• The Jonathon Niese(notes) breakout story has been well-screened for most of the year, in part because of a hamstring injury in May that wrecked his stats for a while. He's been outstanding in five of his last six starts since he rejoined the rotation, with the latest gem coming Friday at Washington (7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 K). The numbers under the hood support Niese as a mixed-league option: he's getting ground balls 50 percent of the time, his K/9 rate is fine at 7.13, and he's trimmed his walk rate under three. You'll want to use him at home next week against Cincinnati.
• Mat Latos'(notes) World Domination Tour keeps rolling along – he hasn't had a bad start since the end of April. He grabbed his ninth win Friday with a superb effort against the Astros, needing just 105 pitches over eight lockdown innings (4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K). The Padres were hoping to give Latos a modest workload for the 2010 season but they probably didn't expect to be leading the division into July (with Latos pitching like a sure-fire All-Star). The organization hasn't said much recently about what the August and September plan will be with the young ace, but fantasy owners have to love the fact that the team continues to play well – if the Padres are playing meaningful games down the stretch, Operation Shutdown will be very hard to execute.
• It's just one game, but the Diamondbacks responded for new manager Kirk Gibson on Friday, scoring early and often en route to a 12-5 laugher over Hiroki Kuroda(notes) and the Dodgers. The Snakes were aggressive on the bases, attempting five steals – three were successful, two were cut down. The major change to the lineup came at the leadoff slot, where Chris Young got the call and posted a 5-3-3-5 line (homer, bag). Edwin Jackson(notes) didn't have a great start (5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 4 K) but he made the best of the run support and got his sixth victory. Aaron Heilman(notes), for what it's worth, pitched in the eighth inning in a non-save situation (scoreless inning, one hit).
• Colorado's offense has perked up a bit of late, and the theme continued Friday night even against Giants ace Mitch Kramer Tim Lincecum(notes). Arcade propaganda piece Dexter Fowler led the way at the top of the order (single, double and triple, plus two walks), and the Rockies continued to get surprising production from their middle infielders (Clint Barmes(notes) went 2-for-4 with a homer, while Jonathan Herrera(notes) had two hits and three RBIs).
Huston Street(notes) looks sharp at the back of the Colorado bullpen – he's worked four scoreless innings over the last five days, though you have to wonder why Jim Tracy forced an inning from Street on Friday given that the club was up by three and the closer has been used often over the last week. I'm guessing Street will get a much-needed day off Saturday, no matter the game situation.
• The Gio Gonzalez(notes) emergence has mostly come in Oakland – he's got a 2.36 ERA in his roomy home park against a messy 4.71 number on the road. But Friday's assignment at Cleveland wasn't a problem for the lefty, as stranded nine baserunners and posted 6.2 scoreless innings at The Jake (I don't care what they call it now – it will always be The Jake for me). Gonzalez has only allowed more than three runs in four of his turns this year and for the most part we can excuse those outings: they came against the Yanks, at Texas, and in two interleague road starts. Gonzalez gets another shot at New York this week, in the friendly Oakland confines.
• The Tigers have been just about unbeatable at home in recent weeks, and Max Scherzer(notes) kept the roll going with a super start against the Mariners on Friday (8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K). Mad Max has been a fantasy asset in 6-of-7 turns since he came back from Triple-A, and that trend should continue next week at home against Baltimore. Brennan Boesch(notes) roped three more crisp hits to spark the offense, raising his average to .340; it blows my mind that he's not universally owned. Johnny Damon(notes) also homered for the first time since the middle of May.
• The Marlins fell to the Braves in extra innings but it wasn't the fault of Gaby Sanchez(notes); the underrated first sacker extended the game with his center-field blast off Billy Wagner. Sanchez is currently trading at 26 percent ownership in Yahoo! leagues despite his emphatic pace over the last month (.367/.417/.596, five homers, 17 runs, 17 RBIs). What else do you need to see, peeps? We can't come to your house and do the point-and-click for you. Two other reasons to like Sanchez: he cut his strikeout numbers significantly in June (while boosting his walk rate), and he's parked right in front of Hanley Ramirez(notes) in the Florida lineup.
• Sean Rodriguez(notes) is a sneaky player to add if you're looking for middle-infield depth (he also qualifies in the outfield); he hasn't lost his regular lineup slot even with the return of Jason Bartlett(notes), and he's giving us a nice mix of power (four homers) and speed (six steals) over the last month. Rodriguez's hacking approach at the plate isn't ideal – he's got 20 strikeouts against just two walks over this stretch – but if he's good enough for Joe Maddon to trust on a daily basis, he's good enough for me. And it's nice to see a middle infielder hitting in Tampa Bay, because Jason Bartlett sure isn't.
• Justin Morneau(notes) has a history of second-half fades (the numbers tell the story), but maybe Target Field will help him avoid that in 2010. "The best thing for me was to get off the (artificial) turf," Morneau told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "Your legs, your hamstrings – you had to work that much harder on all that stuff because the surface is so much different. There is so much more stress on your knees and your back. That part of my body feels so much better." I'm not invested in Morneau anywhere, but this sounds reasonable to me. Are you buying it, Yahoo peeps?
• Justin Smoak(notes) took another collar Friday (he's in a 0-for-19 slump) and was dropped to eighth in the Texas lineup. He's also got that woeful .143 average against left-handed pitching. I'm bullish on him long-term, but I don't understand why he's such a hot property in redraft leagues. The Arlington undertow is great, but this looks like someone who should be platooned for the time being (granted, he'd be on the heavier side of the platoon).
Injury Blog: Shaun Marcum(notes) landed on the 15-day DL due to elbow inflammation, though the club is hoping he'll be ready to go shortly after the All Star break. We'll see what the team learns from an MRI. … Planet Manny will probably hit the DL because of his balky hamstring (at least he's hitting something). Get ready for the Reed Johnson(notes) and Garret Anderson(notes) show, with a little Xavier Paul(notes) mixed in. … The Rockies will continue to limit Brad Hawpe(notes) through the weekend as he deals with his sore ribs. It will be very interesting to see how Jim Tracy handles his crowded outfield when everyone is healthy. An MRI on Hawpe's ribs came back clean, for what it's worth. … J.J. Hardy(notes) (wrist) is expected to come off the DL Saturday. … Miguel Cabrera(notes) missed Friday's game due to a stiff back. … Troy Tulowitzki(notes) (wrist) is hoping to return earlier than scheduled but players always say stuff like that. Anyway, his rehab is on course for now. I'm certainly no doctor but I'll be surprised if we see Tulo back before the middle of August. … The sizzling Shin-Soo Choo(notes) left Friday's game with a hand injury; we'll see what we learn when he's checked on Saturday.
Speed Round: I don't know what to do with Ross Ohlendorf's(notes) gem against the Phillies (7 IP, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K). Maybe it's time to accept that the Philly offense isn't going to scare anyone in 2010, with Chase Utley(notes) and Placido Polanco(notes) out of the mix and Raul Ibanez(notes) standing on the cliff. … Jaime Garcia(notes) cruised against the Brewers (seven scoreless), getting his normal mix of strikeouts (seven) and ground-ball outs (10). His 2.10 ERA is considerably lower than what the secondary stats suggest, but three months into the story, it's hard to deny this kid his props. … We had fun with Ty Wigginton(notes) for as long as we could, but he's crashed back to earth of late. He posted a woeful .209/.303/.291 line in June, and he's already 0-for-8 this month. Hurry, Baltimore, trade him while the seasonal stats don't look so bad. … Ryan Theriot(notes) is another guy that looks droppable for most mixed-league players; Lou Piniella doesn't trust him as an everyday starter, and Theriot doesn't really offer much other than the occasional bag. He's hitting just .228 since May 5 (I'd mention his .272 OBP but you know the Cubs, they don't really pay attention to stuff like that).