Should you buy into Kershaw as he makes his season debut?

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Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw was certainly not the first starting pitcher off the draft board this season. In fact, there were 20 starting pitchers who went earlier in ESPN live drafts, in part because we all knew Kershaw was starting the season on the injured list with shoulder woes, but also because it has become a given that the three-time Cy Young award winner will not log the same season workload as other top hurlers. Kershaw has remained a top-10 fantasy starter based on quality, if not quantity, having averaged 25 starts over the past three seasons.


Kershaw's season debut is on the schedule for Monday night, on Jackie Robinson Day on ESPN in the second game of a televised doubleheader (after Mets-Phillies) against right-hander Luis Castillo and the Cincinnati Reds. Kershaw investors should start him with confidence, as there did not appear to be a pitch limit in his rehab starts and he pitched effectively. The Reds have not been particularly formidable at the plate so far, tied with the other Ohio team for 24th in runs, though they do lead the major leagues in OPS against left-handed pitching, albeit in 47 at-bats. Small sample, indeed, and one I would ignore for this case.


Fantasy managers who invested in Kershaw expect 25 great starts. Even last season, with a 2.73 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 8.65 strikeout rate -- each figure his worst since 2010 -- he was an extremely valuable asset. Should we worry that the end is nigh? Well, we can easily make the case that the window to really sell high on Kershaw for fantasy for 2019 is before Monday's outing, in case it goes awry or he bolts early with more shoulder trouble that costs him more than a fortnight of missed starts. More shoulder problems could mean myriad missed starts.


Let us face it: Kershaw's fastball is not as fast as it used to be, and the slider not as effective. His changeup will be key, along with his ability to locate pitches properly. If Kershaw tosses six shutout innings, yes, the price likely rises but the same theme exists: The window of opportunity closes when he pitches next, this weekend at Milwaukee. That is an excellent lineup.


Still, Kershaw seems unlikely to make 25 starts this season. The Dodgers possess unique depth to rotate starting pitchers in and out whether they are healthy or not, and while the San Diego Padres look awesome so far, most believe a playoff berth is a fait accompli. The club can treat Kershaw carefully, and fantasy investors need to be prepared for at least another injured list stint or two, warranted or not.


I ignored Kershaw in drafts, generally opting for less drama and less risk, and as with the ADP, I chose the likes of Minnesota Twins right-hander Jose Berriosand now-injured Cleveland Indians right-hander Mike Clevinger first. Sometimes avoiding risk is the wrong call. In this case, with declining weaponry and an obvious health history for back and shoulder woes nobody can ignore, it seems as if there is more risk than ever. Enjoy what should be strong numbers, but perhaps even fewer of them than in past seasons.


Sunday recap

Box scores
Highlights:
• Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas Rangers: 3-for-4, HR, SB
• Billy McKinney, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: 3-for-5, HR, 2 RBI
• Marcell Ozuna, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: 2-for-5, 2 HR, 4 RBI
• German Marquez, SP, Colorado Rockies: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K
• David Price, SP, Boston Red Sox: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K


Lowlights:
• John Hicks, C/1B, Detroit Tigers: 0-for-5, 5 K
• Daniel Vogelbach, 1B, Seattle Mariners: 0-for-4, 4 K
• Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Milwaukee Brewers: 2 1/3 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
• Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians: 2 2/3 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 5 BB, 4 K
• Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees: 4 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 6 K


Weekend takeaways:
.@Indians select contract of OF Carlos Gonzαlez from Triple-A Columbus; option RHP Jefry Rodrνguez to Triple-A; transfer RHP Mike Clevinger to 60-day IL.
- MLBRosterMoves (@MLBRosterMoves) April 14, 2019

• What? How could the Indians demote Jefry Rodriguez? I am outraged! OK, I am not. The interesting part of this move -- other than Clevinger being out months, which we knew -- was Carlos Gonzalez returning to the majors after a short minor league stint and the Indians, on his first day, installing him immediately into the No. 3 lineup spot. That is somewhat a reflection of the terrible lineup itself, missing its best player in shortstop Francisco Lindor and lacking intrigue. Five teams have scored fewer runs than the Indians. Gonzalez is an upgrade, though perhaps not for your fantasy team, as he has not hit much outside of Coors Field the past ... oh ... decade. Then again, a decent game early this week and he will soar to the most-added list just because. I am not saying Gonzalez cannot have a good season for the Indians, but let us say he is not among my top 50 fantasy outfielders. Update on Lindor: He starts a Triple-A rehab assignment Monday from his ankle injury and could rejoin the Indians -- and push CarGo down a spot in the sad lineup -- by the weekend.


• Rockies right-hander German Marquez spun the first shutout of the young season. Shutouts used to be a thing in baseball. There was a leaderboard and everything. Ask your grandparents. Now the shutout is as rare as a no-hitter or cycle. Regardless, Marquez is good. You knew that already. Some will downplay the achievement since it came in San Francisco in a clear pitcher's park against that terrible lineup. OK, that is a bit fair. Still, Marquez is a deserved top-20 fantasy pitcher.


• New York Mets third baseman Todd Frazier, not exactly in the prime of his career, should return from an oblique injury this week and take time from J.D. Davis, who homered Sunday and would likely perform better. OK, I am quite sure of it. Regardless, Davis investors should be concerned. First base is not an option, obviously.


• I did not think Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom looked awful on Sunday Night Baseball. Nick Markakis makes contact and Josh Donaldson looked better all weekend, and they each homered off him. Nine strikeouts over five albeit inefficient innings is not a big problem. Indians right-hander Corey Kluber is a problem, walking five, including one with the bases loaded. Then again, what can a fantasy manager do? Sell low and watch another fantasy team get a 5-0 month with a 2.00 ERA? Kluber investors have to be patient.


Health report


• The Indians expect to get second baseman Jason Kipnis back from the injured list on Monday from his calf injury. Kipnis is an upgrade over angry Brad Miller, but perhaps like Gonzalez, not someone fantasy managers in mixed formats should worry about.


• Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi likely avoided serious injury to his right foot after fouling a baseball off it Sunday, but he could miss a few games. Steve Pearce handles left field in the Monday morning game.


• Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor hit the injured list with a sprained knee and could miss the rest of April, at the least. Odor is off to a slow start and many fantasy managers will move on, but remember, he has averaged 27 home runs and 14 steals over the past three seasons. Logan Forsythe fills in, but you must do better.


Closing time


• The Atlanta Braves finally sent right-hander Arodys Vizcaino to the injured list with a shoulder issue, clearing the way for lefty A.J. Minter to handle closing duties. "Finally" is the correct word because Vizcaino's shoulder has been an issue for at least six weeks and probably most of last season. I think Minter -- or Craig Kimbrel -- will lead the Braves in saves this season.


• Perhaps Ryan Brasier is not the full-time Boston Red Sox closer. He set up fellow right-hander Matt Barnes on Sunday, though a late run by Boston made it a non-save situation. At this time, the correct move if you roster both Brasier and Barnes is to keep both.


• The Brewers will have right-hander Jeremy Jeffress in their bullpen Monday, and while I would be a bit surprised if he gets placed in a save situation right away, saves are coming. Josh Hader remains extremely valuable, but Jeffress should join him. Go get him!


W2W4


• Who knows whether Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and his sore right groin can suit up for Monday's tilt in Texas against right-hander Shelby Miller. Trout missed the weekend series at Wrigley Field, which was hardly a surprise. The team claims no need for an injured list stint. To be fair, it is not as if the Angels have someone awesome to promote to the active roster anyway, especially an outfielder. Regardless, if Trout is in the lineup, against that starting pitcher, activate him right away.


• While Kershaw is the story in the second ESPN game, Cincinnati right-hander Luis Castillo ranks third in the majors in ERA, tied with Toronto's Matt Shoemaker and after Pittsburgh's Joe Musgrove and Tampa Bay's Tyler Glasnow. Castillo leads all pitchers with a 1.3 bWAR, having permitted five hits over 19⅔ innings. Some will bench Castillo due to the formidable Dodgers lineup. I will not.



• As for other pitchers to watch, I want no part of Chicago Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish and have stated this for months. Darvish improved in his most recent outing, his third, which is to say he issued nary a walk. He still allowed four runs and lacked command. Command and control are different, so even if a pitcher issues no walks, he could be missing location. Darvish might not seem like much of a risk at Miami against an offense that leads off Curtis Grandersonand bats Starlin Castro cleanup, but I think it is a trap. Watch Austin Dean go deep. Or walk twice.


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