Spot Check: Start your engines
Youngsters Masterson, Garcia flashing impressive form
Fantasy pitching is like a relationship.
Sometimes it supports you when nothing else is going right. Sometimes it breaks your heart. And sometimes it's better to cut bait and move on with your life.
Hey, there are always other fish on the waiver wire.
Whether you're looking for a serious long-term commitment or just a casual one-time encounter, Spot Check is here to play wingman. Read on -- because you never know when you might find The One.
Justin Masterson, Indians
Next start: Tuesday, April 20 vs. Twins
'10 stats: 0-1, 2.45 ERA, 11 IP, 1.36 WHIP, 14 Ks
Outlook: Quick, which starter leads the American League in K/9 rate? Take five guesses. Heck, take 25 guesses. You probably won't come up with Masterson, but his 11.5 mark is tops in the Junior Circuit after two starts. While owners can't expect the right-hander to keep racking up Ks that pace, his 7.9 career mark means that he does have some strikeout upside. Even more promising is that Masterson has allowed just two free passes in 11 innings, a possible sign of growth after he turned in a 5.5 BB/9 rate in 57 1/3 innings following his July 2009 trade from Boston.
Jaime Garcia, Cardinals
Next start: Friday, April 23 at Giants
'10 stats: 1-1, 0.69 ERA, 12 IP, 0.77 WHIP, 10 Ks
Outlook: With Joel Pineiro now in Anaheim, pitching guru Dave Duncan seems to have found his next star student. Garcia won't keep his ground-ball rate in the 70-percent range forever, but he's clearly bought into the Tao of the two-seamer. The left-hander entered the season with just one Major League start under his belt, but he has the stuff to post Pineiro-like numbers -- double-digit wins, a mid-3.00s ERA and plenty of work for his infielders. Grab him before the word gets out.
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
Next start: Thursday, April 22 vs. Rangers
'10 stats: 1-1, 1.80 ERA, 10 IP, 1.60 WHIP, 8 Ks
Outlook: 2008 was supposed to be Buchholz's breakout year. Then it was going to be 2009. Well, maybe it's 2010. A career 4.75 ERA and 1.50 WHIP don't instill much confidence, but Buchholz's Minor League track record (2.42 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in 443 1/3 IP) should be enough to buy some patience from owners. His average fastball velocity jumped from 93.5 mph last season to 94.9 mph in his first two '10 starts, and his slider speed has increased nearly four mph. Usually an increase in velocity leads to an increase in Ks -- and that should lead to an increase in fantasy ownership.
Probable starters, April 19-23
Monday, April 19 (All starters)
Spot on: Brad Bergesen vs. Mariners
'10 Stats: 0-1, 11.74 ERA, 7 2/3 IP, 2.35 WHIP, 5 Ks
Outlook: Owners in deep leagues should consider Bergesen, who quietly posted a 3.43 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 19 starts last season before suffering a left shin contusion in late July. His first two 2010 turns were ugly, but those came against Toronto and Tampa Bay -- two teams with more powerful lineups than Seattle. The right-hander won't rack up the Ks, but he keeps the ball on the ground and spacious Safeco Field is an ideal backdrop for his pitch-to-contact style.
Spot on: Chris Volstad at Astros
'10 stats: 1-1, 3.46 ERA, 13 IP, 1.15 WHIP, 7 Ks
Outlook: Volstad's nifty rate stats through two starts have led to some post-hype sleeper buzz. Owners shouldn't buy into that noise; hurlers with 7/5 K/BB ratios who lack extreme ground-ball tendencies don't keep sub-4.00 ERAs for long. That said, the right-hander does have a nice setup for his next turn, as Houston has the worst offense in the Majors right now. No team scored fewer runs, hit for a lower average, hit fewer home runs or stole fewer bases through the season's first 12 games. Lance Berkman is expected back this week, but you can't go wrong with any hurler against the Astros right now and Volstad is a decent bet to take advantage.
Spot on: Bud Norris vs. Marlins
'10 stats: 1-1, 3.46 ERA, 7 2/3 IP, 2.22 WHIP, 12 Ks
Outlook: Take note, head-to-head owners, this pick is about the strikeouts. Norris racked up a 9.5 K/9 rate in 340 2/3 career Minor League innings, punched out 54 in his 55 2/3-inning big league debut last season and then struck out nearly two batters per frame in his first two '10 starts. The right-hander might be a burden in the ERA and WHIP categories, but the whiffs should be plentiful -- especially considering that only two teams struck out more than the Marlins through the season's first 12 games.
Spot on: Joe Saunders vs. Tigers
'10 stats: 1-2, 4.26 ERA, 19 IP, 1.11 WHIP, 8 Ks
Outlook: It's an annual Memorial Day ritual: break out the summer clothes, fire up the barbeque grill and bid farewell to Saunders as a useful fantasy asset. In 112 1/3 career innings before June 1, the left-hander is 17-7 with a 3.02 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Those rate stats balloon to 4.74 and 1.44, respectively over the season's final four months. Luckily, we're still within the grace period. Saunders' starts aren't for the faint of heart -- a lot of contact sometimes means a lot of runs -- but the Tigers knocked just eight long balls in their first 12 games, so the left-hander may be able to avoid trouble this week.
Spot on: Jamie Moyer at D-backs
'10 stats: 1-1, 7.50 ERA, 12 IP, 1.42 WHIP, 7 Ks
Outlook: Old Man Moyer took the mound twice against Arizona last season and tossed at least six shutout innings in each outing. In 12 2/3 total innings, he struck out 10 and allowed just eight baserunners. If he could do it at age 46, then why not at 74 -- er, 47? The left-hander has a 2.28 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in four career starts at Chase Field, and while fishing for wins is always risky, opposing starter Kris Benson won't exactly strike fear into the hearts of Chase Utley and Co.
Ian Kay is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.