John Cordes/Icon SMI
It's not how you start the season, but how you finish.
For the second season in a row, the Los Angeles Angels' John Lackey started the season on the disabled list. But unlike last year, when he had a rough ending to the season by posting a 4.99 ERA after the break, Lackey has done his best pitching down the stretch.
After firing a five-hit shutout at the Mariners on Thursday, walking one and striking out seven, Lackey has a 2.29 ERA and a WHIP just over one in 11 starts since the All-Star break, after entering it with an ERA barely under five.
It's the kind of performance that is going to get the free agent-to-be paid big money this offseason, even with the injury issues of the past two years, especially since his velocity has not suffered because of them. Lackey's putting up numbers on the radar gun as well as he ever has, hitting 93-94 mph consistently, which is a good sign that he can remain strong down the stretch. The snap on his curve, which wasn't always there in the first half, is back with a vengeance.
"I've been feeling good, seriously, probably a couple months now," Lackey told the team Web site after the game, and he's allowed just one earned run in his past 26 innings, peaking at just the right time for fantasy playoffs.
• Roy Oswalt had his worst outing of the season, giving up 11 base runners and six runs in just two innings against the Atlanta Braves, one start after pulling himself from the game due to back spasms. On top of that, he'd been feeling under the weather with flu symptoms. The back problems may have prevented him from working down in the strike zone as he usually does, and given their persistence, it's going to be tough to count on him down the stretch.
• Eric Young Jr. appears to be earning himself more playing time for the Colorado Rockies, as he has produced when given starts the past three games. After homering and doubling Tuesday, and recording another hit Wednesday, E.Y. Jr. had two more knocks and recorded his first two steals of the season Thursday.
• With Joakim Soria unavailable after recording a save three nights in a row, recent call-up Carlos Rosa finished off the Kansas City Royals' Thursday afternoon victory over the Detroit Tigers for his first save of the year, and should continue to be in the set-up role for the balance of the season.
• Brad Lidge pitched a scoreless inning in a mop-up role, with his team down by six runs. He will need to pitch well in a string of low-pressure outings to have a chance at regaining the closer role by season's end, with Ryan Madson remaining the option for now. The Philadelphia Phillies scored five in the ninth in this contest, and Mike MacDougal had to give way to Ron Villone for a two-out lefty save when he struggled. It was just a matchup issue with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard due up. MacDougal is still the closer.
• Bobby Parnell's ERA is close to eight as a starter after getting knocked around again over five innings by the Florida Marlins, and it's pretty clear he's better suited for a bullpen role and is miscast at the moment.
• Howie Kendrick, whose playing time has been greatly diminished of late, continued to try to make his case for more at-bats at the expense of Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar, by going 3-for-3 with a run scored. Kendrick has hit .389 in the second half, but has started just two of the Los Angeles Angels' nine games this month.
• Three more hits for Chris Coghlan, and the Marlins left fielder is now hitting .368 with seven homers and three steals in the second half. He's owned in just 32 percent of ESPN leagues.
• Ubaldo Jimenez has had his next start bumped from Saturday to Tuesday because of his hamstring issue, and the Colorado Rockies will start rookie Esmil Rogers on his place. Jimenez hurt the hammy running the bases in his last start.
• Gil Meche's shoulder trouble will shut him down for the season, but the Royals starter is not expected to need surgery.
• Kevin Kouzmanoff remains out "indefinitely" with a calf problem, according to the team Web site, and the earliest he's likely to return is next week.
Ian Desmond, Nationals
After hitting .330 with 21 steals in the upper minors this season, the Nats prospect had a big league debut to remember, with a homer, a double, and four RBIs. He was a little over his head this year, but if he gets some playing time next year the 23-year-old could have some sleeper value in NL-only play.
Scott Baker, Twins
Though he picked up the loss Thursday, Baker turned in a quality start to continue his solid run in the second half. After a slow start to the season, partially due to shoulder trouble at the beginning of the year, Baker now has a 2.78 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 11 starts since the break, with 60 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings.
That's all Lance Berkman has hit in the second half after finally going yard against the Atlanta Braves on Thursday. Eighteen first-half dingers, but just one since the break. Berkman's swing still hasn't recovered from trying to play through a calf injury that eventually landed him on the disabled list, and it's pretty clear it may still be affecting his swing mechanics and ability to get leverage in his swing.
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AJ Mass: On one hand, I don't like to go nuts over rookie pitchers, but then again -- David Price last year was lights-out for this same team. If they feel he's ready, then at least for a month, I can see rolling with him.
-- Full chat transcript
Jason Grey: I like the way he improved at Triple-A but I'm still wondering where the wheels are. His power is still in development so his main asset is speed right now and he's not using it. Hopefully that makes him a little bit of a bargain next season but I'd still like to see him run.
-- Full chat transcript
Friday's fantasy chat schedule:
Stephania Bell, 11 a.m. ET
• Desmond Jennings went 1-for-4 with a run scored for Durham in its Triple-A playoff game Thursday night. The Tampa Bay Rays hope they have another Carl Crawford on their hands with this year's Southern League MVP, and he could be patrolling the Rays' outfield as soon as next season. Jennings hit .318 with 11 homers and 52 steals this year.
• Atlanta Braves farmhand outfielder Jason Heyward, the best hitting prospect in baseball, went 1-for-4 for Gwinnett in a Triple-A playoff contest. It's the third level Heyward has played this season after the 20-year-old started the year at Class A. He has an excellent chance to be the starting right fielder for the Braves next Opening Day.
• Rich Harden has been money since the All-Star break, with an ERA more than three runs lower, and he takes that 2.40 mark in his past 10 starts (along with a 1.00 WHIP and almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings) into an outing against the Cincinnati Reds, whom he's dominated in three other outings this season.
• Sleeper for today? It might be the Houston Astros' Bud Norris taking the mound against the Pittsburgh Pirates. His power repertoire should match up well against the Pirates, even though he has an ERA over six in his short big league career thus far.
• For more on Friday's games, check Daily Notes.