Beckett to make return Friday


Josh Beckett returns to the Boston Red Sox rotation, his first action since straining his back on a wet mound in May. Expect the team to keep Beckett's pitch count in the 80-to-90 range, putting a ceiling on his fantasy usefulness Friday. Given his lifetime mark against the Seattle Mariners (4-1, 3.15 ERA), though, his performance will be a pretty good indication of whether to hop on his hopefully healed back for the rest of the season. The complete Friday ranks are as follows:

For starters

Starting pitcher rankings for July 23

Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. Opp: The pitcher's opponent for the day. Rating: The starting pitcher's matchup rating -- separate from the author's ranking -- which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. W-L: Pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: Pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: Pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning.

Selected notes:

At the top: Johan Santana has never lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers and has an impressive 0.44 ERA against them. He gets the nod over Roy Halladay, who has been successful in his own right against the Colorado Rockies -- 1-0, 1.17 ERA -- but could have a rain-shortened outing throw a monkey wrench into the works.

C.J. Wilson has a poor track record facing the Los Angeles Angels -- 1-3, 5.27 ERA -- but throw out a disastrous May outing and the numbers aren't that bad. Besides, a little run support is all he usually needs. In three of his losses, the Texas Rangers have scored a single run. Joe Saunders and his 7.19 ERA against the Rangers should oblige.

The weakest slate we've seen in some time paradoxically sees high rankings for Shaun Marcum and his 5.28 ERA versus the Detroit Tigers; Jeff Niemann, with a 4.91 ERA in two no-decisions against the Cleveland Indians; and then there's Randy Wells. Not only does he have a 10.13 career ERA against the St. Louis Cardinals, he didn't even retire a batter against them in a May 28 start, allowing five runs.

Best of the rest: Jonathan Sanchez is 5-6 lifetime against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he did scrape out a minimum-effort win with five solid innings against them earlier this season. Trevor Cahill has nothing but "ND" next to his name against the Chicago White Sox to go along with a 4.30 ERA in three career starts. Vicente Padilla would be ranked far higher based on his past successes facing the New York Mets -- 10-3 overall -- save for the fact he has to mess with the Johan.

Streamers on alert: Fausto Carmona is 3-1 against the Tampa Bay Rays but brings with him a 5.52 career ERA. However, he is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA facing the Rays in two starts so far this season. Travis Wood certainly has pitched well enough to win in his four outings this season, and yet, even with one of those being a one-hitter for nine full innings, he has yet to taste victory.

Stay away: Mark Buehrle and the Oakland Athletics just don't seem to mix, as evidenced by the 3-12 lifetime mark. Brian Bannister sports an ugly 15.07 ERA against the New York Yankees. Aaron Cook's 1-5 against the Philadelphia Phillies and a 5.70 ERA is reason enough to steer clear Friday.

Nick Blackburn was originally scheduled to start Friday, but the Minnesota Twins have demoted him to the bullpen -- temporarily, they say -- and inserted left-hander Brian Duensing in his stead. Expect a maximum of five innings for Duensing.

Hitter matchup ratings for July 23

Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. "LHB" and "RHB" ratings account only for left- and right-handed batters, respectively.

Hitters' count:

Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees: A-Rod could inch even closer to No. 600, as he's had three homers in seven at-bats against Brian Bannister.

Orlando Cabrera, SS, Reds: The shortstop has managed a .318 batting average in the second half and was 2-for-3 against Bud Norris in their prior faceoff in April.

Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays: Going out with a bang, perhaps? Bautista is a hot topic of trade rumors, and his 3-for-5 against Rick Porcello may be a springboard to showing off for the scouts.

Nyjer Morgan, OF, Nationals: He's hit .304 since the break ended, nearly 50 points higher than his season-to-date average. Get him while he's hot.

Erik Kratz, C, Pirates: With Ryan Doumit still suffering the aftereffects of a home plate collision, the not-so-young Kratz likely gets plenty of at-bats during the next few days.

Pitchers' count:

Casey Blake, 3B, Dodgers: Blake is hitting just .179 in July and has 19 career strikeouts against Johan Santana. Nothing to see here, move along.

Michael Bourn, OF, Astros: How bad has Bourn been in July? A .190 batting average bad. At least the .235 average against the Reds since 2007 is slightly better.

Marco Scutaro, SS, Red Sox: Scutaro is hitting only .196 against the current Mariners staff and has hit almost 70 points lower this month than in June.

Ryan Spilborghs, OF, Rockies: Batting .200 in the second half of the season thus far, Spilborghs is not going to snap out of it against right-hander Roy Halladay, if he gets to swing the bat at all.

Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves: Katy Perry should write a song about him: "He plays then he's out. He hits then he slumps." The end is nigh for Larry, hitting just .220 this month.

Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day

Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs: Lee is hitting .419 so far in the second half and has six career home runs to go along with a .529 on-base percentage against Jeff Suppan.


Injury list: Out

Jamie Moyer, P, Phillies (15-day DL, elbow)
David Eckstein, 2B, Padres (15-day DL, calf strain)
Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers (15-day DL, calf strain)
Dustin Nippert, P, Rangers (15-day DL, head injury)
Brandon Inge, 3B, Tigers (15-day DL, left hand fracture)
Andy Pettitte, P, Yankees (15-day DL, left groin strain)
Scott Kazmir, P, Angels (15-day DL, strained left shoulder)
Ryan Sweeney, OF, Athletics (15-day DL, tendinitis)
Damaso Marte, P, Yankees (15-day DL, sore left shoulder)
Kerry Wood, P, Indians (15-day DL, blister)
Brian Moehler, P, Astros (15-day DL, strained right groin)

Injury list: Day-to-day

Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies (bruised finger)
Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates (dizziness)
Rob Johnson, C, Mariners (hip)
Fred Lewis, OF, Blue Jays (ankle)
Scott Rolen, 3B, Reds (hamstring)

Weather concerns

Weatherproof games: Reds at Astros, Nationals at Brewers, Giants at Diamondbacks and Red Sox at Mariners. It's going to be a wet one! Rain is in the Friday forecast for Chicago, Detroit, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Miami.

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.