Four pitchers will be making their first starts of 2009 on Wednesday, a group that includes Micah Owings (the Diamondback-turned-Red noted for his hitting exploits), Andrew Miller (a 2006 first-rounder who disappointed in his first season in Florida in 2008) and Aaron Laffey (who will stand in for the injured Scott Lewis in the Indians' rotation).
But it's top-25 (in the preseason) starting pitcher Scott Baker who will garner the most attention of the quartet, as he returns from his shoulder injury five days after an impressive rehabilitation start in Class A ball. He'll battle the Blue Jays in his 2009 debut as the Twins attempt to rebound from their recent funk.
Note: Tuesday's White Sox-Tigers postponement does not affect Wednesday's starters in that series; Tuesday starter John Danks will pitch for the White Sox on Thursday, while Rick Porcello will pitch for the Tigers on Sunday, bumping Zach Miner to the bullpen for a turn. The Wednesday matchup remains Jose Contreras versus Armando Galarraga.
Starting pitcher rankings for Wednesday, April 15 (*all stats listed are from 2008)
Rk.: the author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. Record: pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning. K/9: pitcher's average number of strikeouts per nine innings. OPSA: pitcher's on-base plus slugging percentage surrendered to opponents. OPS: pitcher's opponent's composite team on-base plus slugging percentage. CT%: pitcher's opponent's success rate putting the ball in play (versus striking out).
Selected notes: Tim Wakefield's command was spotty in his 2009 debut (6 innings pitched, 5 walks), and while McAfee Coliseum is widely considered to be a pitchers' park, be aware that he has served up 15 home runs in 16 career starts there. He's AL-only worthy, but be cautious with your expectations. Andy Pettitte is 8-2 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 12 career starts at Tropicana Field, although one of the losses came in his two turns there in 2008 and he had a 2.00 WHIP in those two starts. If you believe, judging from his first start of 2009, that the "old" Pettitte is back -- and I lean more toward that side of the argument -- he's a worthy fantasy option. Although Scott Baker gives the Twins a fighting chance that R.A. Dickey might not have, Baker will be facing a team that had scored 54 runs in eight games through Monday, and he's fresh off the disabled list. It probably is smarter to keep him reserved to see how he fares his first start back, as the original plan had Baker getting another rehab start in the minors instead of being plugged back into the big league rotation. Before you hop on the Aaron Laffey bandwagon, noting his 2-0 record and 2.45 ERA in two career starts at Kauffman Stadium, consider that he originally fell short in the race to be the fifth starter of an only so-so rotation and was pummeled in his first start for Triple-A Columbus (3 1/3 innings pitched, 6 hits, 5 earned runs). Amazingly, Andrew Miller is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in two career starts at Turner Field. That he's battling red-hot Derek Lowe keeps his fantasy appeal low, but owners in deep NL-only formats can keep his track record in mind. In four starts against the Reds in 2008, Braden Looper was 2-1 with a 3.10 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. He also pitched effectively enough in his 2009 debut that it's safe to overlook his 6.16 career ERA at Miller Park (13 games). Looper's opponent, Micah Owings, was pounded in his only two previous career starts at Miller Park, amassing an 8.00 ERA, 1.89 WHIP and two home runs allowed. Matt Cain has never beaten the Dodgers in 11 career starts, but he did hold them in check in six meetings in 2008, during which time he had a 2.79 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.
• Carlos Guillen, 1B/3B, Tigers: 16-for-40 (.400 batting average) with three home runs and 10 walks in his career against Contreras
• Travis Hafner, DH, Indians: Off to a hot start and 3-for-5 (.600) with a home run and two walks lifetime against Sidney Ponson
• Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs: 14-for-30 (.467) with four home runs in his career versus former teammate Jason Marquis
• Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays: In a rare instance of lefty-versus-lefty domination, Pena is 9-for-27 (.333) with two home runs and two triples lifetime versus Andy Pettitte
• Hideki Matsui, OF, Yankees: 3-for-10 (.300), with two home runs and one double versus Sonnastine.
• Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels: 11-for-29 (.379) with three doubles and three home runs in his career against Jarrod Washburn.
• Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers: In one of the most impressive hitter-versus-pitcher matchups in all of baseball, Ethier is 16-for-27 (.593) lifetime versus Matt Cain.
• Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers: Although he hasn't homered off Jose Contreras, Cabrera is 7-for-10 (.700) with three walks in his career against the right-hander, making him a solid play in salary cap games.
• David Wright, 3B, Mets: Small sample size or not, it's tough to overlook his 5-for-6 (.833), two-homer, two-double career performance versus Kevin Correia.
• Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins: 8-for-14 (.571) with four doubles and three walks versus Lowe
• Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs: 9-for-21 (.429) with two homers against Marquis
• Jason Giambi, 1B, Athletics: He and Tim Wakefield know each other well, and Wakefield has won most of their meetings; Giambi is 15-for-92 (.163) with 21 strikeouts lifetime against the knuckleballer, albeit with four homers and 19 walks
• Eric Byrnes, OF, Diamondbacks: Bob Melvin has no reason to wedge him into that packed outfield, as Byrnes is 1-for-14 (.073) lifetime against Joel Pineiro
• Conor Jackson, 1B/OF, Diamondbacks: He's 0-for-7 with two strikeouts in his career against Pineiro, but Melvin probably should still play him over Byrnes
• Akinori Iwamura, 2B, Rays: 3-for-21 (.143) with seven strikeouts lifetime against Andy Pettitte
• Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees: Hitless in nine career at-bats versus Andy Sonnanstine
• Lastings Milledge, OF, Nationals: Besides having Elijah Dukes pressing him for at-bats, Milledge is 1-for-8 (.125) lifetime against Joe Blanton
• Hank Blalock, 1B/3B, Rangers: 0-for-6 in his career against Mark Hendrickson, and banged up, as you'll see below
• Jay Bruce, OF, Reds: 1-for-10 (.100) with five strikeouts versus Braden Looper
• Adrian Beltre, 3B, Mariners: 6-for-27 (.222) with two extra-base hits, both doubles, and seven strikeouts lifetime versus Jered Weaver
• Chone Figgins, 3B, Angels: 3-for-26 (.115) without an extra-base hit plus seven strikeouts in his career against ex-teammate Jarrod Washburn
• Bobby Abreu, OF, Angels: 1-for-16 (.063) with five strikeouts versus Washburn
• Orlando Hudson, 2B, Dodgers: 0-for-18 in his career against Matt Cain
If you're hardcore
Deep inside the matchups
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• Aaron Miles, 2B/SS, Cubs: Might pick up his second start of the season thanks to his 6-for-13 (.462) career performance versus Jason Marquis
• Matt Diaz, OF, Braves: Had four starts in the Braves' first six games and is 2-for-6 with a home run in his career against left-hander Andrew Miller
• Omar Vizquel, SS, Rangers: If the Rangers want to give Elvis Andrus a rest, Wednesday would be the perfect time; Vizquel is 7-for-15 (.467) in his career against Mark Hendrickson, with five doubles and two walks.
• Kenji Johjima, C, Mariners: 10-for-27 (.370) with two doubles and two walks lifetime versus Jered Weaver
• Robb Quinlan, 1B/3B, Angels: Mike Scioscia has said he wants to get Quinlan some playing time, and Wednesday would be ideal (over Chone Figgins?), as Quinlan is 10-for-24 (.417) with a home run in his career against Jarrod Washburn.
• Willy Aybar, 3B, Rays: With Evan Longoria out of the lineup, Aybar will likely get the start today and Thursday.
Injury list: Out
• Milton Bradley, OF, Cubs (groin): Cubs say he's probably out until the weekend
• Willie Harris, OF, Nationals (oblique, 15-day DL)
• Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays (Personal): Will miss Wednesday's and Thursday's games due to personal matters.
• Jed Lowrie, SS/3B, Red Sox (wrist, 15-day DL)
• Dewayne Wise, OF, White Sox (shoulder): Likely out six weeks
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Hank Blalock, 1B/3B, Rangers (neck)
• Jorge Cantu, 1B/3B, Marlins (hand): Was expected back Tuesday
• Eric Chavez, 3B, Athletics (shoulder): Might sit until the weekend
• Chris Getz, 2B, White Sox (elbow): Expected back Wednesday
• Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals (hip): Was expected back Tuesday
• Cristian Guzman, SS, Nationals (hamstring)
• Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies (hamstring)
• Andy LaRoche, 3B, Pirates (back)
• Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Astros (back)
• Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles (hamstring): Aggravation of a previous WBC injury
• Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs (back)
• Geovany Soto, C, Cubs (shoulder): Expected back Wednesday
• Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners (ulcer): Says he'll be activated Wednesday
• Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees (wrist): Was expected back Tuesday
• Weatherproof games for Wednesday: Cardinals-Diamondbacks, Yankees-Rays, Reds-Brewers, Blue Jays-Twins and Angels-Mariners.
• There is an 80 percent chance of rain with winds of 13-15 mph during the day in Washington, and a 30 percent chance of rain at night, perhaps threatening Phillies-Nationals.
• Rain might be a problem in New York for Padres-Mets, as there is a 60 percent chance during the day and 20 percent chance at night. It's a night game, so it probably will get squeezed in, but prepare for potential delays and 16 mph winds.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here.