Lance Berkman homers, singles in rehab debut

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There was talk last month about Lance Berkman retiring early due to lingering concerns about his hip and surgically-repaired right knee. But that turned out to be total nonsense and the veteran first baseman is now making strides toward a mid-August return.

According to Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Berkman hit a solo home run over the left-center field fence in his second at-bat and laced an RBI single in his third at-bat during his rehab debut Saturday with the Triple-A Round Rock Express.

He struck out in his only other trip to the plate.

Berkman hasn’t appeared in a game for the Rangers since July 6 and was batting just .254/.355/.377 in 68 games before going down. But the 37-year-old has a couple million reasons to keep working his way back.

Berkman signed a one-year, $11 million contract with Texas this winter with a $12 million option for 2014.

Jon Gray will start Opening Day for the Rockies

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Manager Bud Black has tabbed Jon Gray to start on Opening Day for the Rockies. That will be Monday, April 3 in Milwaukee against the Brewers in an afternoon contest.

Gray, 25, is starting Opening Day for the first time in his career. He’ll be the sixth different Rockies pitcher to start Opening Day in as many years.

The Rockies and Gray had a bit of a scare on Friday as he left his spring training start with discomfort in his left foot, but everything came up clean in an MRI. He pitched again on Wednesday with no issue.

Last season, Gray went 10-10 with a 4.61 ERA and a 185/59 K/BB ratio in 168 innings. A consensus top prospect entering each of the previous three seasons, Gray surprisingly put up better numbers at Coors Field — the most hitter-friendly park in baseball — than away.

Blake Treinen named Nationals closer

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Today Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker named Blake Treinen as his closer. Treinen has saved exactly one big league game.

There wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice, however. Last year Washington had Mark Melancon, but with him gone and GM Mike Rizzo’s failure to land a high-profile closer in the offseason, it became a contest between Treinen Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover.

Treinen posted a 2.28 ERA with 31 walks and 63 Ks in 67 innings in 2016. His big improvement last year came against lefties, who had tattooed him in the past. He pitched well this spring as well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

The Nats are our favorites to win the NL East, but we do have some questions about the pen. Blake Treinen will take the first crack at answering them.