Phillies' Howard smiles after scoring the game-winning run against the Astros during their National League baseball game in Philadelphia

Ryan Howard is delusional

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Ryan Howard had a great game last night — 4 for 4, a homer, two doubles, a walk and two RBI — and he’s had a hot start. So maybe what he had to say after last night’s game can be chalked up to adrenaline or something. But whatever caused him to say this, it’s not reality-based:

“The statement we’ve made is us being us,” Howard said. “A lot of people counted us out.”

Who counted you out, Ryan?  Who counted out the team that has only dropped one game? That has the best rotation in baseball? That has won its division for four straight years and even on the young season remains in first place? That was picked by a plurality if not a majority of commentators (this one included) to with the NL pennant?  I’ve seen concern voiced about the lineup and team health, but I’ve not seen anyone’s concern that even approached a level of counting you out.  People have counted the Pirates out. No one, unless they’re just trolling for a reaction, has counted the Phillies out.

I don’t mean to pick on Howard. For one thing it’s possible that this was taken out of context and he was referring only to the team’s offense (UPDATE: confirmed, he was talking just about the offense), though that would be silly, because they’ve only had one game in which they haven’t scored at least five runs (they’ve gone 5, 9, 7, 1, and 10).  And of course he’s a sensible and thoughtful guy who normally gives sensible and thoughtful quotes. But it says something about the athlete’s psyche if even someone as level-headed as Ryan Howard feels like he has to play the “no one believed in us card.” I think someone — maybe Nick Swisher or CC Sabathia — said something along these lines about the Yankees last week. too. That was still crazy, but it was even less crazy for a 2011 Yankees player to say it than a 2011 Phillies player.

But hey, if this kind of thing is motivating Howard — and the fact that he is now batting .524 on the season shows that, yep, he’s motivated — good for him.

(thanks to Jeremy for the heads up)

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.

Jason Kipnis diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after scoring a run on a wild pitch thrown by Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) during the fifth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.

There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.

Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.