Pricey Pitchers: Thursday

Today's games lack any truly elite pitchers, but there are a bunch of guys pitching today that could reach that level pretty soon. And there are a lot of day games, so for those of us with relatively boring afternoons, baseball's going on for like ten straight hours today. Even with the lack of big name pitching match-ups, I actually think that we're going to see some really interesting pitchers go at it today and tonight.

-We'll start off with one of the first games of the day, the pitcher's duel in this afternoon's Dodgers-Buccos game. Even though it's the final game of the series, we're looking at the best pitching match-up we've seen in Pittsburgh. Righty Chad Billingsley takes the mound for the Dodgers, hoping to bounce back from a rough finish to the 2009 season. For the Pirates, the underrated lefty Paul Maholm (6 WAR in the past two seasons, improving peripherals) takes the hill. And he gets bonus awesomeness points for being on my Ball on a Budget team. The Pirates are hoping to finish off an unexpected sweep of the Dodgers, which they haven't done since 1999. It's probably karma for letting Vicente Padilla pitch on Opening Day.

-This game probably won't have particularly good pitching, but it's one that I'm going to keep my eye on regardless. The Tigers are sending Dontrelle Willis out onto the mound for the first time this year, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he doesn't totally suck right off the bat. Stathead favorite Brian Bannister gets the start for Kansas City, too, and he's always one to root for. Hey, and maybe Trey Hillman finally gives the massively improved Mitch Maier an appearance finally.

- You like impeccable command? You hate walks? But you can't decide whether you'd rather watch a groundball pitcher or a flyball pitcher? Well tonight's Angels-Twins game will satisfy all your needs! The game's two starters, LA's Joel Pineiro and Minnesota's Kevin Slowey, combined to walk 2.63 batters per nine innings combined. Their styles differ from there, as Pineiro's newly discovered two-seamer made him one of the game's best wormburners last season (60.5% ground ball rate in 2009), while Slowey's unfortunately dependent on a pretty poor outfield defense (32.0% ground ball rate). Either way, it's two good pitchers, two good teams, and a whole lot of pitches in the zone.

- Two more talented young pitchers make their season debuts tonight, when the Orioles face the Rays. Baltimore is sending out lefty Brian Matusz against Tampa Bay's Jeff Niemann, as the Rays try to finish off a sweep. Matusz is the early favorite for the Rookie of the Year after getting some much needed MLB experience towards the end of last season, and honestly he's probably Baltimore's best pitcher right now. I know, I know, Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie are pretty brilliant. But this Matusz kid is special.

- Chicago's Gavin Floyd, a pitcher who quietly took a big step last season, faces off against Cleveland's Justin Masterson today. Masterson's presumably hoping to make up for underwhelming starts from Jake Westbrook (which I talked about here) and Fausto Carmona (6 IP, 6 BB, 1 K, 1 HR). I know Carmona only gave up one hit, but it's really hard to not give up a single hit on balls in play when you only strikeout one of the 18 guys you face. But he's not going to keep getting that lucky again and he definitely didn't show the supposedly improved command that some had talked about this spring. Even though the series is tied 1-1, Cleveland fans presumably were hoping for a lot more from their top two starters.

- There are some very talented young pitchers taking the mound for other teams, too, and if you're like me, those are the more interesting games to watch. Tommy Hanson takes the mound for Atlanta against the Cubs' Randy Wells, who hopes to prove that 2009 isn't his career year. Blue Jays lefty Ricky Romero hopes to continue his effort to show that the Jays didn't totally mess up by taking him instead of Troy Tulowitzki when he faces Texas' C.J. Wilson today, who makes his first start since 2005 after establishing himself as a top reliever last season. Two more talented young lefties take the mound today as well, in addition to Romero. Already one of the game's top pitchers, even if nobody quite notices yet, Oakland lefty Brett Anderson pitches today against Seattle, and Mets lefty Jon Niese faces the Marlins today. I was a little AL-heavy today, but what can I say?  The AL's games look more interesting.

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