Spot Check: Get off to strong start
Penny, Latos among power arms to target in second week
Whether you're replacing an injured regular, streaming for a favorable matchup or trying to turn the tide in a head-to-head league, every fantasy owner needs a spot starter from time to time.
The following is a list of 10 widely available hurlers who could provide a boost this week:
Start with confidence
Brad Penny, Cardinals
Next start: Wednesday, April 14 vs. Astros
'10 stats: 0-1, 1.29 ERA, 7 IP, 1.14 WHIP, 4 Ks
Outlook: Even with Lance Berkman in the lineup, Houston isn't going to score many runs in 2010. Without the slugging first baseman in the season's early going, the Astros have been downright anemic at the plate. No team has scored fewer runs so far (13 through six games) and only two National League clubs sport batting averages worse than Houston's .222 mark. Any pitcher tossing against the Astros is a worthwhile gamble this week, and Penny's strong performance after moving back to the NL late last season makes him an especially good play.
Mat Latos, Padres
Next start: Thursday, April 15 vs. Braves
'10 stats: 0-0, 6.00 ERA, 6 IP, 1.17 WHIP, 4 Ks
Outlook: Like the McRib, Latos' stats should be both delicious and available for a limited time only this season. The 22-year-old dominated Class A and Double-A before holding his own in 10 Major League starts last year, but the Padres will probably cap their top young hurler's innings somewhere in the 150-170 range this time around. Latos is a strikeout pitcher and only one lineup whiffed more than the Braves through the season's first six games, so the right-hander could be primed for a big outing at roomy PETCO Park.
Barry Zito, Giants
Next start: Monday, April 12 vs. Pirates
'10 stats: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 6 IP, 0.67 WHIP, 5 Ks
Outlook: Even after a bounceback 2009 season and a stellar outing April 6 against Houston, Zito is still a waiver-wire resident in most leagues. That could change with a strong turn Monday against the Pirates. Nobody is confusing Garrett Jones and Ryan Doumit for Willie Stargell and Dave Parker in the middle of Pittsburgh's lineup, and Zito's ERA was nearly a quarter of a run lower at home than on the road last season. Trust the curveball, at least in the short term.
Take the chance
Luke Hochevar, Royals
Next start: Monday, April 12 at Tigers
'10 stats: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 2/3 IP, 0.78 WHIP, 2 Ks
Outlook: Hochevar's first start against Detroit went swimmingly, so why not ride the hot hand? Facing the Tigers in Kansas City on April 7, the right-hander threw 57 of his 91 pitches for strikes and recorded 16 outs on the ground compared to just four through the air. Hochevar has pedigree -- he was the first overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft -- and his fastball averaged three mph faster in his '10 debut than it did last season. If that uptick leads to more Ks, Hochevar could be useful as more than a spot starter this season.
C.J. Wilson, Rangers
Next start: Wednesday, April 14 at Indians
'10 stats: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 IP, 1.00 WHIP, 9 Ks
Outlook: Nobody knew what to expect from Wilson in first start since 2005, but the left-hander exceeded even the most bullish expectations. Although his velocity was down several mph from its bullpen norm, Wilson showcased the command and approach necessary to work through a lineup multiple times. The Rangers consider him a long-term rotation piece, and while fantasy owners should take a cautious approach, it's well worth the gamble this week to find out if he's more than a one-start wonder.
Gio Gonzalez, A's
Next start: Wednesday, April 14 at Mariners
'10 stats: 1-0, 3.00 ERA, 6 IP, 1.17 WHIP, 6 Ks
Outlook: Gonzalez is coming off an impressive season debut and his second start sets up nicely for a repeat performance. Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins are great tablesetters, but Seattle's lineup lacks a legitimate big bopper to strike fear into opposing starters. Gonzalez is at his best when he's working aggressively with his fastball, and he should be able to do just that against a middle of the order that features likes of Franklin Gutierrez, Milton Bradley and Jose Lopez. Working with the spacious backdrop of Safeco Field will provide a nice safety net, too.
Ricky Romero, Blue Jays
Next start: Tuesday, April 13 vs. White Sox
'10 stats: 0-0, 1.29 ERA, 7 IP, 1.00 WHIP, 4 Ks
Outlook: Romero's production fell off over the last two months of the '09 season, but he's still probably owned in fewer leagues than he should be. The left-hander was excellent in his '10 debut, and he'll have the privilege of facing a White Sox lineup that put up a collective .203/.313/.340 line and scored just 21 runs in its first six games. Don't worry too much about a sophomore slump this week.
Worth a flier
David Hernandez, Orioles
Next start: Thursday, April 15 at A's
'10 stats: 0-1, 3.00 ERA, 6 IP, 1.67 WHIP, 5 Ks
Outlook: Like Gonzalez, Hernandez is a fireballer with big-time strikeout upside and unreliable command. And like Gonzalez, his start this week will be against a punchless opposing lineup and in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. After six games, only seven teams had fewer home runs than the A's. Hernandez may not help your WHIP, but the right-hander should be good for at least five strikeouts and a chance for the win as long as he doesn't walk too many batters.
Brian Bannister, Royals
Next start: Tuesday, April 13 at Tigers
'10 stats: 0-0, 1.50 ERA, 6 IP, 1.00 WHIP, 3 Ks
Outlook: Bannister has a history of success early in the season with a 3.17 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 16 career March and April starts. Although his low strikeout totals make him expendable in most mixed leagues, the right-hander has had stretches of productivity in the past and is always capable of another run like his seven-start stretch from April 22-May 24, 2009, when he went 6-1 with a 2.79 ERA over 42 innings.
Jon Niese, Mets
Next start: Wednesday, April 14 at Rockies
'10 stats: 0-1, 4.50 ERA, 6 IP, 1.67 WHIP, 3 Ks
Outlook: Coors Field may inflate scoring more than any other ballpark, but the Rockies have had success at home in recent years with a staff of sinkerballers and ground-ball specialists. While Niese doesn't burn as many worms as scheduled opponent Aaron Cook, his career ground-ball percentage of 46.7 is certainly respectable. The left-hander also has some strikeout upside and a history of a Minor League success that makes him a breakout candidate in his first full big league campaign.
Ian Kay is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.