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.

Hideki Matsui thinks Shohei Otani should pitch and hit in MLB

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Yankees’ special advisor and former outfielder Hideki Matsui expects to help the club “convince or recruit” Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani, according to a report from MLB.com’s Deesha Thosar. The Yankees are currently viewed as the favorites to sign Otani, though there still figures to be plenty of competition for his services when he finally becomes eligible to enter Major League Baseball.

Matsui also told Thosar that while he hasn’t seen a player find success as a hybrid pitcher/slugger in the majors, he’s taken notice of Otani’s success in both areas. “He’s done well in Japan, so as a baseball fan I’m looking forward to how he’s going to do here in the Majors and in the U.S.,” Matsui said, later adding, “If [pitching and hitting is] something he wants to do, and the team wants it, then why not?”

Neither the Yankees nor any other suitor should be too concerned with Otani’s ability to translate his .332 batting average and 3.20 ERA to MLB — at least, not just yet. There are still a few roadblocks in his path to the major leagues, most notably the lack of approval from the Players Association. Per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, the union doesn’t want to sign off on an agreement that would give the Nippon Ham Fighters a $20 million posting fee in exchange for Otani’s services. According to the posting system rules, Otani himself would be eligible to receive no more than a $4 million signing bonus.

The good news in all of this? The union agreed to reach a final decision by Monday, November 21, so there’s still a chance Major League Baseball will see the talented two-way player bring his unique skillset to the field in 2018.