Ben Sheets returns: Beset with the need for another reliable arm in their rotation, the Atlanta Braves have been put in a position where they're willing to throw the dice on Ben Sheets. The 33-year-old right-hander hadn't started a game since July 19, 2010 and garnered little interest this offseason after missing all of 2011 while having the ligament in his right elbow replaced.
But with the caveat that his next major injury could always be around the corner, the current verdict is this: So far, so good. Sheets did exactly what the Braves needed him to on Sunday, pitching six scoreless innings in a 6-1 victory over the New York Mets at Turner Field. The win sealed a three-game weekend sweep of the Mets and ran the Braves' winning streak to seven games.
''I didn't know what to expect (of Sheets),'' Freddie Freeman told reporters after contributing a three-run homer to the effort. ''It didn't look like he took two years off.''
While Sheets still has a lot more to prove to the Braves down the stretch, Sunday's start had to feel good for one of the most star-crossed pitchers in recent memory. Sheets, who will turn 34 on Wednesday, spent the 2000s mixing ace-type stuff for the Milwaukee Brewers with an injury history that was probably only second to Mark Prior's at the time. He started the All-Star game for the National League at Yankee Stadium in 2008, only to have elbow surgery prevent him from signing a contract with the Texas Rangers the following offseason. The A's later showed faith in him before the 2010 season only to see him hurt himself before they were able to garner anything in a trade before the deadline.
Now Sheets is back as the Braves try to cheaply plug a hole created by Brandon Beachy's season-ending injury and Mike Minor's continued struggles. Considering that most of us felt that Sheets' playing career had come to an end, it'll be a nice story to follow in the second half. Nats win series in Miami: Despite the win, the Braves stayed three games behind Washington in the NL East standings as Stephen Strasburg pitched six scoreless innings in a 4-0 win at Marlins Park. Bryce Harper found himself in the spotlight at a few different points, fighting off Ozzie Guillen's attempts to ensnare him in a controversial showdown over the amount of pine tar on his bat and surviving a collision with second baseman Steve Lombardozzi to secure the game's final out. Harper's catch ended a bases-loaded threat for the Marlins and secured a shutout.
''All I was thinking about was a wide receiver coming through the middle,'' Harper said. ''You're going to get hammered but you have to catch the ball. He got me in my face and on my head, but I caught the ball. Game over.''
Watch it here:
Go get 'em, tiger: Justin Verlander didn't show any signs of carrying his disastrous All-Star start back into the regular season, allowing no runs and only three hits over eight innings on Sunday. The effort gave the Tigers a 4-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles, who seem awfully close into plunging into the freefall that their awful run differential (currently at -43) has portended. Luckily, a potentially rejuvenating trip to Minnesota awaits Baltimore.
Hamels and Pence lift Phillies: Big performances in mid-July from two of the trade market's top names probably doesn't boost either of their stocks that much. After all, teams are already well aware of their capabilities, which makes them so sought after in the first place.
But it also certainly can't hurt. Cole Hamels and Hunter Pence had that kind of repu-enforcing day for Philadelphia during a 5-1 win over Colorado. Hamels pitched eight innings of one-run ball at Coors Field while Pence socked a three-run homer.
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Quote of the Day:
"He could easily have turned his back on me. He could have easily been bitter, and he wasn't at all. He was a friend."
— Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks on Kevin Youkilis, who will return to Fenway Park on Monday as a member of the Chicago White Sox.
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Video of the Day: Do not feed the ballplayers
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Three facts for the water cooler
• Chicago's Chris Sale got just enough run support in a 2-1 victory at Kansas City, but the White Sox could really use some contributions from captain Paul Konerko. As South Side Sox notes, the All-Star first baseman is hitting .222/.292/.311 over the last month. (Thank God for Alex Rios?)
• Cincinnati's 4-2 win over St. Louis gave the Reds a one-game lead over the Pirates in the NL Central and moved them to a season-high 12 games over .500. St. Louis, meanwhile, sits 4 1/2 games behind the Reds after the weekend sweep at Great American Ballpark.
• After a 4-0 complete game shutout, Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison has now won eight straight starts against the Seattle Mariners. It's the third-longest streak in franchise history for any pitcher against one team, trailing Charlie Hough's streaks of 13 against Cleveland and nine against Minnesota.