Juan Rivera ahead of schedule in return from torn hamstring

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Juan Rivera was initially scheduled to miss two months with a ruptured hamstring, but Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports that the veteran outfielder/first baseman is “healing faster than expected.”

Barring a setback Rivera could begin a minor-league rehab assignment shortly and Gurnick speculates that he might be cleared to come off the disabled list as soon as the middle of next week.

Rivera’s injury opened the door for Bobby Abreu to take a big role in the Dodgers’ outfield and he’s hit .314 with five doubles and an .848 OPS in 18 games, so Rivera may be returning to the short end of a platoon role. And platooning the right-handed-hitting Rivera with the left-handed-hitting Abreu could be a very productive arrangement for Los Angeles, albeit one that won’t be pretty defensively.

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.