Returning players like Ramirez, Cespedes provide significant upgrades
The season is old enough now that players who were hurt during the first few weeks, needed extra rehabilitation time after off-season surgery or were serving early-season suspensions are starting to return to action. Several of these players represent significant upgrades over their replacements and thus greatly improve their teams' outlooks going forward.
1. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
Ramirez made his first start of the season Tuesday night, batting fifth and playing shortstop for the Dodgers and he made an immediate impact. On what just happened to be Hanley Ramirez bobblehead night, Ramirez, who struck out as a pinch-hitter in his season debut on Monday night, went 2-for-4 with a double and a solo home run as the Dodgers beat the first-place Rockies. The victory pulled Los Angeles within 2 1/2 games of Colorado, but the return of Ramirez from a thumb injury suffered in the World Baseball Classic final should prove even more significant. Prior to Tuesday night, the Dodgers’ shortstops, primarily Justin Sellers, had hit a combined .171/.242/.220 on the season. Now if they could just find someone who could play third base.
2. Yoenis Cespedes, A's
Like Ramirez, Cespedes provided an instant impact upon returning to the lineup. On Sunday, in his first game back from a hand injury, Cespedes went 2-for-5 against the Orioles, including a game-tying, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning that set up Oakland's walkoff win in extra-innings. He turned the trick again on Monday night, delivering a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth to drive in Coco Crisp with the tying run against the Angels, sending the two teams deep into the night in a game that the A’s ultimately won in 19 innings on a walkoff homer by Brandon Moss. All he did on Tuesday night was double and triple in four trips while driving in four runs and starting in centerfield in place of the injured Crisp and Chris Young. In the three games since his return, Cespedes has slugged .647 and driven in seven runs with four of his RBI hits bringing about lead-changes.
Lackey also returned on Sunday, 22 days after straining his bicep during his first major league appearance since 2011. In that game, on April 6, Lackey, who missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery, struck out eight Blue Jays in 4 1/3 innings but doubled over in such pain in the fifth inning that there was initial concern that he was again lost for the season. Fortunately for Boston, he was back three weeks later and returned with a quality start, admittedly against the Astros, on Sunday. That, along with the Tuesday return of reliever Joel Hanrahan, allowed the Red Sox to option Alfredo Aceves to Triple-A. Aceves went 1-1 with an 8.10 ERA, more walks than strikeouts, no quality starts and four home runs allowed in three starts in Lackey's place in the rotation.
Two veterans made their 2013 debuts for Philadelphia in the last few days. New addition Delmon Young, returning from offseason ankle surgery, homered in his first at-bat of the season on Tuesday night, albeit in a losing effort. Far more important for the Phillies, however, was the return on Sunday of catcher Carlos Ruiz, who missed the first 25 games of the season due to an amphetamine suspension. In his absence, the Phillies' catchers, Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero, hit just .202/.232/.319.
5. Erick Aybar, Angels Slick-fielding shortstop Erick Aybar, who had been out since April 10 with a bruised heel, returned to the Angels' lineup on Tuesday. Journeyman Brendan Harris was the Halos' primary starter at short in Aybar's absence and hit .260/.288/.400 while displaying the fielding form that kept him out of the majors all of last year.