Corey Hart takes outdoor batting practice, nearing return

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Brewers outfielder Corey Hart opened the season on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle and manager Ron Roenicke said at the time that there was no timetable for his return. Now, about two weeks later, that has changed.

From MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy comes word that Hart was able to take live batting practice in an outdoor setting Thursday for the first time since suffering his spring oblique injury. Hart took swings in indoor cages on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Brewers are hoping that the 29-year-old will be ready to begin playing in minor league rehab games this weekend — likely Sunday — and that he will feel well enough to return to the major league starting lineup on or around April 22.

“That will be nice to see,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. “He’s going to do [outdoor batting practice] for a few days, and then if everything goes well, he’ll be ready to go out on a rehab assignment.”

Hart batted just .172/.221/.313 this spring across 68 plate appearances, but he’s coming off a career-best 2010 season that saw him slug 31 home runs against 102 RBI. He should do just fine here in 2011.

Watch: Cody Bellinger breaks NL rookie home run record

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Cody Bellinger helped the Dodgers to their first lead on Friday night, going deep for his 39th home run of the season and setting a new National League rookie home run record in the process. With two on and two out in the third inning, the Dodgers’ slugger launched a 2-1 pitch from the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija, skimming the right field fence to give the team a three-run cushion:

The three-run bomb was Bellinger’s sixth of the season. In what is undoubtedly a Rookie of the Year award-worthy campaign, he’s logged 21 solo shots, 11 two-run blasts and a single grand slam. His historic home run topped former NL rookie leaders Frank Robinson and Wally Berger, at 38 homers apiece.

The Dodgers need to stay on top of the Giants to clinch the NL West or, barring that, have the Marlins pull off a win over the Diamondbacks. They currently lead the Giants 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Marlins, meanwhile, are staying just ahead of the D-backs with a 9-7 lead in the top of the sixth.

Report: Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman initiate Marlins’ staff cuts

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A report from Barry Jackson and Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reveals that prospective Marlins’ owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman have already initiated several key firings within the organization. While the sale of the team is still pending final approval next month, Jeter reportedly pushed club president David Samson to remove four special assistants this week: Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, Jack McKeon and Jeff Conine.

Hall of Fame infielder Dawson, outfielder Perez and Marlins’ legend Conine served as special assistants to the president. McKeon, who served as team manager from 2003-2005 (and briefly in 2011), was terminated from a 12-year post as special assistant to owner Jeffrey Loria.

The move didn’t come as a big surprise to Dawson and McKeon, Jackson and Spencer noted. It’s part and parcel of dealing with new ownership. But it was disappointing news nonetheless, especially as the long-tenured McKeon might lose an opportunity to return next September to manage one game and cement his status as the oldest manager in MLB history.

Should the Marlins’ sale go through in October as expected, this figures to be the beginning of several cuts. Per Jackson and Spencer:

Jeter also is expected to fire some people on the baseball side of the operation, though it’s believed president/baseball operations Michael Hill will be retained, at least indefinitely if not permanently.

Any replacements for those already released from the team have yet to be announced.