The Dodgers are thriving this season, sitting alone in first place in the National League West. A great deal of credit is certainly owed to Andre Ethier and NL MVP favorite Matt Kemp. The two outfielders have been prolific run producers and Kemp is fresh off one of the most dominant months in recent history.
While offense is certainly important, it has been the team’s pitching that has let the leads stand. While Chad Billingsley has returned to form this season and Chris Capuano has been a pleasant surprise, the key arms in the rotation have been southpaws Clayton Kershaw and Ted Lilly.
Kershaw and Lilly could not be more different. Kershaw is a phenom, who at not even 25 years old is already a Cy Young winner and on the fast track to Cooperstown. Lilly is a 36-year-old veteran hurling on his sixth Major League team. While both left-handers have very different pasts, they are both a part of an important present for the Dodgers.
Kershaw was as good as it gets last season with 21 wins, 248 K’s, and a 2.23 ERA. What’s even more promising is that he is on a better track this season. Though six starts, Kershaw was just 2-3 with a 3.52 ERA and 15 walks a season ago. This season, Kershaw remains a perfect 2-0, while his walks have been nearly cut in half and his ERA is just 2.63.
Aside from comparing Kershaw to his own personal milestones there are few other peers who have enjoyed his level of excellence. Of course, his dominant stuff coming from a left-handed arm slot may remind some of Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Truth is, Kershaw is very different than Koufax. Kershaw could end up having a far greater impact than Koufax.
Koufax was a late bloomer who did not hone his control until he was 25 years old. He then went on to have six of the most impressive seasons in baseball history before an arm injury prematurely ended his career. Kershaw has been pitching at a high level since he broke into the league in 2008. Here’s a comparison of both Dodgers aces through 24 years old.
To put Kershaw’s early performance in even greater perspective, consider that while the 24-year old southpaw’s next win will be his 50th of his career, Ted Lilly, a two-time All-Star, had just five wins at the age of 25. In many ways, Lilly is more similar to Koufax based on his late bloomer status. Of course, Lilly never quite had the glory days of Koufax, but when you look at his career trends he does resemble a fine wine that gets better over time.
The Dodgers have a nice blend of young talent and proven veterans. While the hope is that Kershaw will remain effective far longer than Koufax did and perhaps remain as relevant in his mid-30s as Lilly, what matters most for Dodgers fans is the present. Right now, the two southpaws are as good as any tandem in baseball.
BY ROB SHAW
Selling Jair Jurrjens:
The Braves hurler is now in the minor leagues after an atrocious start. Jurrjens has been one of the more underappreciated hurlers of the last few years. He won at least 13 games in three of the last four seasons, twice with an ERA sub-3. However, this season, he lost some of his stuff as he failed to make it out of the fifth inning in three of four starts and not only is he walking way too many batters, but the opposition is hitting .411 off him. With his fastball in the decline, perhaps a confidence boost in the minor leagues will do the 26-year-old some good. Feel free to release him from your fantasy team.
Buying Cody Ross:
Fantasy managers may have forgotten that Cody Ross once carried a power bat in Florida, surpassing 20 home runs in back-to-back seasons. Sure, he has some World Series heroics a couple of years ago, but playing for the Giants kept him in a pitcher’s park that ate away at his power stats. That changes this season as Ross is now playing at Fenway and already has five home runs, three of which have come at home. A streaky hitter, Ross has had home runs in consecutive games twice already this season. With Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury out, Ross should enjoy regular playing time. This is a player to target for his power.
Selling Ryan Roberts:
The good news for super utility man Ryan Roberts was the 19 home runs and 18 stolen bases last season. The bad news for Roberts was the .239 average over the second half of the season. Unfortunately, Roberts resembles the second half player from last season as his average is sub-Mendoza line with just 10 hits in 66 at bats. At 31 years old, it’s fair to say that what we saw last season was too good to be true. Roberts is now losing out on playing time to Cody Ransom.
Buying Nate Schierholtz:
A 1-17 struggle has brought the average down to .283, but Nate Schierholtz remains an intriguing fantasy option and should continue to get regular playing time in the outfield for the Giants. The addition of Buster Posey has a huge impact in the lineup, and Schierholtz has proven capable of hitting with power and surprising speed over the last few years. If this is finally the first time that the veteran will get 400 at bats, Schierholtz can surprise with some fantasy value.
BY ROB SHAW
Bloomberg Sports Host Julie Alexandria is joined by Bloomberg Sports Analyst Rob Shaw to break down an expert’s fantasy baseball draft. The draft, which included fantasy experts from CBS, Yahoo!, and ESPN was a 28-round draft that consisted of additional positions such as Middle Infielder, Corner Infielder, and five outfielder positions. Additionally, the league includes more advanced statistics such as OBP and slugging rather than the typical batting average.
Here’s a look at the first 18 picks by Shaw:
1) Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
2) Roy Halladay, Phillies
3) Cliff Lee, Phillies
4) Eric Hosmer, Royals
5) Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
6) Adam Jones, Orioles
7) Howie Kendrick, Angels
8) Drew Stubbs, Reds
9) Derek Jeter, Yankees
10) Josh Johnson, Marlins
11) Adam Dunn, White Sox
12) Danny Espinosa, Nationals
13) Nick Markakis, Orioles
14) Salvador Perez, Royals
15) Sergio Santos, Blue Jays
16) Joe Nathan, Rangers
17) Chris Iannetta, Angels
18) Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Let’s pick up in the 19th round, already with Sergio Santos and Joe Nathan taken within the past four rounds, I added yet another closer in new Mets hurler Frank Francisco. It’s not that I see Francisco having much upside, but again the idea here is to merely win the saves category. With three closers I am now in a decent position to do so since I am usually quick acting off the waiver wire in the regular season.
Next, in the 20th round, I drafted Bryce Harper. Even though Harper will open the season in the minor Leagues, he is the exact type of high potential player to target in the later rounds of a fantasy baseball draft.
Additionally, in the late rounds you should target players with multiple position eligibility. Again, the point of late round picks is that they are backups for your fantasy team. A player like Ryan Raburn is an insurance policy at several positions. Furthermore, he also has some real potential and if he can finally get off to a hot start, he can put together a great season with 25 home runs and a .280 average.
In the next round, I drafted Braves southpaw bullpen ace Jonny Venters. Though he may not get many saves with Craig Kimbrel locked in at closer, Venters can certainly contribute in all other categories while picking up vulture wins.
In the 23rd round I added Andres Torres, who now plays with the Mets. I was looking to simply add a versatile outfielder who can offer some steals, but the problem here is that Torres has not been healthy and his production has taken a major dive, particularly against southpaws. He might end up getting dropped before the season even opens.
In round 24, I again made an investment in upside by drafting Mike Trout. The Angels phenom was not ready for the Big Leagues last season, but 2012 may be the year his career takes off. With Albert Pujols in the lineup there is a great opportunity for some serious run production.
Next, I brought in an extra arm for my starting rotation. Edwin Jackson is durable and is a cinch for 10 wins every season. I’m thinking that he may do a lot better than that this season. Now a full-time National Leaguer in a pitcher-friendly stadium, Jackson has the ability to approach 200 strikeouts with respectable all-around numbers.
In the 26th round, I was pleased to see Gordon Beckham still available. People have forgotten about his upside, but Beckham is a former top prospect with some power and speed who calls home to the middle infield in a hitter’s park.
Next, I picked up Blue Jays prospect Travis Snider. The power is real, but the consistency is lacking, which explains why he will open the season in the Minor Leagues. I’ll likely keep him stashed on my bench considering his upside.
Finally, in the last round of my fantasy draft I picked up A’s shortstop Cliff Pennington. Even in the last round of the draft, this was not a wasted pick. In fact, Pennington is one of the top shortstops in baseball when he escapes the Oakland Coliseum. He is a player to consider platooning for his road games.
Here’s a look at my 2012 Experts League Fantasy Squad broken down by position:
C: Josh Thole, Mets
C: Chris Iannetta, Angels
1B: Eric Hosmer, Royals
2B: Howie Kendrick, Angels
SS: Derek Jeter, Yankees
3B: Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
MI: Danny Espinosa, Nationals
CI: Adam Dunn, White Sox
OF: Adam Jones, Orioles
OF: Nick Markakis, Orioles
OF: Drew Stubbs, Reds
OF: Ryan Raburn, Tigers
OF: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
UT: Gordon Beckham, White Sox
Bench: Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Cliff Pennington, Travis Snider, Andres Torres
DL: Salvador Perez, Royals
P: Roy Halladay, Phillies
P: Cliff Lee, Phillies
P: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
P: Josh Johnson, Marlins
P: Edwin Jackson, Nationals
P: Jonny Venters, Braves
P: Joe Nathan, Rangers
P: Sergio Santos, Blue Jays
P: Frank Francisco, Mets
For more fantasy insight, visit BloombergSports.com
BY ROB SHAW
Every season a different strategy has to be utilized in fantasy baseball drafts in order to appropriately take into account positional depth and player rankings. In general, a unique strategy can be utilized on a round-by-round basis. Here’s a breakdown of Bloomberg Sports recommended Fantasy Baseball Strategy 2012 Edition:
In the early rounds, the focus is finding the best available player while also taking into account the disparity between the best player and the next best option at each position. For example, there is a plateau in excellence for starting pitchers as Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw can all be claimed as the best of the bunch. On the other hand, Troy Tulowitzki stands alone amongst fellow shortstops.
If your fantasy league includes slugging percentage and on base percentage as statistical categories, there is no competition for Jose Bautista in the outfield while there are several stars at first base including Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Joey Votto. The best strategy is to pick up the best talent at a position where there is a large enough disparity that when the next player is drafted from that position there is a decisive advantage in your favor.
In the early middle rounds, it’s not a bad idea to scoop up a fine hurler who has the potential to rank amongst the best. Players such as Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, and Danny Haren as well as Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg make sense in these rounds. These hurlers have the ability to dominate and enjoy a Cy Young caliber season thanks to their enormous upside.
Having two high potential and consistent hurlers is more valuable than having just one dominant ace. Therefore, by drafting where there is greater disparity in the early rounds with a focus on position players, then nabbing a couple of pitchers with sky high potential fantasy managers can enjoy the best of both worlds.
In the later middle rounds you can draft a closer and many of them. Closers are often overrated in fantasy leagues since they only contribute 70 innings, which means saves are all that matters. Second-tier closers still get the job done and players such as Joe Nathan could end up as bargains. In fact, rather than selecting a Jonathan Papelbon in the sixth or seventh round, you can grab a Gio Gonzalez or a Drew Stubbs, someone who will have a much greater impact on your fantasy team.
Then five rounds later go ahead and draft three closers in a row: Sergio Santos, Jason Motte, and Frank Francisco. Plus, usually about 10 closers become available on the waiver wire each season. In fact, all three of the pitchers just mentioned did not start the season as closers for their respective teams last season.
Finally, in the later rounds, it’s not a bad idea to focus on young talents with great potential as well as players with multiple position eligibility. This allows you to pick up some big time prospects while also enjoying depth. Consider top prospects such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. There is no telling if the precocious sluggers will develop into stars as soon as this season.
On the other hand, drafting veteran players such as Ryan Raburn and Daniel Murphy is also a key strategy in the later rounds since they cover multiple positions, providing depth to your fantasy teams. This way if a player on your team gets injured, a single bench player can fill multiple holes.
For more fantasy insight turn to BloombergSports.com.
Follow us on Twitter: @BloombergSports @RobShawSports @MicheleSteele
Ivan Nova, SP, Yankees
If you’re wondering how a 24-year-old hurler on the Yankees can have an 11-4 record and 3.85 ERA and still find himself on the waiver wire, I have your answer. Just check out the 1.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Nova has had some things go his way this season such as solid run support and an uncanny ability to escape jams. Regardless, Nova has won seven straight decisions and has allowed as many as four runs just twice in his last eight starts. As long as you can deal without the K’s and a pretty high WHIP, Nova is not a bad pickup.
Jose Constanza, OF, Braves
If you’re curious why the Braves are suddenly sitting mega prospect and their everyday right-fielder Jason Heyward, there are two reasons. The first is that Heyward is struggling with just a .219 average and 30 RBI. The other reason is that the little-known and late-blooming Jose Constanza is hitting .382 with 13 runs scored. The 27-year-old is a speedster with little to no power. He swiped 23 bags with a .312 average before the call to the Majors this season. Constanza is nothing more than a hot bat who is stealing at bats away from the future of the franchise. Then again, we may have said the same thing about Jeff Francouer back in the day.
Mike Carp, 1B, Mariners
While top prospect Justin Smoak has dealt with his ups and downs and most recently a broken nose, Mike Carp has shined bright with a .320 average, four home runs, and 24 RBI in 38 games. Carp was acquired by the Mariners for closer JJ Putz a few years back from the Mets. He blasted 29 home runs at Triple-A last season, but hit just .257. This year, he blasted 21 home runs in 66 games while hitting .343. In other words, Carp has earned a serious look in the Big Leagues, and at 25-years old, he will get his chance for the remainder of the season. Feel free to take a look in fantasy leagues, though as is the case for any hitter that plays half of his games in Safeco, the odds are against him.
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Blue Jays
Try explaining this, in his first 70 games, Edwin Encarnacion reached base at a rate of 28%. Since the All-Star break, Encarnacion has reached base 47% of the time. What gives? Well, we always knew that the Blue Jays slugger was one of the streakiest hitters in baseball. He also has a knack for big second halves. The 28-year-old corner infielder is also playing for his career now that mega prospect Brett Lawrie has been called up. The good news is that he remains young enough for the Blue Jays to provide him with regular at bats. So Encarnacion will have his opportunity to win over a spot for next season’s club. As far as potential, Encarnacion has plenty of it. He blasted 26 home runs back in 2008 and 21 last season in just 332 at bats.
Rafael Betancourt, RP, Rockies
Finally some noise from the closer report, the 36-year-old Rafael Betancourt will take over for the recently injury Huston Street. The last time that Betancourt allowed an earned run was July 6th, just before the All-Star break. Betancourt has nailed down one save over the last week and his 58:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the season ranks amongst the best in baseball. Street will likely return at the end of the month, but if he’s out longer than that and the Rockies continue to struggle, you have to think to Rex Brothers, who at 24-years old is supposed to be the closer of the future, will get some save opportunities.
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Ryan Ludwick to the Pirates
I love this trade for the Pirates. He may be batting just .238 with a .301 on base percentage, but Ludwick is also responsible for 11 home runs and 64 RBI. Plus, on the road Ludwick has 39 RBI in 49 games. That puts him on pace for 130 RBI should he play 162 road games. That is key since Pittsburgh is closer to neutral than the pitcher’s friendly Petco Park.
Derrek Lee to the Pirates
The .246 average may not impress anyone, but Lee is batting .298 with 13 RBI since the All-Star break. A long-time National Leaguer, Lee boasts a .297 career average at PNC Park. He is a solid replacement over the struggling Lyle Overbay at first base.
Michael Bourn to the Braves
The Houston native was thrilled to be an Astro, but at least he will now get a chance to play for a contender. Bourn is best known for his defense in centerfield and his speed on the basepaths. He is a bit of a free-swinger for a leadoff man, but thanks to a .303 average, Bourn is getting on base often this season. He should now rack up more runs with some big bats behind him in the Braves lineup.
Hunter Pence to the Phillies
While Carlos Beltran may be the better player now, Hunter Pence likely has the better future. It should be fun to see how he develops now that he enters a favorable ballpark in a solid lineup. A model of consistency, Pence has blasted 25 home runs in three straight seasons and hit .282 the last two. His value soars now that he will add greater run production due to the likes of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the Phillies lineup.
Rafael Furcal to the Cardinals
The lone home run and .197 average says he’s done, but Busch Stadium has been known to have the Ponce De Leon fountain of youth (just check out Lance Berkman). In the Cardinals lineup, Furcal is bound to improve. Plus, the trade breathes new life into the 33-year-old shortstop who now gets a crack at meaningful baseball.
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Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
The fantasty season is not over for one of the biggest busts in the league Pedro Alvarez. The second overall pick of the 2008 draft, we expected big things out of the Vanderbilt alumnus, but instead, his average sits at just .211 with two home runs and 10 RBI. After an extended stay on the disabled list and then a month’s worth of at bats in the Minor Leagues, Alvarez is back. He will bat in the middle of the Pirates lineup and will have ever chance to succeed once again. The third base position is pretty shallow this season with talent, making fantasy managers quick to forgive players like Alvarez.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox
The man traded for Mark Teixeira a few years back is finally an everyday player in the Big Leagues. Just 26 years old, Salty is having his best season to date. His eight home runs are just one shy of his career-high and the same can be said of his 12 doubles. He is not the best defensive catcher in baseball, but he has been adequate and his respectable on base percentage with some pop makes him a dangerous bat in the Red Sox lineup.
Jeff Karstens, SP, Pirates
This former Yankees prospect is not just having a good season, he is having a Cy Young caliber season! At 28 years old, the right-handed finesse hurler boasts a 2.28 ERA with a stellar 1.04 WHIP. His lack of strikeouts may frustrate some fantasy managers, but Karstens has surrendered just 11 earned runs over his last 10 starts.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies
You have to wonder how many chances this guy will get but because of injuries and the struggles of his peers, Dexter Fowler is getting another shot to leadoff for the Rockies. Fowler is batting .342 since the All-Star break with 10 runs in 11 games with three steals. Just 25 years old, Fowler is too young to turn the page on for now.
James McDonald, SP, Pirates
There is no question about it, of all of the Pirates hurlers, James McDonald has the best stuff. Sure, he has some control issues, but his 92 strikeouts, seven wins, and 3.95 ERA will get your attention. A former top prospect with the Dodgers, McDonald has gone 11-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 31 starts. At 26 years old, McDonald should still have his best years ahead of him.
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Daniel Murphy, Utility, Mets
I am not sure what the Mets will do once Ike Davis returns to the lineup be it this year or next. Daniel Murphy is simply a hired bat who can offer some serious offense. The problem is on the defensive side, as Murphy is at his best at third base, which happens to be the home for Mr. David Wright.
Murphy has his average up to .315 this season, with line drive power: 6 HR, 21 doubles and 2 triples. Murphy has hit .385 this month after hitting .330 in June.
Murphy is just 26 years old and bats left-handed, so this is a nice problem to have for the Mets.
Alex Gordon, OF, Royals
The second overall pick of the 2005 draft, Gordon has long been considered a bust due to the slow start to his career, but this season he has finally met expectations.
The 27-year old boasts 11 home runs with 24 doubles and 8 swipes. His average is up to .296 after batting just .215 last season. His plate discipline has been so impressive that the team opted to have him leadoff before pushing him down in the order to take advantage of his power.
Gordon is now considered a potential trade target for teams in need of offense.
Jeff Francoeur, OF, Royals
You would think Jeff Francoeur is 40 years old since he’s played for three teams over the last year. Though he has not been able to sustain the hot start to the season (after batting .316 in April, Francoeur hit just .233 and .235 the next two months), he has found a way to contribute to a fantasy roster. He’s doing this on the basepaths, as he has already swiped 15 bases, nearly double his previous high.
The .266 average still leaves something to be desired, but his 13 home runs and 58 RBI may be enough to force yet another trade.
Michael Morse, OF, Nationals
At 29 years old, Morse is a late bloomer, but he is also one of the better hitters in baseball right now with an even .300 average and 15 home runs. Morse has already matched his previous career-high in home runs, set last season. His OBP is a healthy .348 and while walks are hard to come by, Morse makes up for it with a .523 slugging percentage.
Jon Jay, OF, Cardinals
This 26-year old left-handed hitter was drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft out of Miami. However, Jay never quite earned top prospect status, and this year he has surprised people as a solid platoon option.
Jay is hurt by a lack of patience at the plate and limited power, but you can’t argue with the .310 average, which comes a season after hitting .300. In total, Jay boasts a .304 career average with 11 home runs in 516 at bats.
Jay has made a case to get regular at bats, considering he hits both lefties and righties for at least a .300 average throughout his career. However, with Lance Berkman leading the league in homers, Jay’s playing time will continue to be limited for the remainder of the season.
Who’s on First?
The Best: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
The likely AL MVP has made a smooth transition from the pitcher-friendly Petco Park to the hitter-friendly Fenway Park. Thanks in large part to the fine start by Jacoby Ellsbury, Gonzalez has been driving runs in at a career-high pace. While his power is evident in the 25 doubles and 16 home runs, it’s his consistency that makes his .356 average sustainable.
The Surprise: Mark Trumbo, Angels
The loss of Kendry Morales for another season would have been even more devastating had rookie Mark Trumbo not filled in admirably. The 25-year old first baseman has belted 13 home runs with a solid seven steals. Though he can improve on his plate discipline and raise his .258 average, Trumbo’s 28 extra bases have gone a long way for the Angels.
The Bust: Adam Dunn, White Sox
Playing in the homer-friendly US Cellular Ballpark with an improved lineup around him seemed like a slam dunk for Adam Dunn. Instead, the White Sox slugger who has had no less than 38 home runs over the last seven seasons has been downright awful. His .173 average is nearly 100 points lower than last season’s batting clip, and his power has been zapped to a .316 slugging percentage.
The 31-year old veteran has a few possible reasons for his lack of production. He is new to the American League and he has never before been a designated hitter on a regular basis. It may be time for the White Sox to call in Harold Baines to help mentor the fallen slugger.
The 2nd Half Sleeper: Mitch Moreland, Rangers
Texas may be a launching pad for sluggers, but during the dog days of summer, the heat takes its toll. That’s why fantasy managers should not be too concerned about the fact hat Mitch Moreland remains a platoon player despite the .287 average and 11 home runs. Come August, Moreland is bound to be fresh. On that note, Moreland has yet to get into a big hot streak that is bound to lift his season totals past 20 home runs. Expect a big second half from the rising first baseman who blasted nine home runs in 47 games after the All-Star break last season.
The Future Closers
BY ROB SHAW
Al Alburquerque, RP, Tigers
With 40 strikeouts in just 24 innings, Alburquerque is striking out batters at a historic pace. He is a bit wild with 16 walks, but it’s a battle for the opposition to even put a bat on the ball. I don’t think he’ll be closing by year’s end, but somewhere down the line someone is bound to give this 24-year old a shot at shutting the door.
Antonio Bastardo, RP, Phillies
This 25-year old southpaw is equally effective against right-handers and left-handers. He has not surrendered a run in his last 11 appearances; in fact, he has allowed just one hit over that period. If Ryan Madson were to falter, I think Bastardo would pick up the saves for the Phillies.
Brian Sanches, RP, Marlins
While Marlins closer Leo Nunoz has hit a wall, Brian Sanches is cruising with a 1.93 ERA. The 32-year old veteran may not be the most attractive long-term option in Miami, but he has been the most effective over the last two seasons. In 2010, Sanchez offered a 2,26 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP. He can get wild at times and he has yet to pick up a save throughout his entire career, but if judging on results this season, Sanchez is the best relief option for the Marlins.
Daniel Bard, RP, Red Sox
Though he only boasts five career saves, there is a lot to like about Daniel Bard. He strikes out more than a batter per inning, he has immaculate control, and the opposition can’t touch him. He may be the very reason why the Red Sox have not locked up current closer Jonathan Papelbon to a long-term extension. If Papelbon struggles, don’t be surprised to see the Red Sox turn to Bard a year earlier than expected.
David Hernandez, RP, Diamondbacks
Many baseball fans thought the Diamondbacks were crazy for trading away a slugging corner infielder in return for a couple of live arms that neither started or closed games. However, at this moment the D-Backs front office looks brilliant as David Hernandez, a failed starter with the Orioles, is dominating in middle relief in the desert.
A scoreless inning on Thursday night resulted in his third win of the season, while lowering his ERA to 2.73. Hernandez still has some work to do on his control, but he throws in the high 90s racking up plenty of strikeouts while limiting the amount of hits he surrenders. Should the injury-prone JJ Putz miss some time due to injury, Hernandez will add to his total of two saves this season.