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.

Yasiel Puig was late to a workout on Monday, so Dave Roberts benched him

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Earlier, Craig wrote about how Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig is back in manager Dave Roberts’ doghouse once again. Puig didn’t slide into second base when he was caught stealing to end Saturday’s game, which irked Roberts.

Puig didn’t earn himself any brownie points on Monday as he was late to a team workout and was benched as a result, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports. Roberts said, “That was a decision he made, not me.” Roberts added that he was disappointed in Puig, though he did note that the former All-Star’s behavior has been improved for most of the season.

Puig, 26, has had a solid season, batting .259/.339/.474 with 26 home runs, 70 RBI, 66 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 554 plate appearances. While he hasn’t provided value on the same level as Justin Turner or Corey Seager, he’s been a valuable part of the lineup which makes this drama all the more unfortunate with just a week and a half before the start of the NLDS.

MLB, MLBPA grant Pirates exemption for Jung Ho Kang to participate in Dominican Winter League

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Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Pirates were granted an exemption by Major League Baseball and the players’ union which will allow infielder Jung Ho Kang to participate in the Dominican Winter League without being removed from the restricted list.

Kang, 30, has been denied a visa by the Department of State as a result of his third DUI in South Korea last September. Kang was also under investigation in 2015 for alleged sexual assault.

Kang is under contract through the end of 2018 and the Pirates have a club option for the 2019 season as well, so it makes sense they would try to get him into some type of baseball action ahead of next season. The infielder has hit .273/.355/.483 in 837 plate appearances across two seasons in the majors. As Brink notes, Kang has already arrived to the Dominican Republic and will work out with his team, Aguilas Cibaenas, ahead of the start of the season on October 20.