MLB Notes: Albert Pujols looks to test knee


MLB Notes: Albert Pujols looks to test knee

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols hopes to begin agility drills and light running in a couple of days to test his surgically repaired right knee.

Pujols underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee in October, what he considered a minor cleanup procedure, but says he will ease into spring training with the hopes of being fully healthy for opening day. There's no reason to rush things in mid-February with the season nearly two months away (see full story).

Cards extend GM Mozeliak
JUPITER, Fla. -- The St. Louis Cardinals have agreed to a three-year contract extension with general manager John Mozeliak and exercised the 2014 option for manager Mike Matheny.

The 44-year-old Mozeliak will now be with the Cardinals through 2016. Matheny, in the second year of a two-year contract, is now guaranteed through next year. Terms were not announced.

Chairman William DeWitt says the management team shares the same vision and he praised both managers, saying Matheny did a "remarkable" job in his first season, coming within a win of taking the team to a second straight World Series (see full story).

Francona plans speech
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Terry Francona has his speech planned. To him, it's the biggest one he'll give all season. 

With Boston in his rear view mirror, Cleveland's new manager will stand before the revamped Indians on Friday and outline his expectations for training camp and the upcoming season. Francona, who spent a year as a broadcaster after eight seasons with the Red Sox, said it's vital to set the right tone with his team, one that has been overhauled by an unexpected spending spree.

The Indians invested $117 million in guaranteed money on free agents this winter, with the signings of outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn accounting for $104 million.
Bourn, an All-Star with Atlanta last season, arrived at the team's training facility on Thursday. He'll be introduced at a news conference shortly after the Indians have their first full-squad workout (see full story).

Youkilis changes sides
TAMPA, Fla. -- Kevin Youkilis has taken part in his first workout with the New York Yankees.

The one-time Boston Red Sox third baseman was part of a pre-spring training session Thursday at the Yankees' minor league complex.

Youkilis took batting practice and also stopped at Steinbrenner Field, where New York's pitchers and catchers held their second day of workouts, and talked with manager Joe Girardi.

A three-time All-Star, Youkilis figures to be the Yankees' starting third baseman for at least the first half of the season while Alex Rodriguez recovers from hip surgery. Youkilis agreed to a $12 million, one-year contract in December (see full story).

MLB Notes: Mets sign SS Jose Reyes to minor league contract

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MLB Notes: Mets sign SS Jose Reyes to minor league contract

ATLANTA -- The New York Mets have signed shortstop Jose Reyes to a minor league contract.

Reyes, 33, played primarily at shortstop for the Mets from 2003-11, but may be used in a utility role in his reunion with the team.

Reyes was cut by Colorado after serving a 59-day suspension for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy. He became a free agent on Saturday. The Rockies are responsible for the $39 million remaining on his contract, minus the prorated share of the $507,500 major league minimum to be paid by the Mets.

Reyes will report to the Mets' Class A Brooklyn Cyclones. The Mets say Reyes is expected to play in Sunday's game.

Reyes could help at more than one position. Third baseman David Wright could miss the remainder of the season following surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. First baseman Lucas Duda and outfielder Juan Lagares also are on the disabled list.

Yankees: Teixeira activated from DL; Ike Davis cut
NEW YORK -- First baseman Mark Teixeira has been activated from the 15-day disabled list and is in the New York Yankees' lineup against the Minnesota Twins.

Teixeira is set to bat sixth on Saturday, his first major league game since June 3. The switch-hitter had been sidelined with torn cartilage in his right knee.

To open a spot on the roster, New York designated first baseman Ike Davis for assignment. Davis was signed June 13 and went 3 for 14 (.214) with an RBI for the Yankees.

New York manager Joe Girardi says the team chose to keep Rob Refsnyder over Davis in part because Refsnyder can play other positions besides first base.

The 36-year-old Teixeira went 1 for 9 in three rehab games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The three-time All-Star was struggling at the plate before he got hurt, batting .180 with three homers and 12 RBIs.

After refining approach at plate, Reading's Rhys Hoskins enjoying power streak

After refining approach at plate, Reading's Rhys Hoskins enjoying power streak

READING, Pa. -- Phillies prospect Rhys Hoskins hit 17 home runs in all of 2015. He already has 20 of them in 69 games this season at Double A, and we've not even reached the halfway point.

But how much of Hoskins' power display is a result of his rapid development, and how much of it is the advantage of playing at a hitter-friendly ballpark?

With 11 homers during the month of June alone, Hoskins has lept into the spotlight in just the past few weeks. The 23-year-old's 20 bombs are first in the Eastern League, right in front of Reading teammate Dylan Cozens (19).

At least some of that production is Hoskins refining his approach at the plate.

"I'm really honing in on my plan," Hoskins said. "I've talked a lot with (batting coach Frank Cacciatore) about how to dissect the pitchers here in Double A. They're pitching me differently from what I've seen coming up through the lower minors.

"I'm really sticking to it, being stubborn with it, whereas in the past I kind of would float and get in trouble."

Yet even Hoskins had to admit that FirstEvergy Stadium has been kind to Phillies batters over the years, and that maybe he's been getting a little bit of a boost from whatever makes it such a great place to hit.

"I just feel like a better hitter here," Hoskins said. "I don't know what it is. It's got its reputation as a hitters' park and that kind of gets into guys heads. And that's OK. Confidence is a big thing when you step up to the plate. If you feel like a better hitter being here and walking up to the plate up there, that's kind of half the battle — 330 down the line, that's pretty normal, 400 to dead center. There's usually a breeze, sometimes it's not with us, sometimes it is. It's not an overly small park, but it's definitely not big."

We've seen Phillies prospects go on a tear at Reading before.

Sometimes, the prospect is for real, like Ryan Howard. Howard set the Fightin Phils' franchise record with 37 home runs in 2004. Two years later, he hit 58 in the majors and was named the National League's Most Valuable Player. Two years after that, he anchored a lineup that powered the Phillies to a World Series championship.

Other times, the numbers are deceptive, like in Darin Ruf's case. Ruf broke Howard's record with 38 homers in 2012, but has since been unable to capitalize on multiple opportunities in the show.

For what it's worth, Hoskins doesn't seem too worried about whether his power production is legit or not. If he keeps swinging the bat well, that will be reflected by the statistics.

"Numbers are numbers, and yeah, numbers don't lie, but the biggest thing, especially when you start getting up the higher levels, is consistency," Hoskins said. "If you can keep doing it at home, on the road, in April, in August, in September, I think the numbers will prove themself."

Another person who is unconcerned by the potential mirage is Reading manager Dusty Wathan. He's seen some power hitters come up through the Phillies' system, including Ruf, and suggests while the ballpark may pad home run totals, Hoskins is still making good contact.

"It's obviously a great place to hit, and the place probably adds to your home run total," Wathan said, "but most of the balls that most guys hit, if they're not homers, they're probably doubles. So if you wanna take a couple homers off and add a couple more doubles, they're still doing all right.

"Most of the balls these guys hit aren't catchable balls."

Wathan also insists Hoskins is hitting for power regardless of which stadium he's playing.

"Hoskins hit a few homers last year," Wathan said. "I think he's kind of right on track. It's a little bit smaller ballpark, but the last time I looked at his numbers, they were pretty even as far as he's hit some home runs on the road and some home runs at home."

He's not wrong. Although the bulk of Hoskins' homers are at Reading — 13 to seven — the 6-foot-4, 225-pound righthander has 12 doubles on the road to only four at home in an almost an even split of games.

Hoskins doesn't necessarily have to put the ball over the fence to be effective. Until recently, he was thought of as more of a doubles hitter, but observes when you approach at bats the right way, good things tend to happen.

"A guy like myself, if I tell myself, 'Drive the ball in the gaps,' sometimes you'll just accidentally hit home runs," Hoskins said. "I guess some of them have accidentally gone over more than in the past, but as long as I keep that mindset, the balls will keep doing what they're doing.

"I can't try to hit the ball out of the ballpark. That's when guys get into trouble, so just hope it keeps on happening by accident I guess."

While Hoskins has cooled off a bit in the past week, going six games without a bomb, he's still on a near-historic pace for this franchise. He also recognizes fellow Phillies first basemen who have experienced similar surges, Howard and Ruf, both went on to achieve his goal of playing in the majors.

"It's cool," Hoskins said of the comparisons. "Those guys are where I want to be, especially Howard with the career he's had, and Ruf with what he did here and was able to make the jump to the big leagues.

"It's a path, a guideline, to say, 'Hey, they did this, they got to the big leagues.' If I can do something similar, then I've got a good chance to be where I ultimately want to be."

For now, Hoskins is biding his time at Double A where the home run chase with Cozens should keep him busy. Asked whether the two have a friendly wager of any time as to who will finish more, Hoskins wouldn't tell, but made it clear he's looking forward to the challenge.

"I'll just say I think all athletes are competitors and leave it at that," Hoskins said. "It should be a fun next couple of months."

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Madison Bumgarner looms as Phils seek to snap skid

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Madison Bumgarner looms as Phils seek to snap skid

Phillies (31-44) at Giants (48-27)
10:05 p.m. on CSN

After losing for the 10th time in 11 games, the Phillies face a tough a test as they may face all year Saturday night: Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.

One of baseball's premier pitchers, Bumgarner will take the hill against Jeremy Hellickson, with the Phils' looking to avoid another defeat.

Here are five things to know for tonight's matchup.

1. This is Mad-ness. No, this is Bumgarner!
Whether it is his lucious locks of hair, his 2014 World Series MVP award or his sterling ERA, Bumgarner seems to have everything going for him. 

Still just 26 years old, Bumgarner is in the midst of his best regular season ever. The lefty ace known as "Mad Bum" has the third best ERA in all of baseball (1.85) and has the fifth most strikeouts of any pitcher with 128 K's. 

Ever the workhorse, he's also sixth in baseball with 102 innings pitched in his 15 starts. He is easily on pace for his sixth straight year with at least 200 innings pitched and he has never had an ERA above 3.37. 

All of this is to say that the Phillies are going to have a lot of trouble scoring Saturday. 

Bumgarner's bat has even made news this year. He has two home runs this year (one off Clayton Kershaw) and has created headlines with his desire to join the home run derby in July. He has 13 career homers, including five last season.

To make matters worse for the Phils, Bumgarner has had their number. He is 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA in seven starts against the Phillies, striking out 51 batters in 48⅔ innings. He also had a .353 average in 19 plate appearances against the Phils, picking up six singles. 

2. What to make of Hellickson
Phillies fans now have a solid sample size with which to judge Hellickson. Acquired from the Diamondbacks in the offseason, the veteran righty was supposed to fill a role atop the Phillies' rotation, providing steady innings. Furthermore, many wondered whether he could be used as a trade chip to bring back a prospect come July.

As we near July, it's time to take stock in what Hellickson has actually provided the Phillies and what they can expect from him moving forward. 

A. Innings: He's been solid on this account. In his 15 starts this season, he's completed at least five innings in all but two games (one of which the Phillies won). In his last eight starts, he has thrown at least six innings seven times and has done so 10 times. 

B. Quality: It was tough to expect high quality innings from Hellickson a few years removed from arm injuries. He hadn't produced an ERA below 4.50 since 2012. So far in 2016, he's been about as expected, sporting a 4.41 ERA in 87⅔ innings. He has seven quality starts, a good but certainly not great mark.

C. Trade value: This is still tough to gauge. When he had a 3.68 ERA at the end of May, it seemed like he may get something back in a trade, but a few below average starts brought him back to his post-2012 levels. Still, his penchant for pitching deep into games paired with few high quality pitchers set to be free agents this offseason make him a useful chip for general manager Matt Klentak.

3. Wait, where is Hunter Pence?
There is only one former Phillies player on the Giants and it's a fan favorite: Hunter Pence. Pence patrolled the outfield in Philadelphia for 155 games during the 2011 and '12 seasons before he was traded to San Francisco mid-year. Pence hit 28 home runs in a Phillies uniform to go with 94 RBIs and a .289 batting average

But Pence won't be on the field this weekend for the Giants. He tore his hamstring in early June and underwent surgery, which was supposed to keep him out for 6-8 weeks. 

The Giants come to Citizens Bank Park to begin August, which would be right around the time Pence rejoins the roster. 

With Pence out, rookies Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker alongside veteran Gregor Blanco have been taking turns filling in the spacious right field at AT&T Park.  

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Cop out here with two people. I'm going with the catching duo of Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz. Rupp has been solid in his first year as a starting catcher while Ruiz has success against Bumgarner in his career, collecting seven hits and a home run.

Giants: Underrated at shortstop, Brandon Crawford is well on his way to earning his contract extension with the Giants. Crawford made a lot of that money off of his defensive prowess, but he can handle the bat, currently with a career-high on-base percentage in his age 29 season.

5. This and that 
• Another Phillies hitter with a home run off Bumgarner is Andres Blanco, who is 1 for 4 off the lefty with just the dinger to show for it. 

• Unsurprisingly, Ryan Howard struggles against the lefty ace. He is 2 for 11 with a walk and six strikeouts. It'd be tough for Pete Mackanin to go with him at first, even with Tommy Joseph in the midst of a slump.

• Buster Posey is 0 for 7 with a walk against Hellickson. Crawford is 4 for 7 with a walk in eight plate appearances against the righty.

• Before this recent stretch, the Phillies hadn't had a stretch of 11 losses in 12 games since June 8-20, 2015.