Rookie Max Scherzer has been the talk of baseball since retiring 13 consecutive Astros, including seven via strikeout, with ridiculous ease in his big-league debut for the Diamondbacks on April 29.
The performance won the hard-throwing right-hander a spot in Arizona's starting rotation and helped make him the most coveted fantasy wire pick-up last weekend.
As big a splash Scherzer has made, an even greater one could be forthcoming courtesy of Dodgers farmhand Clayton Kershaw, the 2007 Sporting News Minor League Pitcher of the Year who could be another Esteban Loaiza or Hiroki Kuroda implosion away from arriving at Chavez Ravine.
Kershaw, the 11th selection in the pitching-rich 2006 draft that included Scherzer (seventh) and current big-league hurlers Luke Hochevar (first), Andrew Miller (sixth), Tim Lincecum (10th) and Joba Chamberlain (41st), is the jewel of the Dodgers' farm system and future face of the franchise.
The 6-foot-3-inch left-hander has drawn comparisons to Phillies All-Star Cole Hamels, thanks to an upper-90s fastball that's complemented by a wicked curveball that turns batters into statues.
Kershaw turned heads, most noticeably that of Dodgers Hall-of-Fame southpaw Sandy Koufax (who gave his young apprentice rave reviews), during spring training, when he allowed one earned run and eight hits in 14 innings with 19 strikeouts and only three walks -- effectively showing Dodgers manager Joe Torre he was ready whenever Torre was.
Though impressed, Torre and the Dodgers' brass weren't quite ready and assigned Kershaw, who turned 20 in March, to Double-A Jacksonville for more seasoning and with the expectation that he would join the big club at some point after the All-Star break.
Kershaw accepted his reassignment to Jacksonville without blinking and has been practically unhittable. In six starts for the Suns, Kershaw is 0-3 but with a 1.12 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, and he's allowed just 23 hits and struck out 36 while walking 11 in 32ª innings. Opponents are batting .197 against Kershaw, who hasn't allowed an earned run in his last three starts.
While Torre and general manager Ned Colletti initially didn't want to rush Kershaw to the majors, they might have no choice other than to promote him, given the recent struggles of Kuroda (1-2, 3.95 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) and Loaiza (1-2, 5.62 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) at the back of the rotation, and not knowing when or if the injured Jason Schmidt (shoulder) will ever be ready to go.
Kuroda, who signed a $35.3 million, three-year contract with Los Angeles in December, hasn't won in his last three starts, the most recent of which saw him retire just 10 of 22 batters Tuesday against the Mets. And Loaiza, who was to have been skipped in the rotation this week, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday because of tightness in his right shoulder blade.
Whether the Dodgers stick to the original second-half plan with their young gun or are compelled to promote him now with Loaiza down remains to be seen.
What's clear is that when Kershaw finally does get the call to come to Los Angeles, he'll be given a one-way ticket, so fantasy vultures be prepared.
ONE ISN'T THE LONELIEST NUMBER -- With Curse Killer Brandon Webb, a revitalized Jose Valverde, lights-out Jonathan Broxton and gift-from-the-gods (and the rest of my league) newcomer Greg Smith leading the charge, my pitching staff has taken off (who would have thunk it?!) and catapulted us into first place this week. Now, if I can get Manny Ramirez and David Wright to perform like Manny Ramirez and David Wright, I just might stay there for a while.
MY LINEUP -- C: The Mighty Ryan Doumit and Carlos Ruiz; 1B: Kevin Youkilis; 2B: Ian Kinsler; 3B: David Wright; SS: Bobby "DL This" Crosby; OF: Manny Ramirez, Aaron "Gamer" Rowand, Mike Cameron, Jack "Please Stay Hot" Cust and Corey "You've Got One More Week" Patterson; CI: Alex Gordon, MI: Kelly Johnson; U: Jim Thome; P: Brandon "30 Wins Here We Come" Webb, Roy Oswalt, Jonathan Papelbon, Brett Myers, Greg Smith, Jose Valverde, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Broxton. DL: Josh Willingham.
Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports column runs Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.