PLAYING TIME: KC shuffles lineup, Matsuzaka back on DL

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Lineup shuffle in KC pushes Escobar to two-hole

Manager Ned Yost has decided to make some lineup changes in Kansas City. Alcides Escobar (SS, KC) is now batting second, with Eric Hosmer (1B, KC) returning to the third spot in the order.  With a career 5% walk rate and .306 on-base-percentage, Escobar isn't the prototypical hitter for that spot in the order, but Yost cited his situational hitting, bunting, and speed as reasons he will get an extended look in that spot.  A 37% hit rate is a big reason he is sporting a .309 batting average, so look for that to drop a bit.  However, after starting 64 games this season batting in the bottom third of the order, Escobar's new spot should have a positive effect on his value, particularly in the runs scored category.

As for Hosmer, he is beginning to turn things around after a horrific start, as he has collected 13 hits in his last 30 at bats.  He has spent much of the past month batting sixth in the order, and while the lineup change shouldn't impact his value significantly, it should result in some additional AB.  While Hosmer's power has yet to emerge, his batting average is up to .237, and his 24% hit rate and .291 xBA suggests it should continue to climb.

Matsuzaka roughed up, lands on DL

Daisuke Matsuzaka (RHP, BOS) left his July 2 start before he was able to record an out in the second inning, but not before he allowed five earned runs.  It was later revealed that he was forced to skip a bullpen session leading up to the start, because he was dealing with neck stiffness.  Now the neck issue has landed him on the disabled list, and no expected return date has been announced.  As noted by analyst Stephen Nickrand in the latest Starting Pitcher Buyers Guide, Matsuzaka displayed excellent skills in June, despite the 4.91 ERA he posted.  Unfortunately, he has been held back by a combination of injuries, and low strand and ground ball rates the past few years, and it appears that hasn't changed in 2012.  The Red Sox went with a six-man rotation during the last turn, so they will not need to call upon a replacement, instead going with five starters this time through.  

Scherzer scratched with hamstring tightness

Max Scherzer (RHP, DET) was forced to miss his July 3 start due to hamstring tightness, and Duane Below (LHP, DET) got the call to take his place. As of now, Scherzer is expected to make his next scheduled start, July 8, though it wouldn't be shocking if the Tigers elected to hold him out through the All-Star break. Below entered the start with a solid 2.70 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 96 BPV on the year, which is due in large part to his 1.1 Ctl. His Dom has fallen off recently, though, as he had an 8.3 mark through his first 13 appearances, spanning 20.2 innings, but just three strikeouts in 12.2 innings since. While both are small sample sizes, Below's 4.3 Dom with Detroit last year, and 5.0 MLE Dom, indicate the high strikeout totals to start the year were likely an aberration.  

AL short takes

According to White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams, the July 3 start for Chris Sale (LHP, CHW) is likely his final one before the All-Star break, as they attempt to give him a bit of rest.  Sale, who pitched just 71 innings as a reliever a year ago, has already topped the 100-inning mark this season.  He has been one of the most dominant starters in all of baseball to this point, as he entered his latest start with a 2.27 ERA, 8.9 Dom, and 121 BPV.  At this time, it looks like Dylan Axelrod (RHP, CHW) will make a second start this week, on short rest, against a high-powered Toronto offense...

After getting roughed up by the Tigers July 2 and seeing his ERA rise to 7.04, Liam Hendriks (RHP, MIN) was optioned back to Triple-A Rochester.  He has been very unlucky, with a 36% hit rate, 65% strand rate, and 23% home run per fly ball rate hiding a more respectable 4.52 xERA.  Hendriks has failed to go beyond five innings in five of his last six starts, and appears to need more seasoning in Rochester, where he posted a 1.94 ERA and 3.5 Cmd in seven starts earlier this year.  Taking his spot in the rotation will be Cole DeVries (RHP, MIN), who made four starts with the Twins earlier in the year.  DeVries has posted a 6.4 Dom and outstanding 1.3 Ctl in 70 innings (12 starts) at the Triple-A level this year, and could be worth a flier for those looking for pitching help in deeper leagues... 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Fowler sidelined with lat soreness

After collecting multiple hits in five of his last seven games, Dexter Fowler (OF, COL) was beginning to solidify himself as a fixture in the Colorado lineup.  He has been out of the lineup the past two games, however, due to lat soreness, though hit July 2 pinch-hit appearance is encouraging for those awaiting his return.  Fowler got off to a terrible start this season, as his batting line stood at .219/.318/.406 on May 15.  Since then, he has exploded with a .338/.426/.639 mark, with six home runs and eight triples over 133 at-bats.  His elite Spd score (177) still isn't translating to a lot of steals, as he has just seven on the season.  Fowler has already set a career high with 10 home runs, though, and should be a strong contributor across the board going forward. 

With Fowler and Tyler Colvin (OF, COL) both heating up in recent weeks, the Rockies have had a crowded OF/1B situation, and it will remain so when Fowler returns to action.  As a result of their recent performance, as well as some lingering hip soreness of his own, Todd Helton (1B, COL) has lost out on some at-bats recently.  His underlying numbers are in line with what he has done the past few years, but a 27% hit rate, which would easily mark a career low, has held him to a .246 batting average.  Helton may need to quickly improve upon his current performance (.246 BA, 7 HR) if he is to hold onto the starting first base job.   

As for Colvin, he found playing time hard to come by in the early going, but has hit .333 with six home runs in 69 at-bats during the past month.  His outstanding power plays well at Coors Field, and he appears to be putting last year's debacle (.510 OPS) behind him.  Given his ability to play all three outfield positions, as well as first base, look for him to be in the lineup more often than not while he is hot. 


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