw the changeup 37% of the time, more than any other pitch and got 11 of his 16 whiffs with it. Brito put up decent numbers in the minors, including a 2.96 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last season, albeit with just 7.3 K/9. That might have been underselling him. It's worth noting that Brito was optioned back to the minors after the start. He'll be back at some point, but won't be an immediate contributor.
That was the biggest piece of news from the weekend of baseball, but it was by no means the only one. Every Sunday evening here, I'll be recapping everything you need to know about heading into the next week of Fantasy action – and, of course, you'll want to make sure you keep an eye on Scott White's sleeper pitchers and sleeper hitters as well as his two-start pitcher rankings before you set your lineups.
- Brendan Donovan – Scott White wrote about some interesting changes for Brendan Donovan on Opening Day, and he's remained the team's leadoff hitter and hit his second homer of the short season Sunday; he had just five in 126 games all of last season. Donovan has already hit a ball harder than any he hit last season and seems locked in as the leadoff hitter in a very good offense. This could be one of the best early-season adds in the game.
- Jeffrey Springs – I was a bit skeptical of the Springs breakout talk this spring, but he looks pretty remarkable in his first outing Sunday. Sure, it was against a pretty mediocre (to be kind) Tigers lineup, but still, 12 strikeouts is 12 strikeouts. He needed just 81 pitches to get through six innings of work, and he generated plenty of called and swinging strikes, leading to an elite 41% CSW rate. I'm still skeptical about Springs' ability to consistently go deep into games, but he looked pretty studly Sunday.
- Chris Sale – "Standout" doesn't only mean good! Sale made it through just three innings in his first start, as he walked two, gave up seven hits, including three homers. And this wasn't just bad luck, as he had a 94.2 mph average exit velocity allowed on 10 balls in play. He generated a bunch of swings and misses, and his velocity was mostly fine – 94.2 with the fastball, down 0.7 from last season – but he just got crushed. I'm willing to write it off as rust, for the most part, but Sale hasn't pitched like an ace since 2018, so he doesn't exactly have the benefit of the doubt going for him right now.
- Logan Gilbert – I wasn't a huge believer in Gilbert's breakout chances, but his first start had some promising signs. He had 15 swings and misses on 85 pitches, a 16.5% swinging strike rate that dwarfs his 10.8% rate from last season. It is, obviously, a very small sample size, but there are some reasons to think it might just be the start for Gilbert. His velocity was actually down a bit on his fastball, from 96.1 mph to 94.6, but his extension was even greater – he released the ball 7.7 inches from the mound, up from 7.4 inches a year ago, which could help him make up for less velocity. The bigger next might have been the performance of his curveball and especially the new splitter – he only threw the latter eight times, but got four of his whiffs with it, as many as he had with any other pitches. Gilbert needed a putaway pitch to take the next step, and he's got some options now.
- Jorge Mateo – Despite leading the AL with 35 steals last season, Mateo was largely overlooked in Fantasy. That may have been a mistake given the way the Orioles are playing right now. Mateo started the first two games – he got Sunday off due to a finger injury – and stole four bases, while the rest of the Orioles stole six between them. That gives them 10 through one series, more than 10% of their total from last season. Steals are way up so far this season, as expected thanks to the new rules, and the Orioles are taking advantage. Mateo might be even more of a standout there.
- Joey Gallo – With four strikeouts in six trips to the plate to open the season, it looked like more of the same for Gallo. And maybe it still will be. But he also reminded us of what he's capable of Sunday, as he crushed 852 feet worth of homers in a 3-for-4 showing – he added a double that he hit 107.4 mph and 386 feet, too. My guess is Gallo will once again be a drain on your batting average that makes it hard to take advantage of what he does well, but there aren't many potential 40-homer guys available in 80% of CBS Fantasy leagues, either.
- Trayce Thompson – Thompson didn't get into the lineup until the Dodgers third game of the season, but he made up for lost time, clubbing three homers Saturday off three different pitchers. I think it's unlikely he'll ever be a full-time player, so I don't think there's much reason to go out and add Thompson – fellow Dodgers outfielder James Outman looks like the more interesting addition to me – but we can't overlook a three-homer game.
Injuries, News, and Notes
- The Giants signed Gary Sanchez to a minor-league deal. It will pay him $4 million if he makes the roster, and seeing as Joey Bart was just placed on the 10-day IL with a back injury, I think there's a pretty good chance we see Sanchez before long. In the leagues where I went cheap at catcher, I'm looking to stash Sanchez, who still has 20-homer upside at a position where that matters even with a bad batting average.
- Luis Urias (hamstring) was placed on the IL – Urias is going to miss 6-8 weeks as a result of the injury, which led the Brewers to call up Joey Wiemer, a top-100 prospect with consecutive 20-homer, 30-steal seasons to his name in the minors. Brian Anderson will move to third base to replace Urias, and Wiemer is well worth adding in all formats where steals matters.
- Mookie Betts got a start at 2B – Betts is a natural second baseman who hasn't played the position regularly in the majors, but he's talked about wanting it to remain part of his skill set. I think we're going to see this happen somewhat regularly, and it should lead to 2B eligibility for Betts before long. He'll be the clear top option there whenever it happens.
- Madison Bumgarner was sent home after having arm fatigue – Bumgarner told reporters he doesn't expect to miss a start, but the team wanted to have him checked out anyways. He got hit hard in his season debut, and this could be why. Bumgarner hardly matters for Fantasy anymore, but any opening in the Diamondbacks rotation could be filled by prospect Drey Jameson, a former first-rounder with 29 strikeouts in 28.1 MLB innings. He's worth keeping an eye on as the D-Backs keep him stretched out in the bullpen.
- Brandon Lowe (toe) came off the bench Sunday – Lowe left Saturday's game with the injury, but got a couple of PAs Sunday while replacing DH Harold Ramirez. He Lowe should be good to go this week.
- Lars Nootbaar (thumb) was not in the lineup Saturday or Sunday – Nootbaar jammed his right thumb while sliding into third base on Opening Day. Tests came back clean and he's been able to swing, so it doesn't seem like this should cost him too much more time, but Nootbaar is a somewhat risky starting option for the upcoming week without seeing him out there yet.
- Anthony Rendon (knee) was not in the lineup Sunday – Rendon ran into the tarp while chasing down a foul ball. It's not seen as a serious injury right now, but it's not what we wanted to see, given Rendon's injury history over the past few seasons.
- Jurickson Profar led off for the Rockies in his debut Sunday – He went 0 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout, but the results are less important than where Profar hit. This is what we expected to see, and it's good news. Profar is worth rostering in all leagues where OBP matters, and is a worthy option in any format.
- Luis Severino (lat) has resumed throwing – Severino didn't have any issues after playing catch Friday, the first step is he works his way back. Assuming all goes well, Severino probably still has three to four weeks of work left to get back to full speed, but this is a good first sign, at least.
- Kyle Wright (shoulder) will make a Triple-A rehab start Wednesday -- If all goes well, Wright could be back for his next turn through the rotation, at which time the Braves will have to make a choice between Jarred Shuster and Dylan Dodd.
- Jack Flaherty – Flaherty ended up with five shutout innings, but I thought his first outing was really disappointing. He walked seven batters to just four strikeouts, and garnered just eight swings and misses on 95 pitches. He did generate a bunch of weak contact, but his velocity was down 2.3 mph from last year – even more from his peak – and I just don't believe he can get the job done pitching like this. I thought it made sense to take a flier on him as a bounceback candidate when he was cheap in drafts, but having seen him, even in just one game, I don't think you need to roster him in 12-team leagues.
- Josiah Gray – I was hopeful that Gray could generate better results by swapping out his bad fastballs for his new cutter, but that's not what we saw Sunday. He allowed batted balls of 108.7 and 111 mph with that new cutter and gave up three home runs in his five innings of work, the same issue he had last season. I want to give Gray a bit more rope than Flaherty, but I certainly can't call him a "must-roster" player.
- Shintaro Fujinami – I wanted to see what Fujinami might be capable of, and it's worth noting that his stuff looks pretty filthy. He's got a legit high-90s fastball and a slider and splitter that could both be swing-and-miss pitches. However, there's a somewhat limited ceiling here seeing as Fujinami is only ever going to pitch once per week, so he needs to be especially good to be worth a roster spot. Despite the impressive signs, he wasn't good in his first outing, as he got tagged for eight earned runs in 2.1 innings of work. Fujinami allowed eight batted balls in play with an average exit velocity of 99.1 mph, which is entirely untenable. I'm not writing him off entirely here, but Fujinami didn't do enough in his lone start to prove he belongs on a roster yet.
- Reynaldo Lopez worked the ninth Sunday in a non-save situation, though that was mostly because the White Sox scored twice in the top of the ninth. He got the save in the first opportunity for the White Sox, and this would have made it two, so I'm pretty comfortable calling him the guy right now for the White Sox. I have questions about whether you can trust Lopez, but his stuff is playing up right now – he averaged 99.3 mph on his fastball, up 2.2 mph from last year – and he did have a 2.76 ERA out of the bullpen last season. He's a must-add if you're chasing saves.
- David Robertson worked the ninth in a non-save situation Saturday, with Brooks Raley and Adam Ottavino working the seventh and eighth with a four-run lead. Robertson got the save on Opening Day, so this looks like his job at this point.
- Jorge Lopez got a save for the Twins Saturday, but that was with Jhoan Duran unavailable. There should be some kind of split here, but Duran still figures to be the primary option.
- Rafael Montero got a save and Hector Neris closed out Saturday's win for the Astros because Ryan Pressly was unavailable due to an illness. He was available Sunday and should be the closer moving forward.
- Aroldis Chapman struck out all three batters he faced in his season debut Saturday. It came in the ninth inning of a 2-0 loss, but Chapman averaged 99.5 mph with his fastball in this one, higher than all but three outings last season. We haven't seen the Royals with a save opportunity yet, but we're still assuming Scott Barlow is the guy here. Chapman pitching like this could change that.
- The Marlins only got one save opportunity in four games against the Mets, and it went to A.J. Puk. It's not enough to say he's the Marlins closer, but I'd lean in his direction at this point.
- By the end of spring training, the consensus seemed to have coalesced around Scott McGough as the likely closer for the Diamondbacks, but it was Andrew Chafin who got the first save Friday night. In that case, McGough got the final out of the eighth and then walked Mookie Betts to lead off the ninth before he was pulled for the lefty Chafin. On Sunday, it was basically the opposite; McGough took over when Chafin got into some trouble. It looks like they're the top two options, and I'd lean toward McGough if I'm chasing saves.