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Trout goes oppo for MLB-leading 10th homer

MLB.com @alysonfooter

HOUSTON -- It didn't take long for Mike Trout to reach the double-digit mark for home runs in 2018. He launched homer No. 10 on the first pitch he saw from Astros right-hander Charlie Morton -- a 96.5-mph four-seam fastball -- on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, giving the Angels a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning.

Trout, whose homer traveled 371 feet with a launch angle of 35 degrees according to Statcast™, became the fastest to 10 homers in Angels history, reaching the mark in the club's 24th game. The prior record was nine, most recently done by Albert Pujols in 2014. Trout didn't hit his 10th homer of '17 until May 13, in his 33rd game off the season. 

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HOUSTON -- It didn't take long for Mike Trout to reach the double-digit mark for home runs in 2018. He launched homer No. 10 on the first pitch he saw from Astros right-hander Charlie Morton -- a 96.5-mph four-seam fastball -- on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, giving the Angels a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning.

Trout, whose homer traveled 371 feet with a launch angle of 35 degrees according to Statcast™, became the fastest to 10 homers in Angels history, reaching the mark in the club's 24th game. The prior record was nine, most recently done by Albert Pujols in 2014. Trout didn't hit his 10th homer of '17 until May 13, in his 33rd game off the season. 

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The homer came on Morton's fourth pitch in a game that had already brought with it a lot of intrigue, even before the first pitch was thrown. Morton entered the game with the lowest ERA in the American League at 0.72, and on the Angels' side, Shohei Ohtani took the mound looking to become the first Major Leaguer in history to log three wins and three home runs in the month of April.

Trout has reached base safely in 10 of his last 17 plate appearances. He's 8-for-15 with two doubles, four homers and five RBIs during that span.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Los Angeles Angels, Mike Trout

Schwarber keeps raking with 2 HRs vs. Tribe

MLB.com @castrovince

CLEVELAND -- Progressive Field always seems to bring out the best in Kyle Schwarber.

In the building where he hit his first Major League home run and famously raked in the World Series after missing the vast majority of 2016, Schwarber led the Cubs' dinger derby off Indians starter Josh Tomlin on Tuesday night with his fifth and sixth home runs of the year.

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CLEVELAND -- Progressive Field always seems to bring out the best in Kyle Schwarber.

In the building where he hit his first Major League home run and famously raked in the World Series after missing the vast majority of 2016, Schwarber led the Cubs' dinger derby off Indians starter Josh Tomlin on Tuesday night with his fifth and sixth home runs of the year.

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Schwarber keyed a two-run second inning with one of the hardest-hit home runs of the young Major League season. At 117.1 mph, his solo shot on a 2-1 offering from Tomlin had the fifth-highest exit velocity of any home run tracked by Statcast™ so far in 2018. Only Giancarlo Stanton (117.9), Hanley Ramirez (117.5), Stanton (117.3) and Marcell Ozuna (117.2) had harder-hit homers this year. In fact, Schwarber's blast into the right-field seats was the hardest hit of any kind by a Cubs player since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015. He broke his own club record for hardest homer set with a 114.3-mph shot last Sept. 19.

The Cubs kept the inning going with an Addison Russell double and an Ian Happ RBI single to take an early 2-0 lead, and Willson Contreras added a solo shot in the third.

Video: CHC@CLE: Contreras cranks solo home run to left field

Schwarber's second blast, leading off the fourth inning, wasn't quite as much of a rocket shot, but it was still a prodigious 407-foot poke that gave the Cubs a 4-1 lead. Happ then added on a solo homer of his own to knock Tomlin out of the game.

Video: CHC@CLE: Schwarber launches second homer of the game

Schwarber came into the game with a .520/.571/.760 slash line in six career games at Progressive Field, including the World Series. But he doesn't need to return to his native Ohio to hit these days. He came into the two-game set with hits in 12 of his previous 29 at-bats, raising his season average from .172 to .293 in the process.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Chicago Cubs, Kyle Schwarber

Gonzales fans 8 as Mariners blank White Sox

Special to MLB.com

CHICAGO -- On a day when Mariners manager Scott Servais said he needed more from his starting pitching, Marco Gonzales delivered.

Coming off an eight-strikeout effort last week against the Astros, Gonzales threw six-plus brilliant innings and matched his season high with another eight strikeouts on Tuesday in the Mariners' 1-0 victory over the White Sox.

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CHICAGO -- On a day when Mariners manager Scott Servais said he needed more from his starting pitching, Marco Gonzales delivered.

Coming off an eight-strikeout effort last week against the Astros, Gonzales threw six-plus brilliant innings and matched his season high with another eight strikeouts on Tuesday in the Mariners' 1-0 victory over the White Sox.

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Mitch Haniger, who had homered in four straight games, didn't extend the streak on Tuesday, but he did come through with a fourth-inning RBI single that drove in Kyle Seager, who doubled with two outs. Haniger finished 1-for-4 with three strikeouts.

Video: SEA@CWS: Haniger singles in Seager to open scoring

Gonzales, who finished one strikeout off his career best of nine, scattered five hits and walked one. After opening the first inning with back-to-back hits, the White Sox went hitless until Tim Anderson led off the sixth with a single.

Relievers Dan Altavilla and Marc Rzepczynski protected the 1-0 lead in the seventh when they retired the next three hitters, stranding Moncada at second base. Edwin Diaz earned his ninth save of the season with a perfect ninth.

Jeff Arnold is a contributor to MLB.com based in Chicago.

Seattle Mariners, Marco Gonzales

A rogue hot dog has escaped Cleveland's Hot Dog Race and we're all doomed

If you turned on the Cubs-Indians pregame on Tuesday, you might've expected to see some players stretching, a live look at batting practice or perhaps highlights from the last time the two teams met.

You probably weren't ready for this. 

Avila, Dyson crack back-to-back jacks in Philly

MLB.com @SteveGilbertMLB

PHILADELPHIA -- The D-backs got power from a pair of unexpected sources in the third inning Tuesday when Alex Avila and Jarrod Dyson hit back-to-back homers to give Arizona a 2-0 lead.

It was the second homer of the year for Avila, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason and came into the game hitting just .114. It was a no-doubt blast, with the exit velocity at 110.1 mph, the hardest batted ball of any kind for Avila since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015.

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PHILADELPHIA -- The D-backs got power from a pair of unexpected sources in the third inning Tuesday when Alex Avila and Jarrod Dyson hit back-to-back homers to give Arizona a 2-0 lead.

It was the second homer of the year for Avila, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason and came into the game hitting just .114. It was a no-doubt blast, with the exit velocity at 110.1 mph, the hardest batted ball of any kind for Avila since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015.

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The homer was the first for Dyson, who came into the game hitting .160.

Video: ARI@PHI: Dyson belts a solo home run to right

Prior to the homers, Phillies starter Vince Velasquez had been dominant, retiring the first six batters he faced and striking out the side in the second inning.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Alex Avila, Jarrod Dyson

Power Rankings: There's a new top dog in NL

D-backs slide past Mets in Senior Circuit; Red Sox maintain No. 1 spot overall
MLB.com @alysonfooter

This week's Power Rankings begin with a tip of the cap to several teams who are exceeding most preseason expectations placed upon them, and who could find themselves with higher positions in this space as soon as next week if they keep up this pace.

First up is the Athletics, who have won three straight, got a no-hitter from Sean Manaea vs. the Red Sox on Saturday, and have recorded wins in seven of their past eight games. The A's will continue their road series with the Rangers as one of four teams in the highly touted American League West with a winning record at 12-11, mere percentage points behind the 11-10 Mariners.

This week's Power Rankings begin with a tip of the cap to several teams who are exceeding most preseason expectations placed upon them, and who could find themselves with higher positions in this space as soon as next week if they keep up this pace.

First up is the Athletics, who have won three straight, got a no-hitter from Sean Manaea vs. the Red Sox on Saturday, and have recorded wins in seven of their past eight games. The A's will continue their road series with the Rangers as one of four teams in the highly touted American League West with a winning record at 12-11, mere percentage points behind the 11-10 Mariners.

Video: Must C Classic: Sean Manaea no-hits the Red Sox

The Braves and Phillies deserve some love as well. Philadelphia is 9-1 at home and has won seven straight at Citizens Bank Park. The Phils' home record marks their best start to a season since they began the 1964 campaign by going 9-1 in their first 10 games at Connie Mack Stadium, and they will enter play on Tuesday in second place in the National League East, a half-game behind the Mets. The Braves, at 12-9, have sported a better record so far than the 10-13 Nationals, who were picked by most as the favorites to win the division.

Biggest jump: The Cardinals jumped six spots, from No. 13 to No. 7. Sure, they've played most of their games in the past week-and-a-half against the 4-18 Reds, but still, the numbers are notable. During a current stretch that produced a four-game sweep in Cincinnati, a rain-shortened two-game series split with the Cubs at Wrigley Field and a home sweep over the Reds, Cards starting pitchers have gone 7-1 with a 2.35 ERA, allowing 14 earned runs over 53 2/3 innings while walking 19 and striking out 51.

Video: CIN@STL: Martinez throws six scoreless, fans seven

Biggest drop: The Pirates slipped six spots, from No. 11 to No. 17. The hot start has cooled in a big way. Since taking two of three over the Marlins, Pittsburgh has lost six of seven, including a four-game weekend sweep in Philadelphia. The Bucs are not hitting -- in those six losses, they scored just seven runs. Their only breakout game happened last Wednesday in a home game against the Rockies, when Pittsburgh scored 10.

Power Rankings Top 5

1. Red Sox (No. 1 last week)
The Red Sox had quite a weekend. They ended it with the best record in baseball still intact, but the Sox lost two in a row for the first time this season, with one of the losses a no-hitter by Manaea. Still, Boston is leading the Majors in many offensive categories, and its bullpen has been rock solid, stringing together 20 2/3 scoreless innings.

Video: Must C Crushed: Betts HRs off Ohtani, slugs two more

2. Astros (2)
The Astros opened their Seattle-Chicago road trip with a loss to the Mariners, marking their fifth defeat in six games. Then they reeled off six wins in a row, erasing the "slow start" speculation that had started to build around the defending World Series champs. In four games in Seattle, they outscored the Mariners, 21-6. Then they piled on 27 runs in three games in Chicago while holding the White Sox to two runs. Now comes a more challenging test: a long homestand with series against the Angels, A's and Yankees.

3. D-backs (5)
The D-backs, who have slid into the top of the Power Rankings among NL clubs, have won all seven series they've played so far in 2018; six against intradivision rivals. Based on early returns, this could be a breakout season for Patrick Corbin. The lefty struck out 11 Padres over six innings on Sunday and sports a 1.89 ERA and a 0.66 WHIP over five starts. He's walked six and struck out 48. Offensively, A.J. Pollock, the D-backs' primary cleanup hitter, has 16 RBIs and 14 extra-base hits through 20 games.

Video: SD@ARI: Corbin K's 11 over six, drills RBI single

4. Mets (3)
The Mets have returned to normalcy after their red-hot start, but with a respectable 14-6 record even after series losses in the past week to the Nationals and the Braves, they remain in the Top 5 of the Power Rankings. New York has already made one major tweak, shifting Matt Harvey to the bullpen. Now the Mets have to figure out how to use him. High-leverage situations? Late innings? Harvey is not happy about his removal from the rotation, and it will be interesting to see how he responds when he's called upon from the 'pen.

Video: Harvey, Callaway on Harvey moving to bullpen

5. Indians (9)
Their 12-8 record isn't necessarily eye-popping, but the Indians have turned it on lately due in part to impressive pitching performances. The Tribe has won nine of its past 12 games, allowing three runs or fewer in 11 of those 12 games. The Indians own the second-best ERA in the Majors at 2.57.

The rest of the Top 20
6. Angels (4)
7. Cardinals (13)
8. Nationals (8)
9. Yankees (6)
10. Dodgers (10)
11. Cubs (7)
12. Blue Jays (12)
13. Brewers (16)
14. Phillies (17)
15. Rockies (15)
16. Twins (14)
17. Pirates (11)
18. Braves (19)
19. Mariners (18)
20. Giants (20)

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Why A-Gon matters to Tigers with No. 1 pick

MLB.com @beckjason

The Tigers began their season three weeks ago, but for some, the most important moment of 2018 will come on June 4, when Detroit picks first in the MLB Draft. The team is giving fans a chance to go behind the scenes and follow the process as it prepares to make its pick.

It's not a scouting hire or a sweepstakes, but an online documentary showing the meetings and the decisions involved in making the first overall selection. The video, which went online Monday, introduces the decision-makers from general manager Al Avila to assistant GM David Chadd, amateur scouting director Scott Pleis and senior director of baseball analytics Jay Sartori. It includes a look inside the scouting meetings that took place at the Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Fla.

The Tigers began their season three weeks ago, but for some, the most important moment of 2018 will come on June 4, when Detroit picks first in the MLB Draft. The team is giving fans a chance to go behind the scenes and follow the process as it prepares to make its pick.

It's not a scouting hire or a sweepstakes, but an online documentary showing the meetings and the decisions involved in making the first overall selection. The video, which went online Monday, introduces the decision-makers from general manager Al Avila to assistant GM David Chadd, amateur scouting director Scott Pleis and senior director of baseball analytics Jay Sartori. It includes a look inside the scouting meetings that took place at the Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Fla.

While Detroit is picking first overall for the first time since 1997, the club is no strangers to the process. Avila was the Marlins' scouting director and Chadd a Marlins scout when the team selected Adrian Gonzalez with the top overall pick in 2000 after selecting Josh Beckett with the second overall pick a year earlier.

Video: Mayo on if Kelenic would be a reach for the Tigers

They explain the decisions and factors that went into the Gonzalez pick -- projecting the high school first baseman getting stronger despite his relatively thin frame as a teenager -- while Chadd reflects on his experience as the Red Sox's scouting director when Boston used a second-round pick in 2004 on an undersized infielder and future American League MVP Award winner named Dustin Pedroia.

"Adrian was a high-risk kind of player because he was a high school first baseman," Avila said. "If you look at the history of the Draft, very few high school first basemen have made it to the big leagues, much less made a big impact. Back then, the question was: Is he going to have enough power to play first base in the big leagues?

"He was a very slim guy. If you look at his history and his family, they were big, strong guys, and you could see him developing into a much bigger, stronger player."

Gonzalez has hit 313 career home runs to go with a .288 batting average and an .846 OPS over a 15-year Major League career with the Rangers, Padres, Red Sox, Dodgers and now the Mets. The Marlins traded him as a prospect to Texas to acquire closer Ugueth Urbina during their 2003 run to the World Series.

"The important thing is to do everything you can to know the player on the field, off the field, how he competes, how he handles adversity and get as many looks as you can so you can make the best decision you can at that moment in time on June 4," Pleis said.

The video also examines the role analytics will play, from grading the current field to looking back on top picks throughout history to finding common tendencies of success.

"You have a chance to maybe take a player that's going to have an impact in your organization for many years to come," Chadd said.

Tigers radio broadcaster Dan Dickerson narrates the mini-doc. For hardcore baseball fans, it's an insightful look at the scouting considerations and careful projections that make the MLB Draft different than its counterparts in other sports. For casual fans, it's an introduction of sorts to the Draft and its role in the player development pipeline that is expected to fuel Detroit's return to chasing a title.

"It's just like a batter coming up to bat with the bases loaded," Avila said. "You have that adrenaline going, you get some butterflies, but it's more that type of excitement than pressure."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers

Despite now being on different teams, Salvy Perez found time to interrupt BFF Lorenzo Cain's press conference

Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain are the closest of friends. And despite Cain making his way to Milwaukee in the offseason, the two still share a close bond. As a matter of fact, during Royals FanFest in January, Salvy called Cain on the phone during an on-stage Q&A session. Kansas City fans truly missed him, and vice versa:

Buehler optioned, but likely to start Saturday

Top prospect sent to nearby Rancho Cucamonga; reliever Hudson recalled
MLB.com @kengurnick

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers demoted top prospect Walker Buehler to Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga on Tuesday, but fans need not worry -- it's just a logistical move.

Buehler fired five scoreless innings against the Marlins in his first MLB start Monday night and was optioned to make room on the roster for reliever Daniel Hudson, bringing the bullpen count back to nine.

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LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers demoted top prospect Walker Buehler to Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga on Tuesday, but fans need not worry -- it's just a logistical move.

Buehler fired five scoreless innings against the Marlins in his first MLB start Monday night and was optioned to make room on the roster for reliever Daniel Hudson, bringing the bullpen count back to nine.

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On Tuesday, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wouldn't confirm it (because Buehler is not on the 25-man roster), but the rookie will likely be added as the 26th man to start the first game of Saturday's doubleheader in San Francisco. That's why he was sent to Rancho Cucamonga and not Triple-A Oklahoma City, where Hudson had been pitching.

"To keep him local gives us that option if we want to use him Saturday," Roberts said. "He reported there today, got his work in and we'll see how it plays out."

Rich Hill, who threw a four-inning, 58-pitch simulated game on Tuesday, will come off the disabled list to start Monday in Arizona, followed by Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday, Hyun-Jin Ryu on Wednesday and Alex Wood on Thursday.

"It went well," Hill said of his workout. "Felt fine and got good feedback from the swings."

Hudson was signed by the Dodgers as a free agent on March 30. He made five relief appearances with the OKC Dodgers this season without allowing a hit in 4 2/3 innings, striking out five.

The 31-year-old right-hander, who was traded to Tampa Bay from Pittsburgh on Feb. 22, appeared in seven games with the Rays during Spring Training, allowing nine runs in 5 1/3 innings, with six strikeouts. He was released by Tampa Bay, and will receive $5.5 million this year. The Dodgers will pay only the Major League minimum portion of it.

Roberts compared Hudson's pitch mix to that of current Dodgers reliever JT Chargois. A former starter with the White Sox and D-backs, Hudson missed the second half of the 2012 season and the entire '13 campaign after having two Tommy John elbow reconstructions. He resumed his career at the end of '14 as a reliever. Last year with the Pirates, he went 2-7 with a 4.38 ERA in 71 games.

The Dodgers are looking at Hudson as a possible fill-in for Tom Koehler, who suffered a sprained right shoulder capsule in Spring Training. Koehler was moved to the 60-day disabled list on Monday and is not expected back until around the All-Star break. Koehler was signed in part to replace Brandon Morrow as the primary right-handed set-up man for closer Kenley Jansen.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Walker Buehler, Daniel Hudson

Hanley becomes Bruins fan overnight

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

TORONTO -- The Red Sox were hard to miss at Monday night's Bruins-Maple Leafs playoff game in Toronto. Nearly the entire team attended the event, and nobody was more enthusiastic about it than Hanley Ramirez, who wore a Bruins jersey during the team's eventual 3-1 loss that set up a Game 7 in Boston on Wednesday.

Ramirez has his own game to play in Toronto on Wednesday, but he'll be with the Bruins in spirit.

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TORONTO -- The Red Sox were hard to miss at Monday night's Bruins-Maple Leafs playoff game in Toronto. Nearly the entire team attended the event, and nobody was more enthusiastic about it than Hanley Ramirez, who wore a Bruins jersey during the team's eventual 3-1 loss that set up a Game 7 in Boston on Wednesday.

Ramirez has his own game to play in Toronto on Wednesday, but he'll be with the Bruins in spirit.

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"That's Boston right there. We support each other. It's a champions' city," Ramirez said. "Game 7 tomorrow and I can't wait. Everybody is going to be watching. I think it's going to be the same time we are going to be playing, but we're going to have it [on] in the clubhouse and be supporting them."

Tweet from @HanleyRamirez: Enjoying a session of post-Manaea group therapy lmao 🤣#GoBruins 🏒🥅 pic.twitter.com/rRYeo8zI4s

It was the first hockey game Ramirez has seen live.

"First time in my life and I loved it," said Ramirez. "The passion. Everyone is really into it. Every shot. Every glove from whatever you call him -- the goalie. It was fun."

Manager Alex Cora had originally thought that Monday's road off-day would be a good opportunity for a team dinner. But he was happy to adapt with the gift the hockey schedule provided.

It was another example of the strong chemistry the Red Sox have built during the early part of the season.

"That's what it's all about," Ramirez said. "It happened organically. It's cool, it's great. I follow them on social media. You see the pictures and how much fun they had, that's what it's all about. This is such a long season that there's going to be times that there's going to be cool stuff going on in the cities we go, or even in Boston. They should enjoy them."

One of the funniest images to emerge on social media was catcher Christian Vazquez offering Ramirez a bite of his ice cream bar, and Ramirez dramatically turning his nose at it. The first baseman has been going with the TB12 diet, which didn't offer many options for him at the hockey game.

"There was a lot of ice cream, chicken wings, quesadillas. It was pretty good food, but not for me," Ramirez said.

Tweet from @AndrewFrates_: .@HanleyRamirez staying strong on that @TB12sports diet pic.twitter.com/36ZgbEt7GJ

Ramirez does have a prediction for Game 7.

"Oh, Bruins," Ramirez said. "Playing in Boston. House of the pain."

Cora sticking with catching duo

Though Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon are both struggling at the plate, Cora doesn't sound as if he is contemplating giving Blake Swihart starts at catcher. Swihart is on the team as a utility player and has started only two of the team's first 22 games -- both at DH.

"The thing with Christian, earlier in the season he was hitting the ball hard, he was hitting line drives all over the place where they were at," said Cora. "And all of a sudden he is chasing hits. And for a guy like him, his hand-eye coordination is unreal so you start chasing pitches and chasing hits and they're going to induce you to weak contact, and that's what's going on with him.

"With Sandy, we understand that he's not playing every day. It's tough to get a rhythm, but as long as he puts together competitive at-bats, we're good with that. And obviously what he does behind the plate, that's good enough."

Thornburg ahead of schedule

Cora continues to be enthused by the progress righty reliever Tyler Thornburg is making. The righty, who has been pitching in extended spring training, will check in with the Red Sox at Fenway Park this weekend. Shortly after that, he could start his Minor League rehab assignment for an affiliate.

"Tyler is going to get evaluated this weekend and is probably going to throw a live [bullpen session] and then we go from there, but it looks like he may be going on a rehab assignment sooner -- sooner than what we thought he would be," said Cora.

Thornburg underwent surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder and has yet to throw a pitch for Boston in a regular-season game since the club acquired him in December of 2016.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez

Vargas to be activated, set to make Mets debut

Veteran left-hander will start against the Padres on Saturday
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

ST. LOUIS -- Satisfied that Jason Vargas has passed every test necessary to return from the disabled list, the Mets will activate the left-hander to make his season debut Saturday against the Padres in San Diego. On Tuesday, Vargas flew from Las Vegas to St. Louis, where he met the team in advance of his assignment.

In Vegas, Vargas made his lone Minor League rehab start, pitching without an L-screen for the first time since undergoing surgery to remove a broken bone from his right hand in late March. Vargas fielded his position and caught throws back from the catcher, which the Mets considered far more important than the three runs he allowed in four innings.

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ST. LOUIS -- Satisfied that Jason Vargas has passed every test necessary to return from the disabled list, the Mets will activate the left-hander to make his season debut Saturday against the Padres in San Diego. On Tuesday, Vargas flew from Las Vegas to St. Louis, where he met the team in advance of his assignment.

In Vegas, Vargas made his lone Minor League rehab start, pitching without an L-screen for the first time since undergoing surgery to remove a broken bone from his right hand in late March. Vargas fielded his position and caught throws back from the catcher, which the Mets considered far more important than the three runs he allowed in four innings.

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"He said he felt great," manager Mickey Callaway said. "He had one little tough inning where he left a few pitches over the middle and gave up a few runs, but reports were great from the Triple-A staff. The report was really positive from Vargas himself, and he's ready to go."

A February acquisition to the Mets' pitching staff, Vargas fractured his hand in March and took about a month to recover from the resulting surgery. He went 18-11 with a 4.16 ERA in 32 starts last season for the Royals.

New blue
In their 21st game, the Mets wore their blue road alternate jerseys Tuesday for the first time this season. A popular pick in past years, the Mets often wore their blue jerseys when Matt Harvey took the mound. But Harvey did not choose them in any of his four April starts; it was Zack Wheeler, Tuesday's starter, who finally selected them.

Umpire auction
The Mets are taking part in Major League Baseball's 10th annual "UMPS CARE" auction, selling a baseball that is signed by the umpiring crew from their Opening Day win over the Cardinals -- Fieldin Culbreth, Brian O'Nora, CB Bucknor and Chris Conroy.

MLB umpires will offer up more than 300 items that include autographed sports memorabilia, one-of-a-kind VIP experiences and upgraded ticket packages. The auction is live at www.mlb.com/UmpsCare, and it closes at 10 p.m. EDT on Monday. Some of the items up for bid include signed bats, cleats, jerseys, photos and baseballs from some of the biggest stars in baseball.

There are also opportunities to watch batting practice up close on the field at many MLB ballparks, hotel stays with game tickets, opportunities to have lunch with an MLB umpire, suites and tickets from Minor League Baseball clubs, golf foursomes and more.

All proceeds from the online auction support UMPS CARE Charities youth programs to provide Major League Baseball experiences for children awaiting adoption, Build-A-Bear Workshop experiences for hospitalized children coping with serious illnesses, college scholarships for deserving young adults who were adopted as children and financial assistance for families in need.

"Each year, thanks to the support from our friends in Major League Baseball and throughout the sports world, we get some fantastic items for our auction, and this year is no exception," said Gary Darling, former MLB umpire and Board President for UMPS CARE Charities. "This is the biggest fundraising initiative that we have to help so many children in need, and we can't thank everyone enough for all of the support. Please tell all of your friends, bid early and bid often to help this great cause."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Jason Vargas

Epstein: Ortiz asked for a trade in 2003

MLB.com

Three World Series rings and more than 500 homers later, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox once agonized over whether to play David Ortiz or Shea Hillenbrand.

But that was exactly the debate in Boston's front office during the 2003 season. Ortiz had been signed in January after the Twins non-tendered him following a .266/.348/.461 line with 58 home runs in 1,693 plate appearances. Hillenbrand was coming off an All-Star sophomore campaign. With Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller manning the corner infield slots, Theo Epstein had a roster crunch and a key decision to make.

Three World Series rings and more than 500 homers later, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox once agonized over whether to play David Ortiz or Shea Hillenbrand.

But that was exactly the debate in Boston's front office during the 2003 season. Ortiz had been signed in January after the Twins non-tendered him following a .266/.348/.461 line with 58 home runs in 1,693 plate appearances. Hillenbrand was coming off an All-Star sophomore campaign. With Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller manning the corner infield slots, Theo Epstein had a roster crunch and a key decision to make.

Boston's GM at the time, now the Cubs' president of baseball operations, explained on this week's episode of Executive Access:

"David Ortiz hit all of two home runs in the first [two months] of the 2003 season and in mid-May had his agent come and ask me for a trade to somewhere he could play more regularly," Epstein said. "Fernando Cuza came to talk to me and I told Cuza at the time that David was someone we wanted to get everyday at-bats, but we just needed to pare down the roster a little bit. We ended up trading Hillenbrand instead of David Ortiz, so I guess that was a good decision in hindsight. David got regular playing time and ended up hitting close to 30 homers in the second half of the season and was off and running as Big Papi."

Hillenbrand was dealt to Arizona for Byung-Hyun Kim in late May, Ortiz finished the season with 31 homers and the Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918 a year later.

To hear more from Epstein, including how the Red Sox almost hired Joe Maddon instead of Terry Francona, listen to the full episode of Executive Access here:

On Executive Access, MLB.com executive reporter Mark Feinsand provides a unique look at the people building Major League teams by engaging in candid interviews with front-office personnel from around MLB. Each week, you'll find out how they broke into the game, why they do what they do and how they envision the future of baseball. Look out for new episodes on Tuesdays. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite platform.

Astros hoped for in-person Ohtani meeting

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow got his first look at two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani on Tuesday night when he started on the mound for the Angels at Minute Maid Park. The Astros were prepared to make a full-court press to sign Ohtani in the offseason, but they never got a chance to meet with him before he signed with the Angels.

Luhnow did receive a handwritten letter from Ohtani after the process, thanking him and the Astros for their interest. It was a gesture that Luhnow took to heart.

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HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow got his first look at two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani on Tuesday night when he started on the mound for the Angels at Minute Maid Park. The Astros were prepared to make a full-court press to sign Ohtani in the offseason, but they never got a chance to meet with him before he signed with the Angels.

Luhnow did receive a handwritten letter from Ohtani after the process, thanking him and the Astros for their interest. It was a gesture that Luhnow took to heart.

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"That made me feel better," Luhnow said. "We did spend a lot of time preparing that first document and preparing for a second meeting, which we never got. To get some personal acknowledgement from him, that meant a lot to me."

All 30 teams got a chance to answer a questionnaire from Ohtani, and the Astros had prepared an in-depth presentation to try to recruit Ohtani if they got a personal meeting. Ohtani narrowed his list to the Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Giants, Mariners, Rangers and Cubs, eliminating the Astros, and eventually signed with the Angels.

Among the things the Astros had prepared to lure Ohtani was a video of Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio speaking Japanese.

"We were very serious," Luhnow said. "Unfortunately, we didn't get out of the first round. We probably incorrectly assumed because we had won [the World Series] and we were going to continue to have a good team for a while, this would be a market and a team he would probably at least take a longer look at, but it didn't happen. We put together a nice presentation, sent it over there and pitched all of the strengths of Houston, but we were saving a lot of our firepower for the second round, and unfortunately, he never got a chance to see it."

Top prospect getting acclimated
Right-hander Forrest Whitley, the Astros' No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is pitching games at extended spring training in West Palm Beach, Fla. Whitley was suspended 50 games without pay in February by the Commissioner's Office for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

"His stuff looks as good as ever," Luhnow said. "We're trying to build him up slowly, because we're really looking at the whole season and we want him to be ready to go out and pitch five, six, seven innings as a starter once his suspension is up. We're kind of slowly getting him acclimated to pitching in the regular season."

Video: Top Prospects: Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros

The earliest Whitley could start his season is on May 29. It's likely he begins at Double-A Corpus Christi, where he finished last year.

"He's paying the price for making a mistake, but his attitude has been great and he's been working hard," Luhnow said. "His stuff looks very, very similar to what it was last year, which gives him a good chance to move quickly once he gets back and going."

Whitley dominated at three Minor League levels in 2017 despite pitching the entire season at 19 years old, going 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA, 34 walks, 78 hits allowed and 143 strikeouts in 23 games (18 starts) across 92 1/3 innings at Corpus Christi, Class A Advanced Buies Creek and Class A Quad Cities. The 6-foot-7 right-hander led the Minors in strikeouts per nine innings (13.94).

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros

Bogaerts goes deep in first rehab start

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

TORONTO -- Starting what should be a short rehab assignment for Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday night, Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts displayed the same hot bat he had before going on the disabled list.

Bogaerts homered to right in the fourth inning and then had an opposite-field double in the sixth, going 2-for-3 and playing six innings at shortstop.

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TORONTO -- Starting what should be a short rehab assignment for Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday night, Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts displayed the same hot bat he had before going on the disabled list.

Bogaerts homered to right in the fourth inning and then had an opposite-field double in the sixth, going 2-for-3 and playing six innings at shortstop.

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If the weather cooperates, Bogaerts will start again for Pawtucket on Wednesday.

Either way, there's a strong chance Bogaerts will be activated by the Red Sox for the start of the Red Sox's homestand on Friday night against the Rays.

"[Monday] he worked out here [in Toronto]," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "He took grounders, very aggressive, turned double plays. He did everything out there, and it looks like he's good to go."

Bogaerts suffered a small crack in the talus bone in his left ankle on April 8. In the nine games before going on the DL, Bogaerts slashed .368/.400/.711 with two homers and nine RBIs.

Cora thinks a game or two in the Minors should be enough.

"As long as he's comfortable with it. His worry, like I said, is defensively. It's not offense," Cora said. "He can get three at-bats, he can track pitches, he'll train himself in the offensive part, but defensively there's a lot of stuff that goes out there that you can't do just taking ground balls. As long as he feels good defensively, we'll be fine with it."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Xander Bogaerts

Didi keeps delivering from the three-hole

MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- The Yankees headed north after Spring Training envisioning Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton as a lethal force hitting back-to-back, but now that they have seen what Didi Gregorius can do between those sluggers, manager Aaron Boone has no plans to dislodge his shortstop from the No. 3 spot in the lineup.

Leading the Majors in RBIs and slugging percentage, Gregorius extended his hitting streak to eight games on Tuesday against the Twins' Jose Berrios, driving in a run with a single in the third inning before chasing the right-hander with a two-run homer in the fifth -- his team-leading eighth long ball of the year.

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NEW YORK -- The Yankees headed north after Spring Training envisioning Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton as a lethal force hitting back-to-back, but now that they have seen what Didi Gregorius can do between those sluggers, manager Aaron Boone has no plans to dislodge his shortstop from the No. 3 spot in the lineup.

Leading the Majors in RBIs and slugging percentage, Gregorius extended his hitting streak to eight games on Tuesday against the Twins' Jose Berrios, driving in a run with a single in the third inning before chasing the right-hander with a two-run homer in the fifth -- his team-leading eighth long ball of the year.

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"I like how it looks right now. I like the feel of it," Boone said. "I think guys are starting to, up and down, have more of those quality at-bats. I don't know if it's so much lineup-related or guys just starting to get on track a little bit, but it definitely has a good feel to me right now. No question."

Video: MIN@NYY: Gregorius hammers a grand slam to right

Boone also appreciates the left-right-left-right arrangement of Brett Gardner, Judge, Gregorius and Stanton at the top of the order. Gregorius hit a grand slam in Monday's 14-1 victory over the Twins and entered play on Tuesday leading the Majors in RBIs (24) and slugging percentage (.746).

Boone watched Gregorius during the early part of his career with the Reds and D-backs, but through 21 games piloting the Yankees, he has come away with a deeper appreciation of how much Gregorius loves to play the game.

"I always thought he could be a really good player, but to see him come here and get better and better every year ... Now I think he's taken another step this year," Boone said. "In a way I'm not surprised, but he's continued to get better and better [on his way] to being one of the really good all-around players in our league."

Cole train

The Yankees added right-hander A.J. Cole to the active roster on Tuesday, one day after acquiring the 26-year-old from the Nationals in exchange for cash considerations. Cole replaces right-hander David Hale, who was designated for assignment after pitching two scoreless innings in Monday's victory.

When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.

"He's stretched out as a starter right now, which is helpful for us," Boone said of Cole. "We do feel like there's some upside from a stuff standpoint, being a little bit younger, and he has had some points of success in the big leagues. He's a guy that throws pretty hard, with a good breaking ball.

"We're hoping maybe a change of scenery is a spark for him and he can give us something. But we feel good about having him down in our bullpen right now if we get into a situation where we need some length. Who knows? Maybe down the road he becomes an option to be a starter at some point, too."

Bombers bits

• The Yankees are awaiting word on Tyler Austin's suspension, but with that discipline imminent, Boone wants to get Neil Walker's bat going, especially against right-handed pitching. Walker entered play on Tuesday batting .183 in 60 at-bats, and 8-for-46 against righties.

"Getting him going is important because he adds length to our lineup as a switch-hitter," Boone said. "When he's right, he's a real quality big league hitter."

• Boone plans to have Austin Romine catch the struggling Sonny Gray in Wednesday's 6:35 p.m. ET contest against the Twins, with Gary Sanchez set to catch Thursday's matinee.

"I don't want to get too much into, 'He's catching this guy all the time,'" Boone said, "but … when you have those chances when there is a day-game-night-game situation, or I know Gary is going to get a day, we'll pick the matchup that we like a little bit better. We'll be cognizant of that."

Brandon Drury (severe migraines) remains on schedule to play in a Minor League rehab game for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday.

Greg Bird (right ankle surgery) is expected to travel to the Yankees' complex in Tampa, Fla., when the team flies to the West Coast on Friday, and could soon begin playing in Minor League games.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, A.J. Cole, Didi Gregorius