Freddie Freeman (1B-LAD) gave an encouraging update on Wednesday regarding his hamstring injury, saying that his status for Opening Day is not in doubt. Freeman exited Canada's World Baseball Classic game against Columbia on Tuesday with a hamstring injury, which prevented him from playing in the team's game against Mexico on Wednesday as well. Fortunately, the injury does not appear too serious and seems to be more of a tweak based on Freeman's comments, which suggest that he'll be ready to go for LA's Opening Day matchup against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium on March 30. Freeman says he's aiming to get back into Spring Training games this weekend after taking Wednesday off and receiving three hours of treatment, which would give him ample time to get back in the swing of things by Opening Day.
Corey Kluber (SP-BOS) was named Boston's Opening Day starter by manager Alex Cora on Wednesday. The two-time Cy Young winner will get the ball when the Red Sox kick off their season at Fenway Park on March 30 against the Baltimore Orioles. This news comes as something of a surprise considering that Kluber just joined the team in the offseason and hasn't even thrown a regular-season pitch for Boston yet. It's even more surprising given that former Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who's been with the team since 2017, is currently healthy. Kluber's Opening Day assignment indicates how much Boston is counting on him to be a strong presence in the team's rotation this year and remain effective in his age-37 season. While Kluber was solid last year (10-10, 4.34), he's a half-decade removed from his prime, so fantasy managers shouldn't expect a return to form.
Justin Verlander (SP-NYM) was his usual dominant self at Spring Training on Wednesday, firing five innings of one-hit ball with eight strikeouts in a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals. All four of his pitches were working wonderfully and he even struck out five batters in a row at one point. After signing with the Mets in the offseason, the 40-year-old ace appears to be all systems go and ready to lead New York's rotation this year. Even after 17 MLB seasons, he still appears to be at the top of his game and has shown little sign of slowing down, especially after claiming his third career Cy Young trophy and second career World Series ring last fall. Fantasy managers should continue to treat him as a top-of-the-rotation starter, as they have for the past two decades.
Edwin Diaz (RP-NYM) suffered what appeared to be a serious injury on Wednesday night during the World Baseball Classic. After striking out Teoscar Hernandez to seal Puerto Rico's 5-2 win over the Dominican Republic, Diaz suffered some sort of injury during the postgame celebration on the field. He was seen sitting down with his right leg extended and had to be taken off the field on a wheelchair, while his brother was spotted crying. This is definitely a situation to monitor, but it appears that Diaz may now be in danger of missing Opening Day and potentially much longer than that. This is devastating news for a Mets team that just signed him to a five-year, $102 million deal in the offseason -- a record for a closer -- and is counting on him to be their shutdown closer for years to come.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B-TOR) returned to the lineup for Toronto on Wednesday, helping the Blue Jays beat the Pirates, 7-1. Guerrero had not played since March 3 due to right knee discomfort, which caused him to pull out of the World Baseball Classic. After a couple of weeks to heal up, however, he appears back to normal. The 2021 AL MVP runner-up hustled down the line on a groundout in the first before ripping a double in his second at-bat that had an exit velocity of 113.6 mph. This is a welcomed sign for Blue Jays fans and fantasy players alike, as big things are expected from the two-time All-Star in his age-24 season. He's been remarkably durable so far in his career, missing just three games over the past three seasons combined. Hopefully he's able to avoid any more injuries and maintain his stellar attendance record in 2023.
Aaron Nola (SP-PHI) threw 78 pitches against the New York Yankees during Wednesday's Spring Training game, saying afterward that he felt strong and healthy. He did benefit from extra warmup time and having the pitch clock turned off at one point, but it was still an encouraging performance regardless. Nola said that he hopes to throw six innings in his next outing, which will be his second-to-last before the season officially starts on March 30. The former All-Star is expected to lead Philadelphia's rotation again this year after going 11-13 with a 3.25 ERA and an MLB-best 8.1 K/BB ratio in 32 regular-season starts last year before helping the Phillies reach the World Series. If Philly wants to get back to the Fall Classic, they're going to need a healthy and reliable Nola to show up again in his age-30 season.
Kris Bryant (3B/OF-COL) returned to the Rockies' starting lineup on Wednesday after missing two previous games due to mild back stiffness. While the game against the San Diego Padres was ultimately rained out, it was still encouraging that Bryant was going to play regardless. Rockies manager Bud Black reiterated that Bryant's injury is not significant, implying the former MVP will be good to go for Opening Day on March 30 barring any setbacks. His next chance to play will be during Thursday's Spring Training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, which is worth monitoring to see how his swing looks and if he appears hampered at all by the injury.
Mitch Keller (SP-PIT) was named Pittsburgh's Opening Day starter on Wednesday. Keller will take the mound against the Reds in Cincinnati on March 30, which is a big step for the former second-round pick. Keller took a huge step forward last year, breaking out to the tune of a 3.91 ERA in 159 innings. The 26-year-old still has room to grow based on last season's 1.40 WHIP, but with 68 career starts under his belt this could be the year he really takes his game to the next level. Keller's not a huge strikeout guy (7.8 K/9 last year) and doesn't get a lot of wins (12-29 career record), which limits his fantasy value somewhat. Still, he's a solid option in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues.
Kevin Gausman (SP-TOR) racked up seven strikeouts in just 3 1/3 innings against the Pirates on Wednesday in Spring Training. Gausman carved up Pittsburgh's lineup, although that's not exactly saying much. His velocity has been down a bit this spring, but that hasn't stopped him from tallying 12 strikeouts over 8 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. The 32-year-old former All-Star appears poised for another strong campaign with the Blue Jays after leading the AL with a 2.38 FIP and a 7.3 K/BB ratio last season, so expect plenty more swings and misses from him as an elite fantasy arm in 2023.
With two weeks still to go until Opening Day, Paul DeJong (SS-STL) is already banged up. DeJong remained out of the Cardinals' lineup on Wednesday after being scratched from Tuesday's game with back pain, which is expected to sideline him for a few more days according to Cardinals manager Oli Marmol. DeJong can't even bend over to field grounders right now, which is less than ideal for a player who only got into 77 games last year and has only played one full season in his six-year career. The 29-year-old former All-Star needs to prove he can stay healthy and productive this season after three straight injury-shortened disappointing seasons, relegating him to NL-only league status for the moment despite his considerable power with 102 career homers in 617 games.
Garrett Whitlock (RP/SP-BOS) threw two scoreless innings in his spring debut on Wednesday, striking out three. Whitlock looked sharp on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays. It was a promising start to the spring for Whitlock, who is recovering from hip surgery as well as transitioning from a reliever to a starter. Boston's former ace fireman may not have enough time to ramp up and get enough starts in before the season starts in two weeks, so he may open the season on the injured list as a result. Still, he'll remain on fantasy radars thanks to the excellent numbers in his first two seasons so far (12-6, 2.73 ERA), which perhaps will translate to the rotation as well. Time will tell if the 26-year-old has what it takes to be a full-time starter or if he needs to return to the bullpen.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (UT-NYY) has been practicing in center field lately and is not expected to be the Yankees' starting shortstop when the season opens. IKF, who is ticketed for a utility role this year, will man center in this weekend's Spring Training games to give him some game action there, according to manager Aaron Boone. IKF has never played the outfield before in the majors, but the Yankees are hoping he can be comfortable enough there that they can use him in a pinch if necessary. The former Gold Glove winner is being flexible and doing what he can to help the team win, although Yankee fans and fantasy managers would surely like to see more from him at the plate after he slashed just .261/.314/.327 in 142 games last year. Even if he does gain OF eligibility for fantasy leagues, IKF doesn't hit well enough to roster there.
It was reported on Wednesday that Jake Odorizzi (SP-TEX) will begin the season on the injured list for Texas. This is not a huge surprise for the veteran righty, who has been dealing with arm fatigue during camp and apparently won't be ready for the start of the season in two weeks. Fortunately this isn't a major deal for the Rangers, as Odorizzi is expected to be a back-of-the-rotation arm for them this year after going 6-6 with a 4.40 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP in 22 starts last season. The 32-year-old former All-Star has struggled to get his groove back since the 2020 campaign, and his latest injury isn't helping. He'll be a middling AL-only option when he does eventually return to action.
Dane Dunning (SP-TEX) looked excellent against the Royals during Wednesday's Spring Training game, notching six strikeouts over five scoreless innings while allowing just two baserunners. It was a good audition to be in the Rangers' rotation this year, as Dunning was not expected to have a spot but may get one now with Jake Odorizzi likely to miss the start of the season. Dunning has had his ups and downs over his first three seasons but has generally been mediocre, going 11-18 with a 4.43 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP in 305 career innings so far. The 28-year-old righty isn't likely to be much help in fantasy leagues if he ends up in the bullpen, but he could have some appeal in AL-only leagues if he secures a rotation spot.
Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen announced on Wednesday that Mark Melancon (RP-ARI) will likely open the season on the injured list due to a right shoulder injury. While the extent of the damage is unclear, Arizona is preparing to begin the season with the former All-Star closer on the shelf. After going a disappointing 3-10 with a 4.66 ERA and 18 saves last year, it wouldn't be surprising if this causes Melancon to lose the closer role for good. Andrew Chafin and Scott McGough will likely get any save opportunities in the meantime while Melancon is out, and if they do a good job then there will be no need to slot him back into the ninth inning. Melancon's going to be 38 this year, too, so feel free to fade him in fantasy drafts.
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