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Two left-handed hitting National League middle infielders – Stephen Drew and Chase Utley – made their long-awaited season debuts on Wednesday. For Drew, it was his first game since last July when he suffered a severe ankle fracture on a play at home plate. The Diamondbacks’ shortstop went 1-for-4 in his first major league game in nearly a year.
Utley, who has missed significant time the past three seasons due to chronic knee problems, made an even bigger splash in his 2012 debut as he hit a home run in his first at-bat. Utley finished the night against the Pirates 3-for-5, and more importantly, made it through nine innings at second base unscathed.
Either of these guys is worth adding to your roster, if available, especially if you are still looking for a viable replacement for the injured Troy Tulowitzki. Chances are Drew, who is owned in 24 percent of Yahoo! leagues, is more readily available on the waiver wire than Utley (74 percent), but anyone expecting to get the 2005-09 version of Utley is only setting themselves up for disappointment.
From 2005-09 Utley was one of baseball’s top offensive players as the Phillies’ second-sacker averaged 29 home runs, 101 RBI, 111 runs scored and 15 stolen bases a season. The past two seasons, however, Utley has averaged only 109 games played and combined has hit 27 home runs and driven in 109. At 33 and with his knee issues, it is clear Utley’s best days are behind him.
Drew has never put up the overall offensive numbers that Utley once did, but the Arizona shortstop has been a reliable producer for the past five seasons. Last season he was on pace for a .263-10-70 campaign with 82 runs and 39 doubles prior to his horrific injury.
The other caveat with either is this, because they are coming back from significant injuries and have missed a lot of time, neither are expected to be everyday players right away.
If Not Them Then…
If you are still in the market for some middle infield help and neither Drew nor Utley are available or appeal to you, here are some possible options. Minnesota's Trevor Plouffe has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season, but that’s what happens when you post a .330-10-19 line over the past 30 days.
The only middle infielder with more home runs that Plouffe during that same period is Robinson Cano. Plouffe is owned in 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but if he keeps hitting like this, that number will only continue to go up.
Aaron Hill is another second baseman with some pop as he hit 26 home runs for Toronto in 2010. He also hit just .205 that season as batting average has been one of the knocks on him throughout his career. So far in 2012, Hill has managed a .297 average with 10 home runs and 35 RBI, to go along with six stolen bases with the Diamondbacks. He’s owned in 64 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Neil Walker may finally be turning things around. Big things were expected from the Pirates’ second-sacker after he followed up a promising 2010 rookie campaign with a respectable .273-12-83 line in 2011. He struggled in May, producing a .238-2-11 line, but has rebounded nicely in June with a .280-2-14 line to go along with 17 runs scored (he had 9 in all of May) and five stolen bases. He’s owned in less than half of Yahoo! leagues.
DL Watch and Other Injury News
*Clay Buchholz is out indefinitely after landing on the DL due to a case of esophagitis that caused gastrointestinal bleeding and resulted in a five-day hospital stay for the Boston pitcher. The right-hander was scratched from his scheduled start on Sunday due to illness and ended up in the ICU because of the bleeding. He was placed on the DL on Sunday and it’s not known how long he will be out as he is scheduled to undergo further testing to determine the cause of his problem and the extent of the damage. Aaron Cook pitched well in Buchholz’s place on Sunday, giving up just two earned runs in five innings in a win over the Braves. However, the veteran right-hander might not get another start with Josh Beckett scheduled to come off of the DL later this week.
*Matt Capps, Minnesota’s closer, went on the DL on Monday after a MRI revealed inflammation in his right shoulder. Capps pitched an inning on Saturday, but felt some discomfort on Sunday, resulting in the MRI and subsequent DL stint. In the meantime, the Twins are going with a closer by committee approach, using a combination of left-hander Glen Perkins and right-hander Jared Burton to finish games.
*Andre Ethier left Wednesday’s game with a left oblique injury. He will undergo an MRI, but a trip to the DL is highly likely. Ethier, who is second in the NL in RBI with 55, could join teammate Matt Kemp (hamstring) on the DL, putting the Dodgers’ two biggest bats on the shelf.
*Mets closer Frank Francisco was put on the DL on Sunday with a left oblique strain. Bobby Parnell will handle the closing duties while Francisco is sidelined.
*Daniel Hudson left his start on Tuesday in Atlanta early after giving up five runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings. Initially it was reported as tightness in his right forearm, but an MRI exam on Wednesday revealed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. Arizona placed the right-hander on the DL and his season is more than likely over as Tommy John surgery is a distinct possibility. Hudson (3-2, 7.35 ERA) had struggled all season and had already spent about a month on the DL with a right shoulder impingement. This loss to the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation comes on the heels of left-hander Joe Saunders going on the DL on Saturday with a strained left shoulder. Top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer was called up to take Saunders’ place and he will make his major league debut tonight in Atlanta, while Josh Collmenter will replace Hudson in the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation for the time being.
*Texas put Colby Lewis on the 15-day DL with tendinitis in his right forearm. The Rangers’ Opening Day starter, Lewis (6-6, 3.51 ERA) should be ready to return after the All-Star break. He becomes the fourth Texas starter on the DL, joining Derek Holland (sore shoulder), Neftali Feliz (sprained elbow ligament) and Alexi Ogando (strained groin). Roy Oswalt recently joined the Rangers’ starting rotation and the team called up left-hander Martin Perez, its top pitching prospect, from AAA to take Lewis’ spot on the roster.
*Oakland ace Brandon McCarthy went back on the DL on Sunday with a recurring right shoulder strain. McCarthy spent three weeks on the DL in May before returning on June 2. He was extremely effective upon his return, going 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three starts, but he was unable to make his last scheduled start on Sunday, resulting in his latest DL stint. It’s unknown when McCarthy will be back on the mound, as the team no doubt will exercise extreme caution with its best pitcher and given his injury history.
*The New York Yankees placed ace CC Sabathia on the 15-day DL on Wednesday with a strained muscle in his left leg. The left-hander (9-3, 3.45 ERA) is expected to miss only two starts, meaning he should be ready to go right after the All-Star break. Freddy Garcia (1-2, 6.91 ERA) is expected to take Sabathia’s spot in the Yankees’ rotation. To make matters worse, the Yankees will also be without the services of another southpaw starter as Andy Pettitte is out for a minimum of six weeks due to a fractured left fibula. The veteran took a comebacker off of the shin in the fifth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Indians. The 40-year-old Pettitte was 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA in nine starts since joining the Yankees in the middle of May.
— By Mark Ross, published on June 28, 2012