Batting order positions might be a little overrated in the general scheme of things, but fantasy owners know that there's a big difference between hitting in the top three and the bottom three, especially if you're on a National League club. We've spent most of the first half wondering about Joe Torre's lineup shuffling, and he gave us another cause for pause in LA's romp over the Mets on Thursday.
Andre Ethier's(notes) best hitting in 2008 came when he was in front of Manny Ramirez(notes), and that's what we saw again Thursday – Ethier went 2-for-5 with a walk out of the No. 2 slot, one position ahead of Planet Manny (2-2-2-2, two walks). It will be interesting to see if Torre lets Ethier settle in this niche for a while; Ethier closed last year with a ridiculous .368/.448/.649 run over his last 45 games, coinciding with the acquisition of Agent 99. Plenty of production came in that wave, too: nine homers, 37 runs, 31 RBIs; in short, Ethier was a fantasy difference-maker in the final quarter of last season.
Of course just about everyone in the LA lineup got going Thursday, as the Dodgers plastered Livan Hernandez(notes) and friends with 11 runs and 17 hits. Matt Kemp(notes) had three more knocks, which probably makes Torre feel justified for the insane decision to bat Kemp in the No. 8 spot. (I'll try to temper that rant a bit in the second half of the year, peeps.) Rafael Furcal(notes) might be turning his season around since returning to the leadoff spot; he's on a 13-for-29 surge with nine runs scored since Manny came back. And so it goes.
• You never know what you're going to get from David Price(notes) these days; Thursday's turn against Toronto was a strong effort, mostly because he was around the plate all night (6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K). After this type of outing, you wish the break weren't coming. J.P. Howell(notes) was in line for a day off after working 2.2 innings over the last two games, so the surging Dan Wheeler(notes) (14 straight scoreless appearances) closed out Thursday's victory. Trading chip Roy Halladay was strong on the other side (7 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 8 K) but had to settle for his third loss of the year.
• Alfredo Aceves(notes) was underwhelming in his shift to the rotation (3.1 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K) at Minnesota but the Yanks picked him up with 5.2 innings of scoreless, two-hit relief. David Robertson(notes) has been a find in middle relief – especially when he's throwing strikes – and Phil Hughes(notes) looks dynamite working in front of Mariano Rivera(notes). The offense for New York was pretty balanced, but we should mention that Alex Rodriguez(notes) stole a base and Mark Teixeira(notes) homered; it had been four weeks since we saw either occurrence.
As for Francisco Liriano(notes) on the other side, it was something of a step back (5.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) after a few positive starts. He's striking out close to a batter per inning on the season, we can't just kick him to the curb yet.
• After laboring through a nightmare appearance Wednesday, David Aardsma(notes) got back on the horse Thursday and had the perfect remedy – a painless and quick ninth-inning conversion. He needed just six pitches to get three fly balls (two of them fairly deep) against Texas, shaking hands for the 18th time. Underrated Franklin Gutierrez(notes) lifted the Mariners into the lead with an eighth-inning homer off C.J. Wilson(notes); the M's outfielder is up to .297 on the year with 10 home runs. The Rangers only managed to scratch one run and three singles off Felix Hernandez(notes) over eight innings.
Nelson Cruz(notes) sat again Thursday as Ron Washington continues to juggle five batters for four slots; Josh Hamilton(notes), David Murphy(notes), Marlon Byrd(notes) and Andruw Jones(notes) (three homers Wednesday) stayed in the lineup. But with the Rangers doing just about nothing on offense, look for changes on the weekend. The Mariners have lefties going on Saturday and Sunday (Jarrod Washburn(notes), Erik Bedard(notes)), which should help to get Cruz and Jones into the mix.
• The Phillies offense can do everything you ask for these days; it closed out the Reds on Thursday with nine more runs. Jayson Werth(notes) went the long way on his homer (hello, center field shrubbery), while Chase Utley(notes) scored on the easiest inside-the-park homer you'll ever see (hat tip, Willy Taveras(notes) and Chris Dickerson(notes)). The table-setters are doing the job as well; surging Jimmy Rollins(notes) and Shane Victorino(notes) both reached base three times on Thursday and Rollins swiped his 13th base. This lineup is going to be downright nasty when Raul Ibanez(notes) gets back against Pittsburgh this weekend.
• Dave Duncan's genius knows no limit – he's making a fantasy star out of Joel Pineiro(notes), for crying out loud. Pineiro threw 100 pitches of beauty at Milwaukee on Thursday afternoon, holding the Brewers to one run and three hits and collecting 19 ground-ball outs. Pineiro's victory came because St. Louis rallied against the Milwaukee bullpen; the Cardinals, a weak offense against lefties, didn't do a thing against recalled southpaw Manny Parra(notes) (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K). I'll watch Parra with interest after the break, but I'm not going to easily forget how messy he was over his first 13 turns (7.52 ERA, 1.92 WHIP, 41 walks in 64.2 IP).
Injury Blog: Finally, a Hanley Ramirez(notes) sighting – he didn't start at Arizona but the Fish used him as a pinch-hitter during a 10-run rally in the eighth inning. Fredi Gonzalez offered the same old stuff before the game, he hopes Ramirez (hip) will be able to go Friday. … Javier Vazquez(notes) (abdomen) will miss his start this weekend but likely will be ready to roll after the break. He's been pitching with this physical issue, and quiet well at that, for a few weeks now. Kris Medlen(notes) gets the spot start at Colorado, something you don't want to mess with. … Chipper Jones(notes) (groin) rested again for the Braves, though he also got a pinch-hitting appearance. It didn't amount to much – he was intentionally walked, then pinch run for. … Another ding for Yunel Escobar(notes), as he left in the fourth inning with a strained lower back. "I don't know if he can play [Friday]," Bobby Cox conceded. … Orlando Hudson(notes) took a pitch off the knee late in LA's lopsided win at New York and left the game, but afterwards he said he was fine and expects to play Friday against the Brewers. Hudson was dropped to seventh in the lineup, for what it's worth, during the Torre Shuffle Thursday. … Manny Corpas (elbow) is on a rehab assignment and if he can get right, he'll get a shot to be the No. 2 man in Colorado's bullpen in front of Huston Street(notes).
Speed Round: Nate Schierholtz(notes) swung and missed at a pitch that hit him in the eighth inning Thursday, something you don't see every night. The San Francisco outfielder had the last laugh, stroking an infield single and delivering a run on the next offering. He's quietly up to .294 on the year, keeping Fred Lewis(notes) planted on the bench. … The Braves apparently are ready to give Jeff Francoeur another shot and it worked on Thursday in Colorado; Frenchy rapped out three doubles in four trips. … Aaron Poreda(notes) got the long-man work for the White Sox and did the job (2.1 scoreless, 3 K). Why doesn't Ozzie Guillen use this kid more often? … Chris Getz(notes) rapped out four hits and stole two bases, pushing up to 13 bags for the year. You could do worse in the middle than this Maize and Blue product. … The slumping Jay Bruce is going to get a couple of days off. "I'm letting him clear his head," Dusty Baker said. Bruce brings plenty of power to the table (18 homers) and strong play in right field, but he's also hitting .209, with particular struggles on the road and against left-handed pitching. … Ian Stewart(notes) homered and walked three times in Colorado's win; the kid needs to play, simple as that. Mike Gonzalez(notes) took the loss for the Braves with a messy eighth; Rafael Soriano(notes) owners can't mind that piece of news. … The Phillies apparently are making a run at Pedro Martinez(notes), according to a handful of published reports. Ah, July, the month of rumors. It's not the best park for Pedro, of course, but at least it would be a National League contender, and it would be great theatre watching him pitch against the Mets.