Alex Cobb faces hitters for first time since concussion

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Alex Cobb hasn’t pitched in a game since taking an Eric Hosmer line drive off the side of his head back on June 15. But his return is probably nearing.

According to beat writer Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, the right-hander threw live batting practice on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field without a protective screen and reported no mental or physical discomfort. It was his first time facing live hitters since he was diagnosed with a concussion.

“It’s a relief,” Cobb told reporters after the workout. “When the incident happens, you think the worst naturally, so being back out there kind of settles your nerves. And you realize that you can do it again. So I’m happy.”

Cobb is scheduled to throw another round of batting practice on Thursday in Port Charlotte, Florida — the site of Rays spring training. If that goes smoothly, he should be cleared for a minor league rehab start.

The 25-year-old had a 3.01 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 76/23 K/BB ratio through 83 2/3 innings this season.

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.