Ryan Howard taking ground balls after torn Achilles

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Ryan Howard isn’t scheduled for his first media session of the spring until Wednesday, but it appears he’s ahead of schedule in his rehab from the torn Achilles’ tendon he suffered on the final play of the Phillies’ season.

According to CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury, Howard took some grounders on the field and also soft-toss swings in the batting cage on Monday.

“He did good, really good,” manager Charlie Manuel said.

Howard is still walking with a bit of a limp and appears heavier than his typical playing weight, but that was to be expected considering that the leg limited his workouts.

The guess over the winter was that Howard would return to the Phillies lineup around two months into the season, but the picture appears to be a bit rosier now. He still figures to miss April, but maybe not much more than that.

John Mayberry Jr., Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome all figure to see time at first base until Howard returns.

Giancarlo Stanton will defend his Home Run Derby title

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The Marlins announced on Sunday that outfielder Giancarlo Stanton will defend his Home Run Derby title when the city of Miami host’s the All-Star Game festivities next month.

Stanton, 27, defeated Todd Frazier in the finals of last year’s Home Run Derby at Petco Park, hitting 20 home runs to Frazier’s 13. Stanton hit a total of 61 home runs in the Derby. This will be the third Home Run Derby in which Stanton has participated.

Stanton also went 1-for-3 with a solo home run to help the Marlins defeat the Cubs 4-2 on Sunday. He’s now batting .274/.357/.551 with 20 home runs and 49 RBI in 311 plate appearances.

Aaron Hicks to go on the disabled list with an oblique injury

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks left Sunday’s game against the Rangers after four innings due to soreness in his right oblique. After the game, Hicks said he expects to go on the 10-day disabled list and miss the next three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports.

Hicks was 1-for-2 with a single before departing on Sunday. He entered the game batting .288/.397/.515 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI in 198 plate appearances. It is by far the best season of his career.

Jacoby Ellsbury is on his way back from a concussion, so the Yankees will only have to bridge the gap in center field for a week or two. Mason Williams could draw some starts in center field in the meantime.