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April 6, 2011

Fantasy Focus

Clash of the First-Timers

by Marc Normandin

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It was a night for debuts Tuesday evening, as rookie Michael Pineda of the Seattle Mariners faced off against converted reliever Alexi Ogando in the first start either pitcher had made in the major leagues. Pineda was the main event—the reason that people tuned in on mlb.tv—but Ogando put on an intriguing show during his own six innings.

Pineda is a hulking hurler, 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds of right-handed power pitcher. He hit 95 mph out of the gate, and routinely reached 95-96 mph with his fastball over his six innings. In his first inning of work, he sat Texas down in just 10 pitches—nine of them strikes—punching out two in the process. While never as dominating again as in that first frame, he kept the powerful Rangers lineup mostly at bay throughout the night: four strikeouts against one walk, groundouts on 21 percent of his batters, and just three runs allowed on five hits.

Pineda is in his age-22 season, and is coming off a 2010 campaign where he tore through Double- and Triple-A. He struck out 9.9 batters per nine combined in his 139 1/3 innings last year, posting a 4.5 K/BB in the process—his command of his pitches is astounding given his velocity and power pitching approach. It was a display all the more impressive following 2009 elbow trouble that held him to less than 50 innings.

Pineda has serious separation between his heater and his slider, as evidenced last night when he routinely crossed the plate at low 80s speeds with the latter. While he has a changeup, you wouldn't know it based on last night's performance. Out of Pineda's 85 pitches thrown last night, 75 of them are accounted for by Pitch f/x at Texas Leaguers, and none of those 75 were changeups. It is meant to be a weapon against left-handed hitters—a group he was susceptible to at Triple-A last year, though in a limited sample—but as of now, the pitch just isn't there. As Kevin Goldstein notes in The Bad section of Pineda's Top 11 profile:

Pineda's change-up needs more development, especially considering his lower three-quarters arm slot that gives left-handed hitters too long a look at his stuff.

Lefty Rangers took advantage of that long look, going 3-for-7 with three extra-base hits against Pineda last night. Mitch Moreland was responsible for two of those, hitting a legit, non-fielder-assisted triple and a double his first two times up against the rookie. The triple came on a fat pitch Pineda left up over the plate—that arm slot Goldstein mentioned gave Moreland plenty of time to react to the speed of the pitch.

Performance against lefties aside, this was an excellent debut. Pineda didn't tire, and his velocity remained consistent even in his final inning of work. The middle of the lineup touched him up for a few runs the third time through—hence his exit after 85 pitches—but all in all, it was a start worthy of a pitcher who was owned in 67 percent of CBS leagues before he ever threw a major league pitch. He is still available for many of you to pick up—even more so in ESPN leagues, where he has an ownership rate of 20.3 percent. Open a new tab and put in a waiver claim for him right now, if you haven't already.

Ogando didn't have the hype of Pineda, but is worth discussing just the same. He also went six frames with four punchouts, while giving up a pair of free passes, just two hits, and no runs. He developed a small blister on his index finger over the course of the game, but after pitching coach Mike Maddux came out for a mound conference that appeared to include every Ranger as well as their closest friends and families, it was decided Ogando would stay in to finish up his start—hopefully that was a false alarm, as the Rangers are already using two relievers in their rotation thanks to injuries.

Though he doesn't have the power pitcher build of Pineda, standing a much leaner 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Ogando matched Pineda in terms of fastball velocity, averaging over 94 mph with his four-seamer. His slider was his go-to secondary offering as well, although it travels slower than Pineda's and averaged just under 80 mph. Ogando also saw a significant number of groundouts, with 23 percent of his hitters faced heading back to the bench after their batted balls found infielders' gloves. That was actually a more flyball-oriented result than we are used to seeing from Ogando, but, given it was just one start, it's hard to get worked up over that as anything other than a small sample blip.

Ogando's velocity was not as consistent as Pineda's, as he appeared more tired as the game progressed. This may have been due to the blister he was developing, or he may not be fully stretched out for a starting pitcher role just yet. The Rangers will have to keep an eye on him as his pitch count climbs to make sure that he isn't tiring too much early in the year. It helps that he got through the first three innings on just 35 pitches, though it took him another 55 to push through the next three. There is also some concern about how well he will perform against the Not Mariners, but that's a question that can't be answered until we see him against other, more capable, lineups.

From a fantasy standpoint, Ogando isn't as intriguing as Pineda—who has the stuff to be an ace, although limited pitch counts and the Mariners offense may keep him from realizing that kind of potential in 2011—but if he can keep a job in the rotation for some time, he will have his moments. He is currently owned in just 27 percent of CBS leagues, and in a paltry 5.3 percent of ESPN leagues.

Ogando may not last the season as a starter—Brandon Webb and Tommy Hunter are both out of the rotation for now, but if they both return healthy, Ogando may be shuttled back from whence he came to give Texas another high-quality reliever—but it's going to be hard to find early-season help on the waiver wire that can outproduce him. Keep an eye on him, but know that if he has another start like last night's in his next outing, your chance to claim him may drop significantly.

Related Content:  Alexi Ogando

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