Fantasy Fare: Freak free-falling?

San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum delivers a pitch on Opening Day during their MLB baseball game...

San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum delivers a pitch on Opening Day during their MLB baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix, Arizona, April 6, 2012. (REUTERS/Darryl Webb)

JOEL COLOMBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:30 PM ET

Is it time to start worrying about Tim Lincecum? After posting a 5.70 ERA in the spring, the former Cy Young winner has lasted just 7.2 innings over his first two starts and given up an alarming 11 ERs on 14 hits. There is nothing reportedly wrong with him physically. But stats show that the Giants ace has indeed lost a couple of clicks off his fastball and is simply not getting the called or swinging strikes with the heater that he has in the past.

In fact, ESPN points out that the right-hander's percentage of fastball strikes sits at just 53.7% this year, compared to 63.2 a year ago. So with his fastball more hittable than at any time in his career, opposing batters are simply waiting for it, then launching hits off him to the tune of a 1.289 OPS -- nearly 50 points higher than last season. Which brings us back to original question: Is it time to worry? Well, let's just say it's not time to start shopping him around. However, keep in mind that Lincecum's dipping strike percentage is not a sudden occurrence. It has actually been dropping every year since 2009.

* Johnny Damon's signing with the Indians on Thursday sends LF Shelley Duncan back to his familiar bench role, but it could have more far-reaching effects. Damon (see Waiver Watch) may pose a real threat to the playing time of Michael Brantley, the Tribe's regular LF who slid over to CF for injured Grady Sizemore but has been struggling at the plate. A decision won't have to be made until Sizemore returns in about six weeks but it's amusing that in his first game since the Damon announcement, Brantley produced his first multi-hit game and first RBI of the young season.

* Strikeout dominance usually translates into success for pitchers. Then there is veteran Aaron Harang who, in his first two starts for the Dodgers, has fanned 19 in 10.2 IPs -- including an incredible nine in a row against his former team, the Padres, on Friday. Unfortunately, the Ks have been mixed with seven walks and two HRs to produce an unsightly 5.91 ERA, 1.68 WHIP and an 0-1 record.

* Though the Yankees opened the season with Brett Gardner in a LF platoon with Andruw Jones, the former did get a rare start against an LHP on Tuesday and helped his cause for more playing time by going 2-for-3 off Orioles' Wei-Yin Chen. Gardner hit just .233 off lefties last season.

CLOSING TIME: The only reason we can see for the Rays to be sticking with Fernando Rodney as their interim closer is that he is hot, going 3-for-3 in save opps. But keep in mind that he has not posted an ERA under 4.20 since 2006 -- and that includes '09 in Detroit, his only year as a full-time closer -- or a WHIP under 1.45 since '07. In short, he's just too volatile and could be even one blown save away from losing the role "¦ Hector Santiago is the surprise winner of the Who Closes For The Chisox contest over Matt Thornton, Addison Reed and Jesse Crain, all of whom have better stuff. We're not totally sold on the rookie, though the Pale Hose's success with a similar closer in Sergio Santos last season suggests he has a long leash ... Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando earned ninth-inning saves late this week for Texas, where word is closer Joe Nathan was merely being rested.

TIME TO POUNCE

The Freak, of course, is not the only star off to a slow start. Jose Bautista, Mark Teixeira and Hanley Ramirez -- all first- or second-round picks in mixed leagues -- took sub-200 AVGs into Saturday's games. Zach Greinke, CC Sabathia and Dan Haren have ERAs above 6.50. If you were ever going to get one of them in a trade, now's the time. Most owners know enough to wait it out, but all it takes is one impatient type to give your team an early boost.

HOT AND NOT

(Hitters the past seven days)

Corey Hart MIL

.

350, 4 HRs, 7 RBIs

Josh Willingham MIN

.

450, 3 HRs, 5 RBIs

Jordan Schafer HOU

.

333, HR, 5 SBs

- - - - - -

Ike Davis NYM

1-for-19, 7 Ks

Marlon Byrd CHC

1-for-20, 1 RBI, 0 R

LINE OF THE WEEK

Tommy Milone, OAK

8 3 0 0 3 0 0

What sticks out is the eight shutout innings without a K and that he fell behind more than half the Royals batters he faced on Monday.

INJURY UPDATES

(11 lines)

Lance Berkman (calf) should return on Tuesday "¦ Jacoby Ellsbury (shoulder) will be out until at least the first week of June "¦ B.J. Upton is expected to make his season debut on Friday "¦ Sean Burnett hurt his back, but it doesn't look to be anything serious "¦ Liam Hendriks is starting Sunday after a bout with food poisoning delayed his Twins debut "¦ Brandon Phillips (hamstring) got in as a pinch-hitter Friday "¦ Scott Baker has finally succumbed to elbow pain and will undergo season-ending surgery "¦ David Wright (finger) could land on the DL "¦ K.C. has lost Lorenzo Cain (groin) for a couple of weeks "¦ Luke Hochevar took a ball off his ankle Friday and may miss his next start ... Alex Gonzalez is fine, but on paternity leave.

WAIVER WATCH

With fantasy rating out of 5

Johnny Damon

DH, Indians

* * *

Depending on your league eligibility rule, he qualifies as a DH only, at least until he plays the requisite number of games in the outfield. The big question is how much the 38-year-old has left in the tank. We're saying he should be good for a .255 AVG with low double-digit HRs and SBs.

Joe Wieland

SP, Padres

* *

Most NL-only owners will lean toward the Pods' other SP callup, Anthony Bass, based on last September. But Wieland, who was slated to debut on Saturday night, has the better upside after posting a 155-21 K-BB rate in 155 minor-league IPs last season, though don't expect those kind of numbers in the bigs.

Injuries already have forced the Padres into a couple of rotation callups, with Anthony Bass gaining a no-decision Thursday while striking out five in 4.1 IPs. Joe Wieland, meanwhile, was slated to pitch Saturday night. Bass will be the guy most NL-only owners target first, based on his impressive late-season run in 2011, but Wieland should be the one who works out better long-term.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis

OF, Mets

* *

Though he won't overwhelm with either, 24-year-old has both power (he homered on Monday) and speed potential. The five Ks in 13 ABs are a concern but, with Andre Torres on the DL, he'll get his make-or-break opportunity starting against righties.

Drew Smyly

SP, Tigers

* *

Made Tigers as their No. 5 SP but stayed behind until his debut Thursday -- a four-inning ND against Tampa. Lacks experience (just seven starts at double-A) and a punchout fastball, but mixes all his pitches smartly, throws in a spacious home park and has those big Tigers bat behind him.

Brett Pill

1B, Giants

* *

With Brandon Belt benched already, Aubrey Huff gets most of the ABs at 1B, but the 27-year-old Pill, a RH bat, could work his way into the mix after hitting safely in 10 of 14 games last Sept. with a pair of HRs. He was 2-for-6 with a HR heading into Saturday's action.


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