Pitching Planner: The value of pitchers returning from injury

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Pitchers always carry a considerable amount of risk in fantasy. It is why they aren't as highly sought on draft day.

It is the injuries, though, that can make them nice sleepers for you. It tends to drag their values down, perhaps even making them waiver-wire sleepers.

It is time to jump back on board with some of the returning starters -- no, not the likes of Johan Santana (shoulder), Stephen Strasburg (elbow), Adam Wainwright (elbow) or Brandon Webb (shoulder). Serious injury is serious injury.

Minor injuries and general injury stigma are something entirely different.

It is the sleeper returns of Phil Hughes (shoulder), Bartolo Colon (hamstring), Brandon McCarthy (shoulder), Rich Harden (shoulder) and maybe even Kevin Slowey (shoulder) we could get some value out of. These pitchers all have shown flashes of fantasy genius and they are all undervalued by owners right now.

RHP Hughes, Yankees

He has pronounced himself fit to return, but the Yankees are likely to push him over 100 pitches in his next start. His problem isn't his health -- he has gotten up to the mid-90s again -- it is just the Yankees really don't have a spot for him. Ivan Nova could be pitching for his rotation spot. There is very little chance the Yankees go to a six-man rotation.

RHP Colon, Yankees

Colon is making his return to the Yankees rotation quickly off his hamstring injury. He represents a risk because of his age, injury history and generally questionable physical fitness, but his production has far exceeded his question marks before going on the DL. He is taking Brian Gordon's rotation spot and won't be a candidate to be removed for Hughes unless another injury, or hammy relapse, strikes.

RHP McCarthy, A's

He has gotten over his latest "what injury is it now" phenomenon and looks ready to return to the rotation this weekend. He won't have a great supporting cast, but he is still just 27 years old and was once a highly regarded prospect. There still could be some value here.

RHP Harden, A's

Yes, this Rich Harden. And, no, this isn't a sick joke. Harden still can pitch, if he can ever prove healthy. He is determined to make up for not having pitched in the first half of the season to date. The problem initially will be his 90-pitch count. That will make him cheap and affordable early. You could get a decent stretch out of him. If anything, he is at least "rested" and "due."

RHP Slowey, Twins

We were a bit surprised a potential 15-game-winner couldn't get a rotation spot over the likes of Brian Duensing, but apparently a sore shoulder could be to blame. Duensing has underwhelmed and Slowey is still a strike-thrower than can be a nice sleeper in deeper leagues. Watch him in his Triple-A rehab starts closely in the next week-plus. He should arrive before prospect Kyle Gibson at this point.

Sure, there are a lot of recycled names here. But it all points back to why pitching is so overlooked in fantasy. It tends to go bust, but it also tends to surprise us all over again down the road.

Now, on to the rest of our weekly report that breaks down all of the two-start pitcher options and outlines some of the fringy one-start matchups to take advantage of:

Outside of the obvious pitchers, here are some matchups to capitalize on this week and some to avoid, with the pitcher in question identified in italics.

Monday, July 4

Matchup to exploit: Jeff Francis, KC (3-9, 4.79) at Mark Buehrle, CHW (6-5, 3.65)

Buehrle remains a gem waiver gem for mixed leagues, arguably the most underrated fantasy pitcher of our era. He is available in almost 40 percent of leagues and active in less than 40 percent. Buehrle is good for a quality start each time out and hasn't allowed more than three runs since April. He was strong in May (3-1, 2.57) and steady in June (2-1, 3.06). He is a must-start in any format, despite his low ownership and starting percentages.

Matchup to avoid: Charlie Furbush, DET (1-1, 2.49) at Joel Pineiro, LAA (3-3, 4.15)

Furbush in an intriguing young starter with great numbers out of the bullpen, but his first week as a starter makes him a high-risk option. He just won't be allowed to pitch deep enough into the game in either of his first two starts. Consider him a stashee in deeper formats, though.

Tuesday, July 5

Matchup to exploit: Mike Pelfrey, NYM (4-7, 4.92) at Rubby De La Rosa, LAD (3-3, 4.41)

While Pelfrey remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma, De La Rosa pitched very well in his past start and he draws two mediocre offensive teams (ignoring what the Mets have done in the short term). De La Rosa is a nice sleeper with two home starts against the Mets and Padres.

Matchup to avoid: Brett Cecil, TOR (1-3, 7.24) at Jon Lester, BOS (10-4, 3.43)

Cecil made some progress down in the minors, but his first start back wasn't a good one and the reigning 15-game-winner draws a tough two-start slate. Cecil has an ERA approaching 7.00 in his starts against the Red Sox. His opposing pitchers are both tough, too. Stash Cecil; don't start him.

Wednesday, July 6

Matchup to exploit: Jason Vargas, SEA (5-5, 3.88) at Trevor Cahill, OAK (8-6, 3.29)

Cahill regressed into his early June swoon in his past start Thursday night, but he draws the offensive weak Mariners. Cahill has a 2.62 ERA against the Mariners in his seven career starts. Cahill is good enough to keep running out as a one-start pitcher, even with so many two-start pitcher options available to us this upcoming period.

Matchup to avoid: Ricky Romero, TOR (7-7, 2.74) at Tim Wakefield, BOS (4-3, 4.54)

Romero is the opposite story from Cahill this week. While Romero is pitching much, much better right now, he draws a matchup that has given him fits in his career. Romero is 2-5 with a 7.69 ERA in his 10 games against the Red Sox. He is a must-sit, one-starter, especially with so many two-start options available.

Thursday, July 7

Matchup to exploit: Jake Arrieta, BAL (9-4, 4.50) at Andrew Miller, BOS (1-0, 3.09)

The Red Sox have lined up Miller nicely in his brief time since his call-up. He has faced weak non-contenders in the Padres, Pirates and Astros. He then gets the Orioles here. The numbers are good enough and the matchups and supporting cast make him a solid start in any format if you don't have a good two-start option.

Matchup to avoid: Homer Bailey, CIN (3-2, 3.86) at Chris Narveson MIL (5-5, 4.418)

Bailey has struggled of late, posting a 9.00 ERA in his past two starts. He is also not a good play in his one start against the offensively potent Brewers. Bailey has 5.36 ERA in seven games against them in his career.

Friday, July 8

Matchup to exploit: R.A. Dickey, NYM (4-7, 3.77) at Ryan Vogelsong, SF (6-1, 2.09)

Vogelsong wasn't at his dominant best in his past start, but he also wasn't bad enough to consider sitting him at home against the Mets. Vogelsong remains a solid option in all leagues, especially since you have to figure the Mets will cool off offensively on a West Coast trip.

Matchup to avoid: Rick Porcello, DET (6-6, 5.06) at Kyle Davies, KC (1-6, 7.46)

We were very close to advising Porcello against the weak Royals and Davies, who has the highest ERA in the modern era of a pitcher with as many career starts as he has. That is fine, but Porcello is a mess right now. He vows to mix things up better, but his 14.29 ERA in his past three starts makes him just too difficult to trust.

Saturday, July 9

Matchup to exploit: Brett Myers, HOU (3-7, 4.60) at Ricky Nolasco FLA (5-4, 4.08)

Myers has largely been a disappointment this season, but he qualifies as an advisable two-start pitcher with his performances of late and his matchups. He is starting twice on the road, but Pittsburgh and Florida aren't scary destinations.

Matchup to avoid: Clayton Richard, SD (4-9, 4.09) at Ted Lilly, LA (5-8, 4.97)

There isn't a more advisable opponent than the Padres, but there isn't a pitcher pitching worse than Lilly, perhaps. Lilly draws the Mets and Padres in a potentially promising week in terms of matchups, but his struggles make him impossible to trust.

Sunday, July 10

Matchup to exploit: Wandy Rodriguez, HOU (6-4, 2.97) at Chris Volstad, FLA (4-7, 5.01)

Volstad's full season numbers aren't great but he is pitching his best ball of late and draws the offensively weak Astros in his second start. Volstad is even pitching well enough to ride in through a tough first matchup against the Phillies.

Matchup to avoid: Mike Pelfrey, NYM (4-7, 4.92) at Matt Cain, SF (7-4, 3.02)

This matchup doesn't look overly difficult for the up-and-down Pelfrey, but there are too many other viable options to consider over him this week. You're putting either start at risk with Pelfrey, no matter the matchup. He needs to prove productive over a long stretch of starts to be useful in mixed leagues again.

Eric Mack helps you plan your pitching staff every Friday at SI.com. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.