Daily Dose: The Dice-Man Cometh (Back)

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No one seemed to know quite what to expect from Daisuke Matsuzaka’s return to the rotation Tuesday night, but he looked like the effectively wild 2008 version instead of the totally ineffective 2009 version. Starting for the first time since June 19 he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, struck out six, worked primarily in the low-90s, and held the Angels scoreless for six frames for just his second victory of the season.
Matsuzaka was far from perfect, throwing just 52 of 93 pitches for strikes and issuing three walks, but even while going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA last year control was always an issue. Prior to coming off the disabled list Matsuzaka had a 3.86 ERA and 23/9 K/BB ratio in 21 innings while rehabbing his strained shoulder in the minors, so there is some reason for optimism even beyond Tuesday night’s impressive return.
While the Red Sox give Matsuzaka a three-week audition for October here are some other notes from around baseball …


* After various setbacks and altered timetables Jake Peavy is officially scheduled to make his White Sox debut Saturday against the Royals. Sidelined since June 8 with an ankle injury and then elbow problems, Peavy is finally ready to return now that the White Sox are basically out of the playoff mix. Kansas City is a favorable matchup to return to, but Peavy is expected to be on a limited pitch count initially.
* After three straight rough outings Cliff Lee bounced back in a big way Tuesday with a complete-game shutout against the Nationals, making him 7-2 with a 2.67 ERA in nine starts for Philadelphia. Lee has averaged over seven innings per start since the July 29 trade that sent six players to Cleveland, completing three of his nine outings while posting a 60/9 K/BB ratio in 64 innings.
* Carlos Zambrano struggled Tuesday night amid reports that the Cubs plan to shop him this offseason, giving up five runs over five innings in a no-decision against the Brewers. He had a season-high nine strikeouts, but walked four, uncorked two wild pitches, and coughed up a 4-0 lead. Zambrano is owed $18 million per year through 2012, yet has ERAs of 3.95, 3.91, and now 3.94 during the past three seasons.
* News that the Rangers are skipping Kevin Millwood’s next turn in the rotation would raise lots of eyebrows if not for the fact that he’s 1-3 with a 7.62 ERA in his last five starts and 2-5 with a 6.29 ERA in a dozen outings since July 1. Even still rumors are swirling that MLB has told the financially struggling team to limit future commitments and Millwood is just 4.1 innings away from triggering a $12 million option for 2010.
AL Quick Hits: Victor Martinez left the team Tuesday due to an undisclosed personal issue and Kevin Youkilis was out of the lineup with back spasms… Andy Pettitte has been scratched from Wednesday’s start with a sore shoulder … Detroit will pay $18 million to Magglio Ordonez next year after his plate appearance-based option vested Tuesday … David Ortiz went 2-for-4 with a homer Tuesday, surpassing last season’s long-ball total with 24 … Michael Young (hamstring) rejoined the lineup Tuesday as a designated hitter after being out all month … Jarrod Washburn left Tuesday’s start with knee pain after giving up four runs in the first inning … Brett Tomko will have his next start skipped after complaining of elbow discomfort following his complete-game shutout Monday … Travis Snider homered twice Tuesday, but also struck out for the 38th time in 86 at-bats since returning from Triple-A … Tim Wakefield (back) threw a bullpen session Tuesday, but there’s no timetable yet for his return to the rotation.
NL Quick Hits: Adam Wainwright was denied his 19th victory Tuesday despite seven innings of two-run ball … Chipper Jones (groin) is expected to miss at least two more games and could be sidelined for the entire week … Jose Valverde was unavailable again Tuesday because of a 101-degree fever … Adam LaRoche went 4-for-4 with two homers Tuesday and is batting .351 with 12 homers in 40 games since returning to Atlanta … Aaron Cook (shoulder) threw a simulated game Tuesday and reported “no pain” and “a little rust” … Mike Hampton is expected to miss all of next season and may be forced to retire after undergoing rotator cuff surgery Tuesday … Tommy Hanson tossed seven shutout innings Tuesday, allowing three hits while improving to 10-3 with a 2.65 ERA … Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he’s uncertain when Troy Glaus (oblique) will return … Francisco Rodriguez was unavailable Tuesday after his wife gave birth to twins … Manny Parra (neck) will have an MRI exam Wednesday.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.