Daily Dose: All's Wells for Vernon Again?

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Vernon Wells went 3-for-4 with a homer on Opening Day and followed that up with two more homers Wednesday, showing some serious signs of life after a terrible 2009. Last year was either the worst or second-worst of Wells’ career, with the other forgettable campaign being 2007, and he bounced back from that to hit .300 with an .840 OPS in 2008. Too early to expect a similar story in 2010, but so far so good.
While the $107 million left on Wells’ contract looks slightly less horrific for the Blue Jays, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Billy Wagner looked excellent Wednesday nailing down his first Braves save, clocking in at 96-99 miles per hour with his fastball and breaking off several unhittable sliders to strike out the side. Wagner has come back amazingly well from Tommy John surgery given that he went under the knife at age 36. Since returning late last season he’s thrown 17.2 innings, racking up 31 strikeouts compared to just nine hits.
* Rich Harden’s lack of peak velocity during spring training carried over to his Rangers debut Wednesday, as he worked mostly in the high-80s and topped 91-92 miles per hour on just a couple pitches. Harden has always managed to remain dominant despite a never-ending string of injuries, but his velocity has crept downward for several years now and he was anything but overpowering against the Blue Jays.
* After a cortisone shot and having his surgically repaired knee drained, Lance Berkman said Wednesday that he’s hoping to come off the disabled list during the six-game road trip that begins Monday. Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz have batted fifth while replacing Berkman at first base, so the Astros desperately need him back in the lineup, but some of his comments suggest that the knee is still far from full strength.
* Kelly Johnson moved into the leadoff spot Wednesday with Conor Jackson getting the night off and responded by going 3-for-3 with two homers and a walk. With his value at an all-time low following a poor, injury wrecked season Johnson was one of my favorite sleeper targets in part because Arizona is a great place to hit and in part because he batted .282/.362/.451 in 297 games for the Braves in the previous two seasons.
* Milwaukee faced a right-handed pitcher for the second time Wednesday and for the second time Jim Edmonds started over Corey Hart in right field, going 2-for-4 with a double. Edmonds is 40 years old and sat out last season when the job market proved lacking, but looked good this spring and posted an .882 OPS against righties in 2008. He’s unlikely to hit for much of a batting average, but the power and patience remain.
AL Quick Hits: John Lackey tossed six shutout innings in his Red Sox debut Wednesday, but Curtis Granderson won it with an extra-inning homer off Jonathan Papelbon … Ian Kinsler (ankle) is hoping to join the Rangers during an 11-game road trip that begins Monday … Russell Branyan (back) is slated to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Max Scherzer and Luke Hochevar combined for 13.2 shutout innings Wednesday in a game that went into extra frames … Nolan Reimold got his first start Wednesday when Felix Pie was scratched from the lineup with a sore shoulder … Fausto Carmona handed out six walks Wednesday, but also held the White Sox to one hit in six innings … Hideki Matsui is scheduled to play the outfield Thursday for the first time since June of 2008 … Jim Thome got his first start Wednesday, but Ron Gardenhire oddly chose to bench Jason Kubel rather than Delmon Young versus a right-hander … Matt Joyce (elbow) is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Jake Fox replaced Eric Chavez at designated hitter Wednesday against a left-hander.
NL Quick Hits: Edgar Renteria reached safely in all six plate appearances Wednesday, collecting five hits and a walk in a blowout win … Brad Lidge (elbow, knee) is slated to throw a bullpen session Thursday, but there’s no timetable yet for his return … Jose Reyes went 1-for-5 with a double in an extended spring training game Wednesday … Jason Giambi started Wednesday as part of the Rockies’ plan to give Todd Helton more rest … Brett Myers escaped with a no-decision Wednesday despite giving up a dozen hits in six innings … Jason Marquis lasted just four innings in his Nationals debut, coughing up six runs … Jeff Keppinger started at shortstop Wednesday after Tommy Manzella was plunked on the wrist … Joe Blanton (oblique) made 60 throws from 60 feet Wednesday, but isn’t close to rejoining the rotation yet … After batting .373 with 18 RBIs in 20 games this spring, Hunter Pence is 0-for-12 … With his path to Cincinnati blocked by Joey Votto, the Reds have moved prospect Yonder Alonso to left field.

Report: Phillies want a top-five prospect for Jeremy Hellickson

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 20: Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson #58 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the second inning during a game against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on July 20, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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Starter Jeremy Hellickson has become the Phillies’ most enticing trade chip as he’s put together a solid month of July. After shutting out the Marlins on one hit and one walk over six innings on Monday, the right-hander lowered his July ERA to 1.97 and his overall ERA to 3.65. As a result, the Phillies are telling teams they want a top-five prospect to part with Hellickson, per ESPN’s Jayson Stark.

Obviously, a top-five prospect means something different if you’re the Marlins as opposed to the Rangers. And the Phillies’ price point for Hellickson isn’t likely to stay that high, but GM Matt Klentak is setting a lofty starting point so that the return might end up being higher than market value.

ESPN’s Buster Olney speculates that the Phillies could end up holding onto Hellickson and giving him a qualifying offer after the season. He notes that the Phillies have only $25 million tied up for the 2017 season, so they could afford to pay Hellickson in excess of $16 million if he were to accept.

Video: Matt Cain launches a three-run home run

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 26: Matt Cain #18 of the San Francisco Giants hits a three run home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the second inning at AT&T Park on July 26, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Madison Bumgarner isn’t the only Giants pitcher who can rake. Matt Cain crushed a three-run home run during Tuesday’s game against the Giants.

Cain stepped to the plate with runners on the corner and one out against Reds starter Cody Reed in the bottom of the second inning. Reed threw a 1-1 fastball down the middle and Cain hit it about 20 rows back in the left field seats.

It’s Cain’s first homer of the season, his first since 2012, and the seventh of his 12-year career. He still has some work to catch up to Bumgarner, who has two homers this year and 13 in his career.

On the pitching side of things, Cain got the win against the Reds on Tuesday night, giving up four runs on six hits and a walk with four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. He currently holds an ugly 5.95 ERA.