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Sunday, June 6, 2010
Hammel spot-start worthy

By Adam Madison
ESPN.com

Daily Notes
Mondays are often great days to spot-start because most weeks it's an off day for about half the teams in baseball, and this one is no different. We have a player owned in less than 1 percent of ESPN leagues in our top five, a couple of inconsistent but high-strikeout options to sift through and a few bad matchups to avoid, so let's get to it:

For starters

Selected notes:

Johnny Cueto got blasted by a good offensive team on the road, which isn't the most shocking thing in the world, but it hurts, particularly so given that it was preceded by such a dominant stretch of pitching the past month. You might not have had Cueto in your lineups when he tossed a complete-game shutout against the Pirates, for example, but almost everyone did when the Cardinals lit him up. That said, I'm inclined to serve him a mulligan, so resist the temptation to drop him (4 percent of you couldn't) and expect a rebound versus the Giants.

• The Rays' pitching is so good that it's even paying dividends on other teams. Jason Hammel is quietly rolling over in Colorado, sporting a 26-to-3 strikeout-to-walk rate in his past four starts, and is the perfect spot-start option versus the Astros, a team with by far the worst OPS against right-handed pitching (.617, last by 36 points). Can you ask for a better recipe for success?

• The loss of Kendry Morales for much of the season definitely should hurt the Angels' production against right-handers, so here's hoping Ben Sheets capitalizes. Aside from a blowup against the Blue Jays, he pitched pretty well in May, and he always has good strikeout potential, so keep him active. It's also worth noting that he has a 2.50 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in six home starts.

• His maddening up-and-down starts might obfuscate just how solid an option Daisuke Matsuzaka looks against the Indians, a team in disarray that recently learned its former star will miss the rest of the season. In his past three starts, he has tossed an eight-inning one-hitter, walked eight batters in 4 2/3 innings and then struck out seven without walking any in 6 2/3 innings, so it seems Matsuzaka never does what is expected of him, but it's hard to see what could go wrong here.

Derek Lowe has been great recently, and of course exactly when I wrote him off for the world to see. Those are the breaks, but Lowe's been successful by getting back to basics: inducing ground balls. Since his start against the Brewers on May 12, Lowe has a 1.69 ground ball-to-fly ball rate. He'll face a streaky Diamondbacks offense that can do some damage at home (.839 OPS, fourth in the majors), so discretion is advised, but he's definitely pitching well enough to merit consideration.

• As expected, Barry Zito handled a Rockies team he normally pitches very well against, but he's not out of the woods quite yet. The Reds can be quite ferocious against left-handed pitching, as they're one of only five teams with an OPS higher than .800 versus lefties, and Zito's peripherals suggest he's not back to his elite days by any stretch. The prudent thing to do is to sit him because, as he has proved on many occasions, he's plenty capable of getting lit up and demolishing your ratios.

Now batting

Hitters' count:

Marlon Byrd, OF, Cubs: Byrd has been superb against lefties, batting .397 with nine doubles and a home run in just 58 at-bats, with two steals to boot. Ryan Doumit is one of the worst in the major leagues at throwing out baserunners (just 4-for-45), too, so Byrd could run wild.

Scott Hairston, OF, Padres: The lefty-killer puts in work versus Cole Hamels, with a 4-for-10 career line that includes two doubles and a pair of home runs.

Jonny Gomes, OF, Reds: He has yet to deliver serious damage against Barry Zito (2-for-6 lifetime), but as a certified lefty-masher (.346 AVG/.452 OBP/.654 SLG against lefties this season), he still seems like a good bet to have a strong performance.

Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals: Rasmus is officially out of his May slump, batting .444 with three doubles and two homers in his past seven games. He's been one of the best regulars against right-handers, with eight home runs, six steals and a .299 average in 134 at-bats this season, so we like his chances against Carlos Monasterios.

Pitchers' count:

Jay Bruce, OF, Reds: Lefties are still Bruce's kryptonite, with the 23-year-old batting just .222 in 63 at-bats this season off them and .203 in his career. Good news for Barry Zito, who is a perfect 2-for-2 against Bruce in that small sample size.

Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Rangers: Vladdy might be hitting a ridiculous .444 against southpaws this season, but Cliff Lee isn't your ordinary lefty. Righties are batting a woeful .219 off of Lee, and in the head-to-head matchup, Lee comes out on top, limiting Guerrero to seven hits in 27 at-bats (.259 average).

Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers: Hamilton, meanwhile, is simply poor against lefties, with just one of his 11 home runs coming off a left-hander. He's hitting .231 in 65 at-bats, and that has nowhere to go but down against a lefty as tough as Lee.

Chone Figgins, 2B/3B, Mariners: Most owners haven't given up on Figgins yet (87.6 percent ownership), but temper any expectations against Scott Feldman, as Figgins is under the Mendoza Line in 31 career at-bats against Feldman.

Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies: The couple of times Hawpe has toughed out a hit against Wandy Rodriguez, it tends to go far -- with two home runs and a double among his four hits -- but he's still hitting only .190 overall against him. He's mired in an awful slump and is batting only .194 against lefties this season, as well, so it's safe to leave him benched.

Kelly Johnson, 2B, Braves: Johnson has had a dream season so far, but sometimes a guy just has your number. Considering Johnson remains hitless versus Derek Lowe in 11 at-bats, we can safely assume Lowe will come out on top this time around, too.

Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day

Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks: Drew just has his way against Derek Lowe, hitting .484 in 31 career at-bats, and although the majority of those hits are singles (he has five extra-base hits, including one home run), it's hard to find fault with a batter getting on base 50 percent of the time.

Triage

Injury list: Out

None

Injury list: Day-to-day

Casey Blake, 3B, Dodgers (back)

David Freese, 3B, Cardinals (ankle)

Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves (finger): Oft-injured Jones is back at it again, and this time he says his sore right ring finger "is not any better." A DL stint looks likely, considering the player in question.

Will Venable, OF, Padres (neck)

Weather concerns

The Braves-Diamondbacks contest is the only game that's weatherproof. The forecast calls for sun and clear skies, so play ball!

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