Many were writing off Albert Pujols after last year’s injury-shortened, disappointing season. However, if the first month of the 2014 campaign is any indication, it appears El Hombre might have a bit left in the tank.
Pujols on Tuesday became the 26th player in major league history to reach 500 home runs, slugging No. 499 and No. 500 in a win over the Nationals. The 34-year-old is the third-youngest player to reach the milestone, as only Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Foxx (both 32 at the time) were younger.
The three-time MVP’s big night continues his red-hot month of April, as Pujols has a major league-leading eight home runs to go along with 19 RBI and a .274/.337/.619 batting line. As encouraging as the eight longballs are, probably just as heartening for Pujols owners is that he’s played in all 20 of the Angels’ games so far, starting 17 of them at first base. Last year’s plantar fasciitis injury hasn’t been an issue at all to this point.
No, Pujols isn’t going to continue hitting one home run for every four balls he hits in the air. Yes, it’s possible the foot ailment crops up again. Yes, he’s declined steadily since back-to-back MVP seasons in 2008-09. But let’s not forget that Pujols went 30-100 in his last healthy season, which was just two years ago. He’s off to a great start as he looks to reach those totals again.
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Game On for Manny
Orioles fans have been deprived of Manny Machado for a month already (dating back to last season), but they’re going to get the third baseman back into their lives soon if they can hold out for just a bit longer.
Machado will take the next step in the rehab process from knee surgery when he begins a rehab assignment with High-A Frederick on Friday. The 21-year-old was cleared for his first official game action after getting through a few extended spring training contests with no issues. He’ll play one final extended spring game Wednesday before travelling to Frederick.
The third baseman isn’t expected to stay at the High-A affiliate long, as he’ll remain there over the weekend before moving up to either Double-A Bowie or Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles anticipate Machado needing only around a week of rehab games, so he should be back in the majors at the beginning of May.
Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan Schoop and Steve Lombardozzi have been alternating between second and third base in Machado’s absence. Schoop’s batting line fell to .242/.242/.387 for the season with an 0-for-4 effort Tuesday, and he’s struck out 18 times without drawing a walk. The 22-year-old might be best off going back to Norfolk to play every day.
Iwakuma, Fister Eyeing Rehab Assignments
Machado isn’t the only one who is nearing a return to game action, as a pair of frontline starters is poised to begin rehab assignments over the weekend.
Hisashi Iwakuma (finger) was supposed to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday, but with iffy weather conditions expected he threw another simulated game instead. Mariners catcher John Buck, who caught Iwakuma Tuesday, said the righty was “nasty,” while Iwakuma said the ball “jumped out of my hand pretty well.”
Iwakuma will pitch for Tacoma on Sunday, and it’s possible he’ll be ready to rejoin the Mariners’ rotation after that.
Like Iwakuma, Doug Fister (lat) threw another simulated game Tuesday with no issues.
"Felt good with everything," Nationals manager Matt Williams told MLB.com. "Lots of grounders, and reported that he felt really good with it."
Fister is also in line to make a rehab start on Sunday, but he’ll need a couple of rehab appearances before being activated. The right-hander is slated to go four innings in his first outing and five frames in his second before being added to the Nats’ rotation. His season debut is expected to come on May 7.
Suspensions Handed Down in MIL/PIT brawl
Major League Baseball on Tuesday levied suspensions in the fallout of Sunday’s fracas between the Brewers and Pirates. Not surprisingly, it was a couple Milwaukee players that received the brunt of the punishment.
Martin Maldonado, who landed the only punch in the fight, received the biggest reprimand in the form of a five-game suspension. His teammate, Carlos Gomez, received a three-game ban. Travis Snider, who was on the other end of the Maldonado haymaker, got two games, while Russell Martin got one. Maldonado began serving his suspension Tuesday, while the other three players decided to appeal.
Pirates hurler Gerrit Cole, who, it can be argued, started the melee when he barked at Gomez near third base, didn’t get suspended. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke wasn’t pleased with that fact.
"The guy who started it all got nothing, and I don't understand that," Roenicke told MLB.com. "So, no I'm not happy with it. Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee's general manager] is not happy with it. I know they're tough decisions, I know they have a lot to think of, they've got precedent, they've got a lot of things that go into this, but I don't think it's fair."
National League Quick Hits: Jose Fernandez struck out 14 batters over eight scoreless innings in the Marlins' victory over the Braves Tuesday ... Yovani Gallardo allowed just one run over seven innings versus the Pirates Tuesday to lower his season ERA to 1.42 ... The Padres have reportedly had active talks with teams involving a trade of Nick Hundley ... Adam Wainwright left Tuesday’s outing with a hyperextended right knee but is expected to be fine for his next start ... Johnny Cueto had his second complete game in as many starts Tuesday, tossing nine frames of one-run ball to lower his ERA to 1.38 ... Alex Wood struck out 11 Marlins hitters Tuesday but lost his second straight game while throwing eight innings of one-run ball ... Chad Billingsley will receive a PRP injection in his right elbow on Wednesday and hopes to resume throwing next week ... Brewers pitching prospect Johnny Hellweg has been diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament ... Mike Minor (shoulder) will make one more rehab start this Friday at Double-A Mississippi before rejoining the Braves’ rotation ...
American League Quick Hits: An MRI has revealed that Shin-Soo Choo does not have a high left ankle sprain, but he won’t play until at least Friday ... Collin McHugh spun an unexpected gem Tuesday, whiffing 12 Mariners batters over 6 2/3 scoreless innings ... Josh Fields earned his second save of the season with a scoreless inning in Tuesday’s win over Seattle ... Luke Gregerson blew his third save of the season in Tuesday’s loss to the Rangers ... Danny Salazar was knocked around for five runs -- four earned -- in 4 1/3 innings Tuesday to push his ERA up to 7.85 ... David Price allowed three runs while striking out 12 in a complete-game win over the Twins Tuesday ... Gordon Beckham (oblique) is on track to be activated from the disabled list this weekend ... Dylan Bundy (elbow) will begin throwing breaking balls in his next bullpen session ... Vidal Nuno has been named the Yankees' fifth starter ... Shane Victorino (hamstring) may be activated from the DL as soon as Wednesday ... J.J. Hardy (hamstring) is aiming to return to action Wednesday ...