Commentary

Lilly makes his return to the mound

Updated: April 23, 2010, 4:27 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Daily Notes

"Dude, I'm moving this weekend. I need you to come and help me." The truest test of any friendship is how you respond to this request. Nobody likes to spend his days off carrying heavy boxes and furniture, let alone those belonging to somebody else. Yet, if you care enough, you take one for the team and show up with a smile on your face. Saturday, we see the return of Ted Lilly to Chicago, back from arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder. Helping to get him settled back in the rotation, Carlos Zambrano has agreed to swallow his pride and move to the bullpen to accommodate. A similar situation could have played out Sunday, as Daisuke Matsuzaka is ready to retake the mound. Dice-K struggled with back and neck problems all spring, but went 2-0 with a 1.62 ERA in three Triple-A rehab starts. Although he is bumping veteran Tim Wakefield to the bullpen, it appears the move will be delayed until early next week, to keep the whole rotation on their regular number of days of rest. Still, as long as there's an elevator in the new building, both these staffs should turn out OK. The rest of the rankings for this weekend are below. Take a look now, because we rented these trucks for only half a day.

For starters: Saturday

Selected notes:

• Top of the Charts: Doug Fister has comparable stats so far in 2010 with Adam Wainwright, but we're not quite ready to anoint him as a No. 1 pick right now. The silver medal will have to do. Brett Anderson, who has a 15.0 K/9 rate against the Cleveland Indians, gets the bronze.

Clayton Kershaw has a 10.6 K/9 rate so far in 2010. That's a good reason to slot him ahead of Barry Zito, who despite recent successes, is 0-4 lifetime against the St. Louis Cardinals with a 5.54 ERA.

Ricky Romero climbs into the top 10 thanks to a 2.57 ERA against the Tampa Bay Rays, narrowly edging out Jair Jurrjens and his career 6-1 record against the Mets. It's not so much a dig on Jurrjens, but more a feeling that the Mets' bats are finally waking up after a long, long nap.

•Middle-of-the-road options include John Lackey, who excels against the Baltimore Orioles (8-3, 3.16 ERA), and Rich Harden, who owns a 3.47 ERA lifetime against the Detroit Tigers.

•As much as we love Joel Pineiro, it's best to be a bit cautious with a quick rematch with the New York Yankees and that potent lineup. However, he's still a better play than Wandy Rodriguez, who is only a .500 pitcher with a 4.60 ERA against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

•Streamers on alert: Luke Hochevar could be fine against the Minnesota Twins if he simply stays in the strike zone. He walked five batters in six innings against them earlier this season. Also, if you're in the need of a win, the run support for Nelson Figueroa, squaring off against Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks, should be there. Just be aware that the newest Phillies starter has an 8.68 ERA against the D-backs for his career.

•Thanks, but no thanks: Doug Davis, who was torched for six runs in only a little over three innings of work by the Chicago Cubs earlier this month; Aaron Cook and his 6.83 ERA facing the Florida Marlins; and Freddy Garcia, owner of not only a lonely heart, but also a 6.04 ERA versus the Seattle Mariners.

For starters: Sunday

Selected notes:

• Top of the Charts: John Danks may be a surprise No. 1 to some, but he's rocking a 9.0 K/9 ratio so far in 2010. And the Mariners, with five starters with double-digit strikeouts, are as free-swinging as they come. Brad Penny has been just as effective, only without the whiffs. His K/9 rate is a sad 4.2; otherwise, he might have wrested the top spot away from Danks.

Mike Pelfrey is hot, doing his best Johan Santana impersonation of late, so he enters our top 5 for Sunday, narrowly edging out David Price, who is unbeaten in three appearances against the Toronto Blue Jays.

•The pickings get slim quickly today, as it is more that we're down on pitchers like Jorge De La Rosa (2-4, 7.03 ERA versus the Marlins) and Chad Billingsley (7.07 ERA this year) than we're in love with guys like Jason Vargas and Clayton Richard. However, we should point out that Billingsley has a decent chance to win, based on his 3-0 lifetime mark against the Washington Nationals, combined with his opponent, Scott Olsen, posting an 0-3 career mark with a 7.30 ERA against the Dodgers.

•Middle-of-the-road options include Kevin Slowey, who has never lost to the Kansas City Royals (4-0, 3.30 ERA), and Brett Myers, who has a 2.64 ERA against the Pirates. Dave Bush is not always a coin toss, so it seems, but we're not thrilled with the career numbers versus the Cubs: a 2-8 record to go with a 5.01 ERA.

•Streamers on alert: Brandon Morrow has a lifetime ERA of 1.86 against the Rays. Gio Gonzalez has a decent track record against the weak-hitting Tribe, 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA. If you think Kyle Kendrick has another gem in him, be our guest. However, we're turned off by the 5.11 ERA against the Diamondbacks, in a great hitters' park.

•Thanks, but no thanks: Scott Kazmir has a 1.42 WHIP against the New York Yankees, and Charlie Morton is the subject of my sentence. What the predicate says, he does -- badly. He's 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA against the Astros.

Now batting

Hitters' count: Saturday

Milton Bradley, OF, Seattle Mariners: It's a whole new game when Bradley faces Freddy Garcia. He's got a 1.136 career OPS against him, to go along with a healthy.364 batting average.

Denard Span, OF, Minnesota Twins: He's a career.300 hitter against Luke Hochevar, which includes a 2-for-4 outing earlier this season. And that's without mentioning his seven-game hitting streak. Oops!

Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Texas Rangers: Not only is Vlad still hitting better than .300, but he also stole two bases Tuesday. He's 3-for-8 in his career against Dontrelle Willis, so perhaps that is what he is talking about?

Jason Giambi, 1B, Colorado Rockies: While he doesn't play every day, he has already received a few spot starts, and this matchup against Nate Robertson screams for another one. Giambi has a .538 lifetime batting average against him.

Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Houston Astros: Matsui has been pathetic at the plate this season, but he did hit .348 against the Pirates in 2009, and Triple-A call-up Kevin Hart isn't exactly a world-beater.

Nate McLouth, OF, Atlanta Braves: Streaky McLouth won a game with a home run already this week, and is 2-for-3 against Jonathon Niese. It's not much to go on, to be honest, but with McLouth, it doesn't take much for his fortunes to start to turn.

Pitchers' count: Saturday

Mark DeRosa, OF, San Francisco Giants: The way Adam Wainwright is pitching, it's hard to like anybody going up against him these days. DeRosa, however, is a combined 2-for-17 against Wainwright and closer Ryan Franklin.

Marco Scutaro, SS, Boston Red Sox: Scutaro is batting only .236 against the current Orioles pitching staff, which is far lower than most of his teammates. He's the "easy out" on this day.

Johnny Damon, OF, Detroit Tigers: Damon is only a .200 hitter against Rich Harden, which could well be the reason his current nine-game hitting streak, if it survives Friday's action, certainly won't go to 11.

Adam Kennedy, 2B, Washington Nationals: He went 1-for-9 against the Rockies and was even benched for a game in the series. His time in the starting lineup may well be short-lived from this point on.

Torii Hunter, OF, Los Angeles Angels: Hunter went 2-for-16 against the Tigers in a four-game set and now faces a longtime nemesis in Andy Pettitte. Hunter is batting a mere .229 against him lifetime.

Ryan Sweeney, OF, Oakland Athletics: Coming off a 1-for-9 series against the Yankees, Sweeney now faces Fausto Carmona, against whom he's never managed a base hit. The slump, it is indeed on.

Hitters' count: Sunday

Jorge Cantu, 1B, Florida Marlins: He's got a 16-game hitting streak going -- 20 if you include last season -- and a .429 batting average against fellow Jorge, Mr. De La Rosa. What's not to like here?

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, San Diego Padres: With two doubles and a "homer" in six career at-bats against Mr. Bailey of the Reds, Adrian Gonzalez is a solid candidate for finishing the weekend off with a bang.

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Red Sox: He hit .462 against the Orioles in 2009, so this series could not come at a better time for Beltre, who is currently wallowed in a 3-for-17 funk.

Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Cleveland Indians: Another hitter in need of a wake-up call -- 1-for-12 against the Twins -- Choo may get one against Gio Gonzalez, against whom he's slugging .800.

Ronnie Belliard, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers: He's batting .391 in limited action this season, so this would be a good series to get his bat in the lineup, especially Sunday. Belliard is 12-for-27 lifetime against the combo of Scott Olsen and Matt Capps.

Kelly Johnson, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks: Not only is Johnson coming off a series with the Cardinals in which he had five hits and raised his batting average 31 points, but he's a .313 lifetime hitter against Kyle Kendrick .

Pitchers' count: Sunday

Luis Castillo, 2B, New York Mets: In 12 at-bats against Tommy Hanson and Billy Wagner, Castillo has had nary a hit; therefore, he has nary a chance of being in fantasy lineups Sunday.

Corey Hart, OF, Milwaukee Brewers: Perennial disappointment Hart has a .245 batting average so far in 2010, and just a .222 lifetime mark against Randy Wells. The malaise continues.

Lyle Overbay, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: Maybe this is an exaggeration, but it seems Overbay's name has already been in Pitchers' count 20 times this season. He's batting only .119 on the year and with no hits against David Price, here he is again.

Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: Against Matt Cain, Matt's bat takes a holiday. He's batting just .188 (6-for-32) in his career against the Giants pitcher.

Nick Markakis, OF, Baltimore a: A career 0-for-12 against Dice-K makes Markakis a risky play today, even though he has hit .310 over the past week.

B.J. Upton, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: That brief power surge appears to have passed, and the steals have ceased as well. It's not that we don't believe in Upton's potential; it's just that it so rarely becomes more than that.

Baseball Challenge Picks of the Weekend

Saturday: Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies: Against right-handed Diamondbacks pitching, Howard is hitting .326 for his career. Ian Kennedy certainly falls into that exclusive category, and he's no gem himself on the mound. Expect the hits to rain like, well, rain.

Sunday: Alexei Ramirez, SS, Chicago White Sox: Ramirez was a .333 hitter last season against the Mariners, and should they bring in David Aardsma to close things out against Ramirez, it won't be an easy save. The "sexy one" is 3-for-5 against the so-called closer.

Triage

Injury list: Out

Carlos Guillen, OF, Tigers (15-day DL, left hamstring)

Jeff Weaver, RP, Dodgers (15-day DL, back strain)

Travis Buck, OF, Athletics (15-day DL, strained right oblique)

J.A. Happ, SP, Phillies (15-day DL, left forearm strain)

Jason Marquis, SP, Nationals (15-day DL, sore right elbow)

Mark Ellis, 2B, Athletics (15-day DL, left hamstring)

Ryota Igarashi, RP, Mets (15-day DL, left hamstring)

Jeff Mathis, C, Angels (15-day DL, fractured wrist)

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox (15-day DL, left chest contusion)

Mike Cameron, OF, Red Sox (15-day DL, sports hernia)

Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers (15-day DL, calf strain)

Injury list: Day-to-day

Andy LaRoche, 3B. Pirates (back spasms)

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals (hamstring)

Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers (strained right calf)

Weather concerns

Weatherproof games: Pirates at Astros, Cubs at Brewers, Phillies at Diamondbacks and Blue Jays at Rays. Wet is the word for the entire weekend, with rain in the forecast for Washington, Cincinnati, Chicago and Kansas City. Not to be left out, New York joins the possible tarps on display for Sunday.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can follow AJ on Twitter or e-mail him here.

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