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Fantasy baseball daily notes -- Pitcher and hitter rankings for Thursday

Taijuan Walker makes his season debut with the New York Mets on Thursday against the Miami Marlins. Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday is an important day of the fantasy week. It's an off day for many clubs, which means an abbreviated slate. Of course, abbreviated slates mean you usually have empty spots to fill in your fantasy lineups. And when you have empty lineup spots, that means you need to be working the waiver wire and filling those lineup holes with warm bodies. Every at-bat and every inning pitched can matter, especially in head-to-head leagues, so use these short slates as an opportunity to be aggressive and maximize your team's potential production.

Here's a look at Thursday's top streaming options, focusing on players rostered in fewer than 50% of ESPN leagues.

Pitching

Jake Arrieta (R), rostered in 31% of ESPN leagues, Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates: Arrieta pitched well in his first start back in a Cubs uniform, spinning six innings of one-run ball against the Pirates with five Ks and one walk. The noteworthy part of his performance was an increased reliance on his curveball. While Arrieta used the pitch just 7.3% of the time in 2020, he featured it 22.6 percent of the time in his season debut, getting a 66.7% whiff rate and three strikeouts. Whether the pitch continues to be a factor for the veteran this season remains to be seen, but it's something to monitor in his upcoming starts. Either way, Arrieta draws the lowly Pirates yet again on Thursday, and it's a matchup he should again be able to exploit.

Taijuan Walker (R), 16%, New York Mets vs. Miami Marlins: Because the Mets' opening series against the Nationals was postponed, Walker is just now set to make his 2021 debut. Walker has struggled staying healthy in the past, but he posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.16 WHIP across 11 starts in 2020, including a 1.60 ERA in his final eight outings. The 28-year-old also held a 3.49 ERA in his last healthy season in 2017. In other words, when he's on the mound, he's effective. Walker gets a soft landing spot against the Marlins, one of the weaker offense in the National League, making him an easy streaming candidate on Thursday.

Eduardo Rodriguez (L), 59%, Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles: Rodriguez was dropped in some leagues after he began the season on the injured list because of a dead arm, but after successfully completing a bullpen session on Monday, he was deemed ready to go. This will be Rodriguez's first start since 2019, as he missed the 2020 season after getting the coronavirus in July and dealing with complications afterward. Even if the left-hander doesn't go deep into Thursday's contest, he's hard to bypass in a prime matchup against the Orioles, who are fanning at a 29.3 percent clip in the early going. Rodriguez's rostered percentage comes in slightly above our 50% threshold, but we'll give him a pass on Thursday's abbreviated slate.

Cristian Javier (R), 50%, Houston Astros vs. Oakland Athletics: Although Javier lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his season debut against Oakland, surrendering two runs, it was more a lack of efficiency than getting hit hard. He struck out four and walked none in the outing, showing a slight uptick in velocity on his four-seamer. On Thursday, Javier matches up again with the A's, a team that has struggled to get much going offensively, putting up a 58 wRC+ that ranks last in the American League.

Bullpen: Most fantasy managers drafted Jordan Hicks or Giovanny Gallegos when speculating for saves in the Cardinals bullpen, but it's Alex Reyes who currently sits atop the St. Louis reliever pecking order. Manager Mike Shildt mentioned last week that he would use Reyes to finish games, and the 26-year-old righty went on to notch saves on both Monday and Tuesday against the Marlins. Available in 81% of ESPN leagues, Reyes needs to be on way more rosters.

For the latest team-by-team closer situations, please consult our Closer Chart.

Hitting

Catcher -- Omar Narvaez (L), 4%, Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals (RHP Adam Wainwright): Narvaez has carried his hot spring into the regular season, clubbing a pair of homers in his first four games. The Milwaukee backstop matches up well against the 39-year-old Wainwright, who got roughed up in his season debut, surrendering six earned runs in just 2 2/3 innings.

First Base -- Rowdy Tellez (L), 8%, Toronto Blue Jays vs. Los Angeles Angels (RHP Griffin Canning): Tellez tends to get overlooked in Toronto's dangerous, young lineup, but he's dangerous in his own right. He makes plenty of loud contact and draws the platoon advantage against Canning in a hitter-friendly park.

Second Base -- Josh Rojas (L), 3%, Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies (RHP Jon Gray): Rojas has gotten off to a slow start, but Coors Field is often a great cure for those. The 26-year-old has still been batting leadoff against righties when he's in the lineup, and his power/speed skillset gives him both homer and steal potential.

Third Base -- David Bote (R), 2%, Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates (LHP Tyler Anderson): Despite limited playing time, Bote scalded the ball in 2020, putting up an average exit velocity in the 91st percentile. He's now playing regularly this season and is an underrated option who will soon be eligible at second base in addition to third. Bote gets the platoon edge on Thursday against a very hittable Tyler Anderson.

Shortstop -- Miguel Rojas (R), 8%, Miami Marlins at New York Mets (RHP Taijuan Walker): Rojas surprised in 2020 with a .304/.412/.496 triple slash in 40 games with a sprinkle of speed and pop, and he's already swiped a pair of bags this season. He hasn't shown platoon splits in his career, so don't worry about the lack of the platoon advantage against Walker. Plus, getting away from Marlins Park, one of the most pitcher-friendly venues in the majors, is always a good thing.

Corner Infield -- Mitch Moreland (L), 3%, Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros (RHP Cristian Javier): Moreland has built his career around hitting right-handed pitching. The lefty-swinger produced a .938 OPS against righties in 2020, and Javier is much more vulnerable to left-handed batters, making this a nice streaming opportunity for the veteran slugger.

Middle Infield -- Garrett Hampson (R), 29%, Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (RHP Merrill Kelly): One of the issues with Hampson has always been playing time, and so far he's been in the lineup more often than not, starting four of the Rockies' first five games and primarily batting second. We can quibble about the high strikeout rates, but Hampson's got pop, speed, and plays at Coors Field. That's good enough to fire him up against an underwhelming hurler like Kelly.

Outfield -- Hunter Renfroe (R), 10%, Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles (RHP Matt Harvey): Harvey may have kept the Red Sox at bay in his last start, but the odds are against him doing it again. Keep in mind, this is a guy who owns a 6.09 ERA over his last 319 innings. Renfroe has been stuck in neutral to start the season, but this is a prime spot for him to get going.

Outfield -- Justin Upton (R), 22%, Los Angeles Angels at Toronto Blue Jays (RHP Ross Stripling): Upton finished 2020 on a tear, batting .291/.385/.582 over his last 23 games. Then he put up a .364/.404/.727 triple slash this spring. And now he's batting .294/.381/.471 to begin the 2021 campaign. In short, Upton can still hit. He'll look to continue that trend against Stripling, who looked awfully shaky in his first outing of the season.

Outfield -- Adam Eaton (L), 33%, Chicago White Sox vs. Kansas City Royals (RHP Brad Keller): At 32 years old, Eaton continues to get on base, show some pop, and his 89th percentile Sprint Speed confirms he hasn't lost his wheels. He also consistently bats first or second against right-handed pitching. This is just a rock-solid skillset that often goes underappreciated. Eaton is a high-quality streamer against Keller, who couldn't even make it out of the second inning in his first outing.