Ryan Howard set to begin rehab assignment on Thursday

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The positive news keeps rolling in for the Phils.

John Finger of CSNPhilly.com reports that first baseman Ryan Howard has been cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday night at Single-A Lakewood. He’ll merely DH at first and may have to ease into full games. But it’s a significant step in what has been a long rehab process.

Howard was placed on the disabled list at the end of spring training with a ruptured Achilles tendon that he suffered while making the final out of the Phils’ 2011 NLDS loss to the Cardinals. He’ll likely spend more than three weeks playing games in the minors before returning to the big-league lineup shortly after the All-Star break. Assuming there are no setbacks.

The 32-year-old first baseman batted .253/.346/.488 with 33 home runs and 116 RBI in 644 plate appearances last season. He’s under contract with the Phillies through the 2016 campaign at a whopping $115 million.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.