It's time to jump back on the cliff. We're talking, of course, about Cliff Lee, who is finally ready to take the mound for the Seattle Mariners on Friday after suffering a strained abdomen in spring training. Lee appears to have shaken off the injury, and is coming off six shutout innings in his Sunday rehab assignment for Triple-A Tacoma. Normally it's a good idea to err on the side of caution for a pitcher making a return from injury, and frankly, this is no exception. The current Texas Rangers roster is hitting .342 against Lee, who owns a 7.09 ERA against them for his career. However, with the recent spate of pitchers headed to the disabled list, we'd understand if you wanted to -- or needed to -- dive right in. Just be careful. As for the rest of our Friday rankings, here's the complete list:
Starting pitcher rankings for April 30
Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. Opp: The pitcher's opponent for the day. Rating: The starting pitcher's matchup rating -- separate from the author's ranking -- which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. W-L: Pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: Pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: Pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning.
• Brad Penny sometimes gets lost in that strong St. Louis Cardinals' rotation, but the 2010 record speaks for itself. He's also 7-2 lifetime against the Cincinnati Reds, so he'll come out on top of the mountain for Friday, just ahead of Randy Wells, who struck out 10 Arizona Diamondbacks in seven innings when he faced them last fall.
• Ricky Nolasco is 7-1 lifetime against the Washington Nationals and is getting luckier in the run support department (4.97 to 2.81) than is Tommy Hanson, despite the Atlanta Braves' pitcher having a superior ERA.
• Barry Zito owns a 1.98 ERA against the Colorado Rockies, and this game is not at Coors Field. We'll rank him slightly ahead of Fausto Carmona, who has been outstanding so far in 2010. It's just a bit scary looking at that 3-6 record with a 5.11 ERA against the Minnesota Twins.
• Rounding out our top 10, all of whom happen to be throwing in front of the home crowd, are Brandon Morrow, Jeff Niemann and Chad Billingsley. Morrow has 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and a 2-0 record versus the Oakland Athletics. Niemann is 2-0 with a career 0.53 ERA facing the Kansas City Royals. As for the Buzzsaw, he's a perfect 3-0 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, including a win against the team already in 2010.
• Middle of the road: John Lackey has lacked something so far this season, but is 9-3 with a 3.21 ERA against the Baltimore Orioles, including one win against them already this year. Joel Pineiro has already stymied the Detroit Tigers for 7 1/3 innings in 2010, and is 7-2 with a 2.40 ERA against them during his career.
• Streamers on alert: Colby Lewis gets a rematch with the Mariners, a team he held to just one earned run and five hits in seven innings earlier in April. Clayton Richard is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in three appearances against the Milwaukee Brewers. Nick Blackburn owns a 5-3 record with a 2.98 ERA against the Cleveland Indians, if you're looking for a reason to grab him over other waiver-wire options for Friday.
• Steer clear: Rodrigo Lopez has a 7.59 ERA versus the Chicago Cubs, which is actually better than Rick Porcello's 9.64 ERA facing the Los Angeles Angels. Charlie Morton? If we have to spell out his negatives for you, you're playing the wrong game.
• X factor: The Oakland Athletics need to grab a starter from Triple-A to fill in for the injured Brett Anderson. Vin Mazzaro looks to be the likeliest candidate to get the call, but since Trevor Cahill is also in the mix, it might be wise to hold off on making any moves until the weekend -- after we see the results of whichever pitcher gets the first chance to audition here.
Hitter matchup ratings for April 30
Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. "LHB" and "RHB" ratings account only for left- and right-handed batters, respectively. "Steals" is a base stealing matchup rating, which accounts for the opponent's catchers' ability to gun down opposing base stealers.
Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies: Last year, Howard's power numbers rose significantly in May (10 versus four home runs in April) and as the calendar prepares to turn the page in 2010, we're looking for the slugger to get a head start on things Friday facing young Jonathon Niese.
Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida Marlins: He's been cold of late (2-for-15) and even got Wednesday off to figure things out. Against Scott Olsen and the Washington Nationals, against whom he's hit .375 in his career, things should fall back into place nicely.
Russell Martin, C, Los Angeles Dodgers: Last place is not where this team wants to be, but perhaps Martin and his lifetime .391 average against the Pirates can start to pull this lineup out of the cellar.
Chone Figgins, 2B, Mariners: It's certainly not an everyday occurrence when Figgins does something with his bat rather than his legs, so when the .571 slugging percentage against Colby Lewis appeared on the stat sheet, it certainly jumped off the page.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians: We've got the right Cabrera here. With five doubles leading to a .565 career slugging percentage off of Nick Blackburn in 23 at-bats, perhaps another four-hit day is in the offing here.
Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Chicago Cubs: Fukudome is 8-for-17 in his past seven games and had a .471 OBP against the Diamondbacks in 2009. With great odds of being on base, the runs should come as well.
Ryan Church, OF, Pirates: It's not Church's fault the Pirates have been outscored 41-6 in his past three starts, but that career .143 batting average against Chad Billingsley certainly has to be blamed on the outfielder alone.
Kelly Johnson, 2B, Diamondbacks: There's no doubt Johnson's five home runs in the past week got a lot of people's attention, but those were the only hits he mustered in 22 at-bats and his batting average plummeted. Plus, he's never had a hit off Randy Wells.
Ian Stewart, 3B, Rockies: His batting average has dropped 40 points in the past eight days, he's only 1-for-11 lifetime against Barry Zito. Looks like today is another sit day for Stewart, fantasy-wise.
Andruw Jones, OF, Chicago White Sox: Jones has taken advantage of teams early in series this season, with five home runs in openers so far in 2010. Against Andy Pettitte, expect no such luck for Jones, who has a career .259 batting average and no round-trippers.
Michael Bourn, OF, Houston Astros: What's Bourn's identity? Power hitter? Not with zero home runs. No, he's a base stealer. But if he doesn't get on base -- only one career walk versus the Braves -- thefts are unlikely.
Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day
Jeff Francoeur, RF, New York Mets: Francoeur has had a hit every day since April 22, and has four runs scored and four RBIs in that stretch. Additionally, he's a career .400 hitter against Kyle Kendrick of the Phillies. That's across-the-board production you won't find in too many places.
Injury list: Out
Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers (15-day DL, right hamstring strain)
Brett Anderson, SP, Athletics (15-day DL, strained flexor tendon)
Jorge De La Rosa, SP, Rockies (15-day DL, torn tendon in finger)
Jason Hammel, SP, Rockies (15-day DL, strained right groin)
Felipe Lopez, 2B, Cardinals (15-day DL, elbow strain)
Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies (15-day DL, strained left quadriceps)
Chris Jakubauskas, SP, Pirates (15-day DL, head contusion/concussion)
Vicente Padilla, SP, Dodgers (15-day DL, right forearm soreness)
Bobby Wilson, C, Angels (15-day DL, concussion/strained left ankle)
Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers (15-day DL, strained right calf)
Carlos Guillen, OF, Tigers (15-day DL, strained left hamstring)
Injury list: Day-to-day
Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins (stiff back)
Jorge Posada, C, Yankees (right knee contusion)
Jim Edmonds, OF, Brewers (back)
Kris Benson, SP, Diamondbacks (sore shoulder)
Kurt Suzuki, C, Athletics (sore side)
Weatherproof games: Athletics at Blue Jays, Rangers at Mariners and Royals at Rays. The weekend notes threaten to be a lot drearier in terms of possible delays and postponements, but as for Friday's slate of games, only the contest in St. Louis looks to be in danger of being harassed by the presence of thunderstorms.