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The old Ricky Nolasco is back.
The right-hander managed the second-best start of his career -- going by game score -- tossing eight shutout innings and limiting the Pirates to three hits and two walks while striking out 12 batters. It marked his third consecutive quality start and fifth in six turns after a brief demotion to the minors. The one outing in which he didn't register a quality start only failed to qualify because it was a rain-shortened game in which he limited the Red Sox to only a solo home run in a five-inning, complete-game victory.
Nolasco is 4-1 with a 1.54 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 45 strikeouts in 41 innings during those six starts, ranking him among the hottest pitchers in the game. It seems that the Marlins' assigning him to Triple-A New Orleans for two starts May 27 and June 1 was meant to serve as a wake-up call. Well, call received.
Here's the most encouraging part of Nolasco's hot streak: At no point during his 2008 breakout campaign did the right-hander have a six-start stretch with a sub-2.00 ERA, sub-1.00 WHIP and 45-plus K's; the closest he got was June 10-July 7 when his numbers in those categories were 1.81, 0.78 and 42.
Many fantasy owners kept the faith in Nolasco, whose early-season slump was partly fueled by some poor luck on batted balls in play. His ownership in ESPN leagues is back up to 82.9 percent, though, and certain to rise. With his strikeout potential, dominant hot streak and pitching-friendly home ballpark, Nolasco seems to have recaptured his must-start status for the remainder of the year.
Athletics acquire Scott Hairston
Looking to perhaps replace Ryan Sweeney and his .682 OPS in center field or Travis Buck and his .642 OPS in right, the Athletics picked up the underrated Scott Hairston in a trade with the Padres. San Diego acquired right-handers Craig Italiano and Ryan Webb, the former a struggling starter in Class A ball and the latter a reliever with a 4.34 ERA in Triple-A ball. It also landed another player to be named later.
It's a smart pickup for the Athletics, recognizing that in addition to his .893 career OPS versus left-handers, Hairston hits right-handers aptly, with a .274 batting average and .785 OPS against that side. He'll be at greater risk to sit against tough right-handers in Oakland than in San Diego, but the ballpark shift should be negligible -- both are pitchers' parks -- and he helps provide some much-needed power to a lineup that sorely needs it. AL-only owners should bid with confidence. Hairston's value should remain, as he was in San Diego, a strong AL-only and deep-mixed option.
As for the Padres, who didn't land anything of note in the trade, Hairston's departure opens up greater opportunity to three youngsters, Kyle Blanks, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Will Venable, not to mention Chase Headley, who is already getting fairly regular at-bats. Gwynn and Venable are more known for their speed, but can handle themselves as hitters. Blanks has huge power potential down the road. NL-only owners should track how they settle into the wide-open San Diego outfield in the coming days and consider each as a pickup accordingly.
• Brace yourselves, folks, because Joba Chamberlain's critics -- as well as critics of the Yankees' use of him -- inevitably came pouring out of the woodworks today. New York sports talk radio has its prime Monday topic after the right-hander posted the worst start of his 28-game big-league career Sunday. He was hammered for eight runs (three earned) on nine hits, two of them home runs, in 3 2/3 innings. The outing was especially disconcerting in that he seemed incapable of working around a Cody Ransom error in the fourth inning. Chamberlain needed 86 pitches to record eight outs, marking the fourth time in his past nine starts that he has failed to last more than four frames. His strikeout rate has actually dropped to an un-Joba-like 7.9 per nine innings, and his inability to work deep into games makes him a guy fantasy owners need to be more selective with.
• Here we go again, the Mets' offense deserted Johan Santana on Sunday. The left-hander tossed an admirable seven innings of two-run, three-hit baseball at Philadelphia, but was left on the wrong side of a 2-0 score. It's his fifth consecutive start in which the Mets have scored him three runs or fewer. To be fair, Santana hasn't seemed quite his usual self during that span, but he's falling into the same no-support trap he did around this time in 2008, which is troubling. In his 51-start Mets career, Santana's team has been shut out in two of his starts, scored one run eight times, two runs seven times and three runs six times. That means that in 45.1 percent of Santana's Mets starts, his team has been held to three runs or fewer.
• Matt Wieters went 3-for-3 and belted the third home run of his young career. Is there anyone out there still complaining about this guy's performance? He's batting .333 (22-for-66) with three home runs and nine RBIs in his past 19 games, and is on pace for 373 at-bats, a healthy amount of playing time for a rookie catcher.
• Randy Johnson left his scheduled start Sunday in the fourth inning with a strained left shoulder, and the San Jose Mercury News reports the left-hander was vague about his status afterward. "I'm going to make this short," he said. "Right now it's a strain and I'm going for an MRI tomorrow. That's all I'm going to say." With the All-Star break coming up in a week, the Giants might opt to skip Johnson's next turn on Friday, and bump him to the back of their rotation to begin the second half to give him some much-needed rest.
• Could it be that Jimmy Rollins is finally snapping out of his season-long funk? He went 2-for-3 with a home run as the Phillies completed their sweep of the Mets, during which he was 5-for-11 (.455 BA) with three doubles, five RBIs and three walks. Rollins tends to get pumped up in games against his bitter rivals, and with his strong second-half history, maybe there's something to this brief hot spell.
• The Rangers announced after Sunday's game that they would activate Josh Hamilton from the disabled list on Monday, while demoting Chris Davis to Triple-A Oklahoma. That'll thrust Hank Blalock into the everyday role at first base, weakening the team's defense. The Rangers felt Davis, who was batting .201 and had struck out 113 times, needed more minor league seasoning. Davis and top prospect Justin Smoak presumably will rotate the first-base and designated-hitter duties for Oklahoma, battling for the honor of first called up.
Derek Jeter, Yankees
New Yankee Stadium might seem to favor left-handed hitters more than right-handers, but as Jeter's power does tend to play toward right field, it makes sense that he hit his 10th home run of 2009 on July 5. Not once in the past three seasons did Jeter hit homer No. 10 before Aug. 14, and he's now on pace for 21 homers, which would be his most since 2004 (23).
Roy Oswalt, Astros
For the third consecutive start and fourth time in his past five turns, Oswalt turned in a quality-start effort, limiting the Giants to one run on three hits in his eight innings of work. With the performance, his season ERA is down to 3.81, the lowest it has been at the conclusion of any of his starts all year, and he's now on pace for 178 K's, which would be the most he has had in a season since 2005.
With his 0-for-4 performance, Ian Kinsler extended his hitless streak to 21 at-bats, the longest such dry spell of his career. It's poor timing for the No. 20 fantasy player overall because he's one of five players up for the "Final Vote" for the American League All-Star team. Kinsler's batting average has dropped from .274 to .256 during his slump.
• The Dodgers placed Eric Milton on the 15-day DL with a thoracic back injury that manager Joe Torre told the team's official Web site "never went away." With Milton on the shelf, Jeff Weaver is the leading candidate to assume the open rotation spot that next arrives on Saturday. The team promoted Blake DeWitt from Triple-A Albuquerque to strengthen the bench in the short term.
• Henry Blanco joined Nick Hundley on the 15-day DL for the Padres, as the backup catcher has a strained hamstring that now leaves the team hamstrung at the position. Eliezer Alfonzo will serve as the team's primary catcher for now, and the Padres purchased Jose Lobaton's contract from Triple-A Portland, for which he was batting .241 with an underwhelming .645 OPS. Lobaton actually made his major league debut as a second baseman on Sunday, coming on to replace an injured David Eckstein, an oddity seeing as every one of his 342 career minor league games played in the field came behind the plate. Sadly, even if your league has a one-game position requirement, the appearance will be of no help in fantasy.
• With Ervin Santana back in the Los Angeles rotation, the Angels were free to demote Sean O'Sullivan to Triple-A Salt Lake, at least, that is, until Santana gets hurt again. O'Sullivan was 2-0 with a 3.80 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in his four stand-in starts. If he continues to perform in Triple-A, he'll remain next in line for any potential rotation openings. Reggie Willits was recalled to fill his roster spot.
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Keith Law: Liked his bat, didn't see him playing anywhere but first base. Considering how bad his defense in right is, I wouldn't exactly say I got that wrong.
-- Full chat transcript
Jason Grey: I'm betting it's eventually Milledge, McCutchen, and a battle between Young and Moss in right field. I prefer Young as the better player, but Russell seems to have an affection for Moss. Not sure Garrett Jones sticks, as he is limited to LF, which is where Milledge needs to play.
-- Full chat transcript
Monday's fantasy chat schedule:
AJ Mass, 11 a.m. ET
Tristan H. Cockcroft, 3 p.m. ET
• Kyle Kendrick tossed eight shutout innings for Triple-A Lehigh Valley for the team's first win since May 27, allowing six hits and one walk while striking out three. He's 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in his past nine starts, but was bypassed by Rodrigo Lopez this week as a rotation candidate for the Phillies (who had considered Carlos Carrasco ahead of Kendrick initially). Kendrick might get another look with the team if there's a future opening, but his low strikeout rate and the Phillies' bandbox ballpark continue to make him a weak fantasy choice. Amazingly, during his nine-start hot streak, he has but 19 K's.
• Jonathon Niese registered his sixth consecutive quality start for Triple-A Buffalo, and this was his most impressive effort of all of them, a five-hit shutout including 10 strikeouts. He's 4-1 with a 1.04 ERA and 0.92 WHIP during the streak, which might be enough to put him in consideration for a rotation spot with the Mets in the near future, but the Mets will turn to Oliver Perez instead this week. That might signal that Niese could be a trade candidate with a better chance at a rotation spot on a different team.
• The Cubs will welcome back a key part of their offense as Aramis Ramirez returns from the disabled list in time for Monday's game against Atlanta. He might need a few games to get back his timing back, but was 3-for-6 with one double and three walks during a rehabilitation stint with Class A Peoria. The Chicago Tribune reports that he will immediately reclaim his cleanup spot in the lineup.
• Mike Hampton will face the Pirates for the fourth time this year, and in the first three turns against them he notched three of his four wins for the season. He has a 0.90 ERA and 0.70 WHIP in those three wins, bringing his career record versus Pittsburgh to 13-3 with a 2.24 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 25 games (19 starts).