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Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Daisuke Matsuzaka a solid play

By Adam Madison
Special to ESPN.com

Daily Notes

In a bit of news that was missed yesterday, the long-awaited return of speedster -- and early-round pick, of course -- Jacoby Ellsbury is expected Wednesday. Shockingly, fractured ribs have limited Ellsbury to just 44 at-bats this season, and it begets the question: can a player who relies solely on his legs truly live up to first- or second-round billing? Just looking at where guys like Brett Gardner (30 steals) and Angel Pagan (24) were drafted in your league, any Ellsbury owners have to feel more than a little buyer's remorse. Most rosters can afford only one stolen base specialist, so it'd be nice to find a way to calculate the opportunity cost of grabbing an Ellsbury and missing out on the Rajai Davises of the world. A man can dream!

For starters

Selected notes:

• He might be the riskiest guy in the majors to play the spot-start game with, but if you can live with the relatively high WHIP, there's no doubt Daisuke Matsuzaka has redeemed himself the past couple of months. The strikeouts and win potential make his warts easier to live with, and it would be a crime not to take advantage of his soft matchup versus the Indians, who just lost their second-best hitter in Carlos Santana.

• After allowing a combined 13 runs in seven innings during a two-start stretch from June 30-July 6, Jeff Francis has responded well, posting a 2.74 ERA in four starts since. He's even averaged a strikeout per inning in his past three starts, allowing just two walks in the process. As a result, he looks like a great option against the light-hitting Pirates, and since he's available in 95 percent of the ESPN universe, he makes a fantastic spot-starter.

• Speaking of playing with fire, many Tommy Hunter owners realized the jig was up after his three-inning, eight-run pounding by the Angels in his latest outing. A whopping 19 percent of the ESPN universe bailed on Hunter, but what's left of his owners just might be able to squeeze another start out of him. The Mariners possess an awful offense, one that is dead last in the majors in OPS since the All-Star break, and even if they do manage to make hard contact, Hunter has the benefit of playing behind the fifth-best defense in the league, according to defensive efficiency.

• It's a tough call on whether or not to start Wade Davis versus the Twins. It's a team still without Justin Morneau, yet one that has still managed to pace the majors in OPS since the All-Star break without him. Davis has had his fair share of success in recent weeks, with a 2.11 ERA and 1.08 WHIP since the break, but he hasn't been dominant in doing so. Recent results be darned, you have to lean toward sitting him, as Davis hasn't proven he's able to shut down top-tier offenses, especially considering he faced the Twins just a month ago and allowed eight hits, four runs and three home runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Now batting

Hitters' count:

Matt Joyce, OF, Rays: It's just 83 at-bats, but there's no denying the strong peripherals underlying Joyce's .253 AVG/.392 OBP/.542 SLG batting line against right-handers this season. Fourteen of his 21 hits have gone for extra bases, including five home runs, and he's batting .304 with four dingers in 46 at-bats since the break. He's 1-for-4 with a home run against Kevin Slowey and should be on your radar if you need cheap power.

Peter Bourjos, OF, Angels: The Angels pushed Torii Hunter over to right field to make room for Bourjos, a good implication the speedster is here to stay. He attempted 44 stolen abses in the minors, successful on 32 of them, and as an organization the Angels love to run. Don't be surprised to see him off to the races against Matt Wieters, who has thrown out fewer than 30 percent of attempted thieves.

James Loney, 1B, Dodgers: Loney has displayed some power versus Kevin Correia, taking him deep twice in just 19 at-bats. He's batting .263 overall against the righty, and those are his only extra-base hits, so it's nice to see him make them count.

Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers: In an Exhibit A as to the pitfalls of overrating early-season production, Ethier has been close to useless the past three months, and is batting a Brennan Boesch-esque .148 since the All-Star break. Fortunately, he's raked against Correia, going 8-for-15 (.533) with three walks, two doubles and a triple. Let's hope a strong performance Thursday helps him get back on track.

Seth Smith, OF, Rockies: With a .302 average and 14 home runs in 212 at-bats this season, there have been few platoon players more valuable than Smith. He's been quite consistent on a month-to-month basis, too, so even the Rockies' outfield crunch hasn't been enough to prevent him from receiving consistent at-bats against righties. Owned in just five percent of ESPN leagues, he's a great plug-and-play option Thursday against the right-handed James McDonald.

Pitchers' count:

Ty Wigginton, 1B/2B/3B, Orioles: Dan Haren hasn't been at his best this season, but he has held Wigginton to one single in 11 career at-bats. It's a bit of a risk to bench a hitter who's currently hitting the ball well (.880 OPS since the All-Star break), but it's not as if Haren is exactly a retread, either.

Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians: Choo has struck out an uncharacteristic three times in seven at-bats versus Daisuke Matsuzaka in his career, and has gone 1-for-4 with a strikeout in their meetings earlier in the season. The normally wild Matsuzaka has yet to allow a walk to Choo, either, diminishing chances for a stolen base. With Matsuzaka pitching well and the team around Choo falling apart, it's a more difficult matchup than it seems at first glance.

Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins: The second baseman has had trouble making contact versus Roy Oswalt, with just two hits compared to five strikeouts in 15 career at-bats. That's left him with a paltry .133 average, and while he's salvaged three walks out of it, that's not enough to save his fantasy appeal for the day.

Jayson Werth, OF, Phillies: Werth's meetings with Chris Volstad have been incredibly one-sided in Volstad's favor, with the pitcher striking the slugger out in half of his 14 at-bats. All Werth has been able to muster is a single, giving him a .071 batting average.

Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Mariners: Fifteen steals and 10 home runs have kept his value somewhat afloat, but Gutierrez has shown why he was considered a fourth outfielder as recently as a couple seasons ago. He is 17-for-107 (.159) since July 1 and has little shot of redeeming himself versus Tommy Hunter, against whom he's just 2-for-15 (.133).

Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day

Jim Thome, DH, Twins: Thome has needed just 93 combined at-bats to slug eight home runs in June and July, so even as a part-time designated hitter he has value. Considering he's 2-for-2 against Wade Davis this season, with both hits leaving the park, you can bet he'll be in the Twins' lineup, and hopefully yours as well.

Triage

Injury list: Out

Travis Hafner, DH, Indians (15-day DL, shoulder)

Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies (15-day DL, ankle): Team brass hopes Howard misses just the minimum, but acknowledge it could be a little longer than that.

Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Red Sox (15-day DL, thumb): His owners should brace to be without the slugger for the remainder of the year, as instead of just a sore thumb, Youkilis has been diagnosed with a torn muscle in his thumb.

Injury list: Day-to-day

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox (15-day DL, ribs; expected to return Wednesday)

Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies (ribs/hip): In a pleasant turn of events, Fowler will dodge the disabled list, and is expected to return Friday.

Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers (back)

Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays (foot): Although Pena is still questionable, he could return in time for the series against the Blue Jays, which is set to begin Friday.

Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B, Diamondbacks (head): Reynolds was hit in the head by a pitch Tuesday, but was able to joke about it after the game. It sounds like he might not be out for long.

Juan Uribe, 3B/SS/2B, Giants (hamstring)

Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Rays (back; probable)

Weather concerns

Weatherproof: Twins-Rays, Nationals-Diamondbacks and Rangers-Mariners.

Atlanta (Giants-Braves) is the only city where the risk of rain reaches 50 percent, and even that occurs a couple of hours before game time. There could be a few slick fields in Baltimore and Boston, but for the most part weather shouldn't be a problem.

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