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April 11, 2012

What You Need to Know

Wednesday, April 11

by Daniel Rathman

The Tuesday Takeaway
Pop quiz: Name the five current members of the Royals starting rotation.

Those five pitchers have combined to throw 29 innings in the team’s first turn through the rotation and have allowed just five runs on 18 hits, 13 walks, 22 strikeouts, and no home runs. That adds up to a stellar 3.03 FIP—and it’s the main reason why manager Ned Yost’s team is off to a 3-2 start, considering that his offense has only produced 16 runs to date.

Time’s up. The five pitchers are Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, Luis Mendoza, and Danny Duffy.

On Tuesday night, the 23-year-old Duffy fired six innings of shutout ball in the Royals’ rain-shortened, 3-0 win over the Athletics. Though he issued four walks, Duffy also held Oakland to just one hit—a Cliff Pennington double—and struck out eight batters, his second-highest total in 21 career appearances.

Duffy made his big-league debut on May 18 of last season and stayed with the Royals through early September, but he struggled to find any semblance of consistency, and he only once notched consecutive quality starts. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of stuff, though.

Armed with a mid-90s fastball and plus curve, Duffy fanned Coco Crisp and Jonny Gomes in the first inning last night and never looked back. Duffy’s next assignment—most likely a date with the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on Monday—should prove more challenging, but he’s on the verge of establishing himself as a fixture in Kansas City’s gradually improving rotation.

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Most teams will play their sixth games of the season this evening, which means it’s time for the second round of ace-versus-ace matchups. The cream of today’s crop might be the duel between Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay (7:05 p.m. ET) in Philadelphia. For a taste of what might happen, rewind to the perfect night of May 29, 2010.
  • The Cardinals were creative this offseason in finding ways to overcome the loss of Albert Pujols, but by entrusting the heart of their batting order to the aging Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran, they took on considerable injury risk. Berkman was lifted for a pinch-runner in the eighth inning of the Cards’ 3-1 win over the Reds on Tuesday and is now dealing with a “tender” calf. He’s expected to rest on Wednesday and return on Friday, but muscle injuries this early in the season are worrisome, particularly for players in their mid-30s. Any aggravation would likely land Berkman on the disabled list, so this is a situation to monitor for the rest of the week.
  • Chad Billingsley delivered perhaps the most impressive 2012 debut of any starting pitcher when he struck out 11 Padres over 8 1/3 shutout innings last Friday and sent fantasy managers everywhere scurrying to check their leagues' waiver wires. There was buzz earlier this spring that—heading into the first year of a three-year, $35 million extension—Billingsley was making mechanical changes that could lead to a renaissance. An encore in tonight's matchup with the Pirates (10:10 p.m. ET) could go a long way toward proving that he's back to being the three-win pitcher he was from 2008-2010.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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