Ryne Sandberg says Ryan Howard returning in September would be “counterproductive”

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It’s possible that Ryan Howard could return from July knee surgery to rejoin the Phillies lineup in September, but interim manager Ryne Sandberg told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com that it would be “counterproductive” for the first baseman to do so.

Here’s more:

I don’t know what 10 or 15 games would do. He needs to get healthy and strong and in top baseball shape and whether or not that can happen by mid-September is a question. … He had a big injury and I don’t think he ever got into true baseball shape. He needs to get trimmed up to a playing weight that he can be productive at. Go ahead get him in baseball shape and be ready for first day of spring training ready to go.

It’s interesting that Sandberg is so focused on Howard’s status for 2014 considering the Phillies haven’t officially named him the manager for next season, although he’s certainly right that the focus of Howard’s recovery shouldn’t be some meaningless September games.

As for the repeated references to Howard getting into “baseball shape” … general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said recently that he’s dropped 15 pounds and Salisbury reports that he’s expected to spend at least part of the offseason “working with team conditioning personnel and hitting coaches” at the Phillies’ spring training complex in Florida.

Howard, who’ll be 34 years old in November, is signed for three more seasons at a total cost of $85 million.

Athletics and Mariners to begin the 2019 regular season in Tokyo

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Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners will begin the 2019 regular season in Japan, in the Tokyo Dome.

The series will mark the third time that the A’s will begin their season in Japan, first doing it in 2008 against the Red Sox and then again in 2012 against the Mariners.

This is just the latest of Major League Baseball’s moves to expand the the game internationally. In addition to those previous series in Japan, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks opened their season in Australia in 2014 and the Dodgers and Padres will play a series in Mexico City this May. There has likewise been talk of the Mets playing a series in London, though those details have not yet been worked out. Obviously the World Baseball Classic represents the league’s effort to broaden the global scope of the once national pastime.

Get ready for early morning baseball, folks.