Ryan Howard is six weeks from starting baseball activities

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Ryan Howard met with a doctor yesterday and was given positive news about his recovery from a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered during his final at-bat of the playoffs in October.

Todd Zolecki of MLB.com reports that Howard has been cleared “to begin some strength and power exercises” and “also will start jogging underwater.”

However, he likely remains at least six weeks away from being cleared for baseball activities, which stretches right up until the beginning of spring training and makes him doubtful for Opening Day (and perhaps all of April).

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. declined to “speculate” about Howard’s odds of being ready for season opener, but classified the update on his recovery as “good news.”

Expect the Phillies to begin the season with Ty Wigginton and perhaps a little bit of Jim Thome at first base, but barring a setback it sounds like Howard could be available sooner than initially expected.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.