The Week Ahead: A Puerto Rican hero goes home

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There has been a lot of focus on Bobby Valentine as potentially being the next manager of the Florida Marlins, but lost in the shuffle is the interesting story of Marlins interim manager Edwin Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who was promoted from the Marlins Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans just a week ago to replace the fired Fredi Gonzalez, is the first Puerto Rican to manage in the big leagues.

This seems surprising enough given Puerto Rico’s baseball heritage, but it’s true. And in an even cooler twist, Rodriguez will get to return home as a big league manager this week when his Marlins take on the New York Mets in a three-game series in San Juan starting on Monday.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has been noncommittal when discussing his team’s manager situation, saying “right now Edwin is the manager. We’ll see what happens.” Rodriguez appears to be well aware that his position is tenuous at best, and just plans to enjoy the ride while he can.

Rodriguez says he’s flattered merely to have the chance to be part of a history-making event for his country.

It’s the third time the Marlins — who have a large Latin following — have played a regular-season series in San Juan. They took two of three games from the Montreal Expos in 2003, then swept the Expos in 2004.

“I’m just excited to go there and share this moment with the country,” Rodriguez said. “For many, many years, baseball people in Puerto Rico, they were questioning who’s going to be the first and not only who, when it’s going to happen. I think that’s why it’s so important for the people in Puerto Rico.”

Rodriguez’s home is actually closer to San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium than the hotel where the Marlins will be staying, so this will be a true homecoming.

Ticket sales have reportedly been brisk since it became evident that Puerto Ricans could see one of their own calling the shots in a big-league dugout for the first time, and the significance isn’t lost on the Florida clubhouse.

“We can’t quite grasp the anticipation or the excitement that he’s going through right now,” Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla said. “Everyone dreams about going home and playing. It’s got to be a very exciting time for him, and we’re all very excited for him.”

Let’s hope Loria can hold off on naming a permanent manager for a few days and let Rodriguez enjoy this moment. Unless, of course, he wants to hire Rodriguez.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Phillies at Reds, June 28-30:
Cincinnati keeps hanging in there, holding the slimmest of edges atop the NL Central. The Phillies are in third place in the NL East, but are 11-3 against NL Central teams. Things could get interesting in a hurry.

Dodgers at Giants, June 28-30: This intense rivalry is always entertaining, even more so though when both teams are in contention. The teams enter the week battling for second place, within shouting distance of the San Diego Padres.

Rays at Red Sox, June 29-30: It’s only a two-game series, but it’s a big one as both teams try to jockey for the No. 2 spot behind the Yankees in the AL East. The Rays are looking to regain their hitting strokes after a rough week that saw a dugout confrontation between B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria.

Rangers at Angels, June 29-July 1: The Angels have been resurging of late, trying to get back to the top of the AL West. But the Rangers enter the week with a four-game lead and are playing even better. This will be a true test for both teams.

Brewers at Cardinals, July 1-4: The Brewers don’t appear to have the talent to truly contend, but they undoubtedly wouldn’t mind causing some harm to their rivals’ chances in this four-game series.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Nationals at Braves (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Mets at Marlins (ESPN2)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rays at Twins (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Marlins at Braves (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Mets at Nationals (FOX)
Sunday, 8:15 p.m.: Royals at Angels (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Lost in all the excitement over Bobby Valentine’s potential return to managing has been the interesting story of Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez, the first Puerto Rican to manage in the big leagues. He’ll return home this week as the Marlins face the Mets in San Juan.

Angels ink Javy Guerra to minor league deal

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Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Javy Guerra. The deal includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Guerra was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball last July after testing positive for a drug of abuse. That suspension is now over, though Guerra is probably ticketed for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate to begin the 2016 season.

The 30-year-old made just three major league appearances in 2015 for the White Sox before getting outrighted off Chicago’s 40-man roster. He does own a 2.87 ERA in 150 1/3 career innings, but it has come with bouts of inconsistency and unreliability.

Maybe he can get everything going in the right direction with Anaheim.

Braves sign reliever Carlos Torres

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As first reported by Bill Shanks of Fox Sports 1670, the Braves have signed right-handed reliever Carlos Torres to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Torres was waived by the Mets in January, somewhat surprisingly, and elected to become a free agent. The 33-year-old ultimately chose Atlanta, where he should have a good shot at an Opening Day roster out of spring training with the rapidly-rebuilding Braves.

Torres posted an ugly 4.68 ERA in 57 2/3 innings last season for the Mets, but he registered a gorgeous 3.06 ERA and 96 strikeouts across 97 innings in 2014.

If he gets off to a good start in 2016, he could become valuable trade bait.

Blue Jays will have a closer competition this spring

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Roberto Osuna became the youngest pitcher to ever play for the Blue Jays last season at age 20 and he rose to the challenge with a 2.58 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 75/16 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 frames. Osuna eventually took over as Toronto’s closer, earning 20 regular-season saves and one in the American League Division Series — a five-out effort in Game 5 to close out the visiting Rangers.

But the Jays upgraded the back end of their bullpen this winter, acquiring Drew Storen from the Nationals in early January for speedy outfielder Ben Revere. Jesse Chavez was also brought to Toronto in a trade with the A’s.

Storen has more experience at closer than Osuna, and Storen struggled when the Nationals tried to put him in a setup role. Storen, in his final year of salary arbitration, also gets paid much more. He’s probably going to enter spring training as the favorite for the Jays’ ninth-inning gig, but there will be a competition …

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca on Wednesday that he doesn’t expect the team to choose between Osuna or Storen until midway through spring training, if not later.

There’s been talk of making Osuna a starter, so add that wrinkle.

Storen, 28, boasts 95 career major league saves.

Orioles plotting late-offseason push? Gallardo, Fowler, Alvarez, Bruce in consideration

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Baltimore’s front office appears to be lining up a run of potential roster additions leading into the beginning of spring training.

We’ve already passed along the reports suggesting they are close to a three-year deal with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo, but now FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal adds that free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler could be next on the Orioles’ target list. It they get those two deals done, the O’s could then chase free agent slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Rosenthal says the Orioles are even eyeing Jay Bruce of the Reds, though the FOX reporter hears the O’s might not have the prospects to pull off that kind of trade.

The focus for the Orioles out of the gate this winter was re-signing Matt Wieters and Chris Davis. Wieters accepted his one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November and Davis was locked up to a seven-year, $161 million contract in mid-January.

Now the O’s are spending a little leftover cash on late-offseason additions to improve their position in what should be a tight 2016 American League East race.