Updated: June 26, 2009, 3:12 PM ET

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AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

John Smoltz's Red Sox debut got off to a rough start, but he finished strong against the Nationals.

Positives to take from Smoltz's Sox debut
No panic button here.

So John Smoltz's first start of 2009 -- and first since major shoulder surgery -- was entirely forgettable. Pitching against the Nationals, baseball's worst team, he surrendered five runs on seven hits in five innings.

So what?

That Smoltz was able to make it back to the mound at all is nothing short of remarkable, and asking him to dominate an outing after throwing his first pitch of the season was a bit much. You don't pick up boom/bust types like him expecting immediate greatness. Adding Smoltz is a speculative move in the hopes that with a couple turns to recapture his bearings, he'll be ready to carry you to a league title.

Here's a thought: Smoltz hasn't exactly been a great "first-impression guy" this decade. If you go back through his 2001-08 game logs, and sum up his numbers from his first appearances of those seasons, here's what you'll get:

7.88 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, .340 BAA, 5 HRs in 100 ABs

Five of thoseseason debuts were starts, three were relief appearances, and to toss a little more from the "slow-starting" angle into the mix, in Smoltz's second appearance of 2002, he had a miserable stat line of six hits, two walks and eight earned runs allowed in two-thirds of an inning. Sure enough, upon the conclusion of each of those eight seasons, Smoltz never had an ERA north of 3.49 or a WHIP higher than 1.19, and if you exclude his "first appearances" he had a 2.92 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and .237 BAA in every other game he pitched from 2001-08.

Sure sounds like your classic "slow starter," doesn't it?

Oh, and by the way, for those who point out Smoltz's currently risky nature because of his recovery from major surgery, let me point out that in 2001, when he was in a similar situation, he had a dreadful first game … and was fine thereafter. It's a risk you take, but seeing as his price tag is probably at the lowest point it has been his entire career, it's not like it's a potentially damaging level of risk.

Another point in Smoltz's defense: He retired each of the final eight hitters he faced, striking out the final three, improving deeper into the outing.

Smoltz, upon the conclusion of his start, was owned in 30.9 percent of ESPN leagues, and that number might dwindle upon news of his performance. Call me crazy, but I think this is the perfect time to pounce on an upside play (on an elite team no less).

Previous editions: June 26: Ohio teams struggling | June 25: Miller silences O's

News, Notes and Box Score Bits
• Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has been trying everything to snap Jimmy Rollins out of his season-long funk, and his latest strategy, according to the team's official Web site, is to bench the former MVP for at least two games. "I'm going to give Jimmy a rest," Manuel said. "I want him to kind of get away. I told him if he didn't want to, he doesn't have to take [batting practice]. I want him just to get away for a couple days and sit and watch and hopefully just relax." Rollins was batting .125 (7-for-56) in 13 games since being dropped to sixth in the lineup for two games, a move to which, at the time, Rollins commented, "I can't get up as much for the game when I'm not leadoff," according to Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia. Sounds like clearing his head might be the perfect recipe, and while Rollins' chances at getting even close to his former MVP form are declining by the day, it bears noting he was a .301 hitter with an .868 OPS after the All-Star break from 2004-08.

Eric Byrnes will miss 4-8 weeks after suffering a broken left hand, as Scott Feldman hit him with a pitch on Thursday. He'll need surgery to repair a fractured fifth metacarpal. With Byrnes sidelined for a while, the team will presumably use Gerardo Parra regularly in left field and Chris Young (once completely healthy) in center, perhaps shifting Ryan Roberts to the fourth-outfielder role. Parra might seem the obvious pickup, but he's a .213 hitter (17-for-80) in 20 June games with mostly matchups appeal. There might be more useful matchups if he's in the lineup more regularly.

• The Cubs really need to find creative ways to get Jake Fox into their lineup more regularly once they return to National League play. A .409 hitter with 17 home runs in 45 games for Triple-A Iowa to begin the season, Fox is batting .353 in 16 games for the Cubs after going 3-for-4 and hitting his first career home run on Thursday, serving as the team's designated hitter. He has three starts at third base, and the Cubs have been working on getting him acclimated there. They can also consider him in the outfield. Let's hope this big-time sleeper get more looks going forward.

Joey Votto hit his first home run since returning from the disabled list, and went 4-for-5 adding a double and three RBIs in his first big game all week. Maybe that's the start of a massive hot streak, much like the one he had early in the year. Votto, who lacks any disconcerting platoon splits (left/right or home/road), remains one of the more underrated young sluggers in the game.

• Overshadowed by the aforementioned Smoltz story in that Red Sox-Nationals game was the performance of the veteran's counterpart, Jordan Zimmermann. Exactly two years and two months old on the date of Smoltz's major league debut, Zimmermann outpitched the man 19 years his senior on Thursday, winning behind seven innings of one-run, five-hit, six-strikeout baseball. Defeating Boston is no small feat, nor is the fact that through his first 12 career starts the right-hander has 69 strikeouts compared to 20 walks in 69 2/3 innings. That is exceptional command for a pitcher with his level of experience. Maybe his value will be limited by his terrible team all year, but there's a lot to like about this kid in the long haul.

Ben Zobrist continues to pile up the fantasy numbers, with a 2-for-4 performance that included his 16th homer of the season. Just because it's a fun little stat-related fact, if he remains on pace for 469 at-bats and you expect, say, final numbers of a .280 batting average, 25 home runs and 90 RBIs from him (but no better), that would mean from today forward he would bat .272 with nine homers and 46 RBIs. Seems a tad low, no? He's certainly looking for real.

• Boy, how disastrous might it have been had Derek Lowe signed with an American League East team this past winter? He has been rocked in two of his past three starts, the three coming against the Orioles, Red Sox and Yankees, and has a 12.34 ERA and 2.83 WHIP during that span. Fortunately, he had a 7-3 record, 3.44 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 13 starts before that, and with the Braves returning to NL play next week, don't press the panic button on Lowe … yet.


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Player Spotlight

Hitter of the night
Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
About time this guy had a game like this, a 3-for-5, four-RBI performance in which he hit a home run over the center-field wall off sinkerballer Derek Lowe. But now the question is: Which game of the Subway Series will he sit? After all, we already know he's scheduled for one game off per week.


Pitcher of the night
Cliff Lee, Indians
It's amazing the impact a pitcher's team can have on his perceived fantasy value. For the 13th time in his past 14 starts, Lee registered a quality start. He has a 2.23 ERA and 1.19 WHIP during that 14 game hot streak … but merely a 4-4 record. Lee's numbers are edging ever closer to those of his 2008 Cy Young season, except in one category, wins. He's on pace for nine, after winning 22 last season.


Stat of the night: 10
Hard to believe, but Jason Isringhausen, who had Tommy John surgery on Tuesday, has now had 10 different surgeries in his 14-year big-league -- and 18-year professional -- career. He's out for the season, and might be done for his career, but the right-hander told the Rays' official Web site that he'll attempt a comeback nonetheless. It's his second career Tommy John surgery.
Notable Transactions
• On Thursday, one day after Pirates GM Neal Huntington told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the right-hander would get one more turn in the rotation, Ian Snell was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis, in a decision the pitcher told the Pirates' official Web site was all his own. Huntington wouldn't confirm the decision was solely Snell's, but at any rate, Snell will spend a few weeks there "to get my thoughts together." Virgil Vasquez, 5-2 with a 4.18 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 14 starts for Indianapolis, will be recalled to assume Snell's spot in the rotation, either directly on Sunday or on Friday, with Charlie Morton bumping back to Sunday.

• The Mariners placed Yuniesky Betancourt on the 15-day disabled list with a lower hamstring strain, one that manager Don Wakamatsu told the team's official Web site is different from the one he had during spring training. Jose Lopez was activated from the bereavement list to take Betancourt's roster spot, and the impact on the lineup is obvious. Ronny Cedeno will simply shift from second base, where he had been spelling Lopez, to shortstop to stand in for Betancourt.

• There's hope for you yet, Brad Lidge owners. The closer, fresh off two strong rehabilitation outings that drew raves in the minors, was activated from the DL on Thursday, the team optioning Sergio Escalona to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to clear a roster spot. "I feel real good again," Lidge told the Phillies' official Web site. "Nothing hurts." Though he wasn't needed Thursday, the right-hander should be ready to close the next time the Phillies need him, and is worth activating in all formats.

Denard Span was activated from the DL, and served as the Twins' starting center fielder and leadoff hitter on Thursday, going 1-for-2 with a triple, three walks and three runs scored. Noted for his on-base skills, Span should go back to being an underrated source of stolen bases and runs scored in AL-only and deeper mixed formats. Jason Pridie was demoted to Triple-A Rochester in a corresponding move.

• The Cubs placed Reed Johnson on the 15-day DL with lower back spasms, and activated Ryan Freel from the DL to take his place. Johnson was primarily a platoon option, who started mostly against left-handers. His past three starts were against that side, but he started only three of the team's past four against a southpaw. Freel should assume that role in his place. Problem is, Johnson is more skilled than Freel against lefties, with an .839 career OPS versus that side; Freel's is .727.

Click here for all of the latest MLB transactions.

They Said It

Brody (MN): With [Matt] LaPorta now primarily playing 1B in the minors, does he have a quicker route to the bigs? Seems like it would be easier to unseed Garko than one of the OFs (Sizemore, Choo, DeRosa).

AJ Mass: I think this is actually in preparation for a trade of V-Mart later this season -- just my guess.
-- Full chat transcript


Jon (SD): Jason, from a scout's perspective, please rank for this year only: Jordan Zimmermann, Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, Brian Tallet, Scott Richmond. Thanks!

Jason Grey: Cahill, Zimmermann, Richmond, Mazzaro, Tallet. Ask me tomorrow and I might rank the top four differently, but that's where I am at right now. Don't sleep on Richmond, especially as that slider has been nasty on same side batters. They're all very close in the first four, and I can make an argument for any of them.
-- Full chat transcript
Friday's fantasy chat schedule:
Stephania Bell, 11 a.m. ET
Christopher Harris, 3 p.m. ET

On The Farm
• Though rarely talked about these days as a candidate for future Mets' rotation openings, Jonathon Niese has been making his case to crack the big-league roster at some point in the near future. He won his third consecutive start for Triple-A Buffalo, going six innings and allowing one run on six hits while striking out six. He has a 0.44 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 21 K's in 20 1/3 innings in his past three turns. He's generating ground balls (1.74:1 ground out-to-air out ratio), and has a strong strikeout rate (8.5 per nine innings). He shouldn't be entirely discarded because at 22 years old, Niese still has plenty of time to carve out a career as No. 3 or 4 starter.

• Remember when Kyle Davies tossed that seven-shutout-inning, three-hit, eight-strikeout masterpiece at Chicago in his first start of the season? Well, it has been a treacherous journey for him since, culminating in his recent demotion to Triple-A Omaha … in which, naturally, he dominated in his first start. He tossed eight shutout innings, and had the same three hits and eight strikeouts like his 2009 big-league debut. He did do it against a Memphis team that ranks among the weaker offenses in the Pacific Coast League. Still, it's a good first step toward a brief stint in the minors for Davies, one of the streakier pitchers in the game.

• Kevin Pucetas had another strong outing for Triple-A Fresno, going seven innings and allowing only one run on seven hits. He has seven quality starts in his past nine tries, and for the season, is 7-2 with a 3.41 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 15 starts. With talk that Jonathan Sanchez's rotation spot might be in jeopardy, Pucetas might get a look with the Giants in the near future. NL-only owners won't want to activate him immediately upon his promotion, but Pucetas is worth a speculative pickup if you're allowed a deep enough bench to do it.

Looking Ahead
• A few of those "traditional rivalries" are rekindled beginning on Friday, like the much-ballyhooed "Subway Series," but one of the better ones to watch is actually the "Citrus Series" matchup between the Marlins and Rays in Tampa Bay. That one pits right-handed aces Josh Johnson and James Shields against each other. The matchup might seem to favor Shields, who owns a 24-10 record and 3.21 ERA in 52 career starts at home, but it's this stat from Adam Madison regarding Johnson that has me intrigued: "Compile his toughest matchups this season -- the Phillies, Rays, Blue Jays and Yankees, as well as a start against the Rockies in Coors Field -- and the result is a 1.89 ERA in 38 innings, an impressive feat."

• The "Subway Series" matchup isn't anything to sneeze at, but it's most important from the perspective of it being CC Sabathia's first start since leaving his previous turn with biceps tightness. On talent alone he's a must-play, putting aside the risk, but his owners also need to monitor his health in his return to the rotation.

Josh Beckett, who has been practically unhittable in five of his past six starts, going 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and .176 batting average allowed during that span, visits a familiar venue from his Marlins days, Turner Field. Though only 3-3 in his seven career starts there, he has been nothing short of dominant in those games, with a 1.62 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 46 K's in 44 1/3 innings.