New uniform, familiar foe for Smoltz


It’s safe to say my first try at
previewing all the scheduled games Wednesday fell flat. Although Johnny Damon
bounced off the bench and went 3-for-5, the featured player who was expected to
return — Chris B. Young — only saw daylight as a pinch-hitter. Brad Lidge was
absent as well, although he was activated off the 15-day DL Thursday.


One player who won’t leave fantasy
owners high and dry Thursday is John Smoltz, whose season debut and return from
2008 shoulder surgery has been marked on the calendar since last week. Smoltz
couldn’t ask for more favorable circumstances — he’s toeing the rubber for the
first-place Red Sox and facing the last-place Nationals.  It’s the old vs.
the new: a 42-year-old future Hall of Famer squaring off against 23-year-old
rookie Jordan Zimmermann. Starting Smoltz might be too difficult to pass up,
even if the last time he saw game action was more than a year ago.


Two more intriguing matchups
warrant attention at sundown:


The first is Andy Pettitte vs.
Derek Lowe
. Both pitchers are in similar stages of their careers with similar
season lines. Granted, Lowe has aged better than Pettitte, largely because he
stayed in the NL while Pettitte went back to wearing pinstripes. Still, there’s
no comparing the Braves’ offense to the Yankees’, and with Lowe’s K/9 dipping
noticeably — from 6.27 last year to 4.97 in ’09 — Pettitte has to be the
favorite. Beyond this start, Lowe is an arm to consider selling.


The other matchup involves a pair
of promising young arms in Johnny Cueto and Brett Cecil. While Cueto is in the
midst of a breakthrough campaign with a 2.55 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, Cecil could
very well be ready to embark on one. Among the most talented southpaw prospects
in the game, the 22-year-old has a good support system working in his favor,
and the ’09 Reds are a far cry from the Big Red Machine.


On the offensive end, David Ortiz
will go for his third homer in as many days amid a resurgent month of June
(.327 AVG, 6 HR, 15 RBIs, .706 SLG).


How ’bout that Adam LaRoche? While
his annual slow starts must frustrate owners to no end, at least he’s
consistent. After two sluggish months, the soon-to-be free agent boasts a .357
average with seven doubles, four homers and 14 ribbies during June. Like Papi, he’s also
aiming for his third consecutive bomb.


Coming off another multi-hit game,
the mighty Cody Ross — who’s hitting .404 in his last 13 games — should only
continue building steam against all-too-vulnerable Orioles lefty Rich


You have to think Pat Burrell
circled the date when the Phillies were coming to town, no?  The mustachioed
DH homered against his former club on Wednesday, ending a homerless drought
that dates back to April 13. Another jack wouldn’t be shocking Thursday against
rookie lefty Antonio Bastardo.


Forget Scott Rolen all you want,
but he’s one of baseball’s hottest hitters and somehow remains available in
many leagues. The veteran rides a 13-game hit streak (.446 AVG) into Thursday
against Cueto.


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