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Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Zito at his best since joining Giants

By Adam Madison
Special to ESPN.com

Daily Notes

This has been a wacky five weeks of baseball, hasn't it? You have Barry Zito back in Cy Young form, 30-year-old journeyman Colby Lewis threatening to lead the league in strikeouts and an implosion by hotshot sophomore Rick Porcello. And they're all pitching on one day! That's to say nothing of a career revival by Brad Penny or the potential breakout of Brandon Morrow. We've got a lot to shake through on Wednesday's slate, so let's get right to it!

For starters

Selected notes:

• Even more impressive than Barry Zito's perfect start is that, for the first time since he arrived in San Francisco at least, he's owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues! So it's a perfect time for him to throw up a stinker then, right? I kid, as Zito has earned his record, and dating back to last season's All-Star break has a 2.45 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 121 1/3 innings. The matchup is solid -- the Florida Marlins hit just .243 off him -- so you have to consider him an elite option until he slips up.

• It's always scary when there are reports of a pitcher's velocity dipping, and Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Ted Lilly needs to add 3-4 mph on his fastball. But Lilly didn't undergo a rehab assignment, and he was pounded by what has been a very good offense to date, the Arizona Diamondbacks, so don't panic. Lilly owns the Pittsburgh Pirates -- small sample size applies, but the team is batting .188 off him in 80 at-bats -- so consider him a must-start.

• Potential, thy name is Brandon Morrow. A high-strikeout pitcher against what has been one of, if not the worst offenses in the American League? Welcome to our spot-start special! Listen, Morrow would be worth grabbing even if he didn't have a soft matchup. Few pitchers have more talent than he does, and the Jays are committed to starting him and letting him work out the kinks. But with a 2.37 ERA and 25 K's in his past three starts (19 innings), if you don't grab him, someone will after this next start.

• Aside from getting touched up by the Tampa Bay Rays, John Lackey has been fairly solid, logging four quality starts. His peripheral numbers aren't great, but you have to like that he always has a good shot at a win pitching for the Boston Red Sox and that he should be fired up facing his former team. Hey, it worked for Rich Harden.

Chad Billingsley needs to strike out more than a batter per inning if he's going to get away with walking more than four per nine, and he's just not getting it done. His batting average on balls in play is abnormally high (.378, with league average around .300), so his bloated numbers overstate the point, but that doesn't mean I'd be too comfortable throwing him out there against a capable Milwaukee Brewers lineup.

• As for the rest, we're talking about a mediocre bunch littered with pitchers with talent who aren't performing (Rick Porcello) or those with porous matchups (Kevin Slowey, Joel Pineiro). Stash them away if you wish, but definitely don't take the risk of throwing them out there.

Now batting

Hitters' count:

Nick Markakis, OF, Baltimore Orioles: Who says Markakis can't hit left-handers? Well, I do most of the time, but that's besides the point. Markakis is doing his best to erase memories of his porous '09 against southpaws (.262 AVG/.305 OBP/.376 SLG in 263 at-bats) and is 10-for-31 (.323) with five doubles, a triple and a homer so far. Don't be surprised if Andy Pettitte gets tattooed, especially when you throw their batter versus pitcher matchups into the mix (11-for-32 with two home runs for Markakis).

Jason Kubel, OF, Minnesota Twins: Rick Porcello's ERA could end up even more bloated at the end of the day if he has to face Kubel in a crucial situation: The lefty is a robust 9-for-14 with a pair of doubles and a dinger off him in his career.

Jim Thome, DH, Twins: Don't look now but so far Thome is putting up one of his classic seasons: a mediocre batting average propped up by a ton of walks and power. Used strictly against right-handers, Thome has significant value, as he's hitting .282 with four home runs; indeed, seven of his 11 hits against right-handers have gone for extra bases.

Michael Young, 3B, Texas Rangers: A big grin must've broken out over Young's face when he learned he'd be facing Trevor Cahill Wednesday. With four hits in six at-bats -- including two doubles and a home run -- and with Cahill more than susceptible to the long ball, this could be the matchup the third baseman needs to get his power on track.

Cody Ross, OF, Marlins: With six hits in his past 16 at-bats, three for extra bases, maybe Ross' season-long slump is coming to an end. He'll have a good shot to end it emphatically versus Barry Zito, a pitcher against whom he's 4-for-10 with a double and a home run. Don't forget that Ross slugged .612 off southpaws last season.

A.J. Pierzynski, C, Chicago White Sox: The quick-tempered catcher has only 16 hits on the season, but half of them have occurred in the past week. Look for a breakout against Brian Bannister since Pierzynski is a lifetime .423 hitter off him, even displaying some power (five doubles, two homers).

Carlos Quentin, OF, White Sox: That's right, two slump-busters for the price of one! Quentin, too, has struggled but is beginning to turn it around, and he's 4-for-8 with a pair of long balls off Bannister.

Pitchers' count:

Ty Wigginton, 1B/2B/3B, Orioles: Wigginton is on a roll and he's normally good against lefties, but Pettitte and his cutter can cause some problems. You can't argue against Wigginton's 2-for-21 (.095) line, and Pettitte has sent him down on strikes five times to boot.

Josh Willingham, OF, Washington Nationals: And just like that we can see how fickle this game of baseball is. His batting average was as high as .382 on April 17 but has since dropped more than 100 points; he's just 3-for-21 (.143) the past week. Willingham is still a competent hitter, he's just very streaky, so make sure he's riding the bench against Tommy Hanson, against whom he's 0-for-9.

Shane Victorino, OF, Phillies: Brad Penny is pitching lights-out, so it's doubtful Victorino will make much ground against his poor 1-for-10 mark against him. And with other key Phillies also struggling against Penny, it will be difficult for Victorino to get driven in if he manages to get on base anyway.

Carl Crawford, OF, Rays: Cliff Lee has stifled Crawford, allowing three measly singles in 18 at-bats. He's also struck him out five times without allowing a walk, so the .167 average Crawford has put up is the same number he has in the on-base and slugging percentage categories, too.

Dioner Navarro, C, Rays: Hey, at least Crawford has a hit to his name! Navarro is hitless in 10 career at-bats against the lefty, albeit with only one strikeout to his name.

Bobby Abreu, OF, Angels: It's a shame when former teammates have to do battle, at least from Abreu's perspective. He's just 5-for-25 (.200) against John Lackey, striking out seven times. He has only one walk, too, so even though it's easy to nab a base against Victor Martinez, there's a good chance he won't have the opportunity to do so.

Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day

Marlon Byrd, CF, Cubs: Get this: Byrd has 10 multihit games in his past 14 starts, drawing only one walk in the process. Yeah, it's not a recipe for long-term success, but for one day it will work.

Triage

Injury list: Out

Carlos Beltran, OF, New York Mets (15-day DL, knee): Just a day after reports that Beltran could be well behind his timetable, Beltran tells the New York Daily News that he'll start to run by the end of the week. If all goes well, he could still be back with the Mets by the end of June.
Yunel Escobar, SS, Atlanta Braves (15-day DL, groin)
Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (15-day DL, hamstring): The Dodgers plan to place Furcal on the disabled list Tuesday. He will be eligible to return May 14.

Injury list: Day-to-day

Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers (calf)
Rick Ankiel, OF, Kansas City Royals (quad): The Royals hoped Ankiel could return Monday, but no dice. If he's healthy enough to pinch hit, though, maybe he can show up as the designated hitter in the next few days.
Jim Edmonds, OF, Brewers (back)
Carlos Gomez, OF, Brewers (knee)
Jeremy Hermida, OF, Red Sox (quad)
Joe Mauer, C, Twins (heel)
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates (ankle)
Jorge Posada, C, Yankees (calf)
Carlos Quentin, OF, White Sox (hamstring): Now if he could just stay healthy … Quentin missed Monday's game, but played the preceding three games. Here's hoping one day off is all he needs.
Edgar Renteria, SS, Giants (groin)
Mariano Rivera, RP, Yankees (side)

Weather concerns

Contests between the Diamondbacks-Astros and the Rays-Mariners remain weatherproof. Thunderstorms could strike in Cleveland (40 to 50 percent chance) and Cincinnati, although the latter is more of a long shot (30 to 50 percent).

Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.