Daisuke Matsuzaka to begin rehab assignment Monday

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Daisuke Matsuzaka is far enough ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery that he’s slated to begin a minor-league rehab assignment Monday at high Single-A.

Matsuzaka went under the knife last June and the typical recovery timetable is 12 months, but Alex Speier of WEEI.com reports that the Red Sox will already allow him to throw around 75 pitches Monday.

Or as manager Bobby Valentine put it: “He’s ready to start dealing with competition rather than rehabilitation.”

Once the rehab assignment begins Matsuzaka has a maximum of 30 days in the minors, which if used would equal about five total starts and leave him on track to rejoin the Red Sox at some point in May. Of course, any kind of setback could restart that timetable and there’s little reason for the Red Sox to rush him back considering how shaky he was before the injury, but so far so good.

Jorge Soler diagnosed with strained oblique, Opening Day in doubt

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Royals outfielder Jorge Soler has been diagnosed with a strained oblique, making it likely that he begins the regular season on the disabled list, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star reports.

The Royals acquired Soler from the Cubs in December in exchange for reliever Wade Davis. Over parts of three seasons with the Cubs, Soler hit .258/.328/.434 with 27 home runs and 98 RBI in 765 plate appearances.

When he’s healthy, Soler is expected to find himself in the Royals’ lineup as a right fielder and occasionally as a designated hitter.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.