Shane Victorino is finally close to rejoining the Red Sox

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Shane Victorino landed on the disabled list in May after he aggravated a right hamstring strain and suffered a setback in June due to a back issue, but he’s finally close to rejoining the Red Sox.

After playing three games with Class A Lowell over the past week, Victorino moved his minor league rehab assignment up to Triple-A Pawtucket tonight. Batting second and playing right field, he went 2-for-4 with two singles and two runs scored while playing all nine innings. Red Sox manager John Farrell told Steven Patrella of MLB.com earlier this evening wants him to play back-to-back games before being activated, so it’s feasible that he could make his long-awaited return this weekend if all goes well.

“Ideally, we see him play back-to-back games before we would activate him,” Farrell said Thursday. “So how he comes through tonight has a lot of bearing on that. And ideally he’s back in the lineup tomorrow.”

After being an important part of Boston’s World Series run last year, Victorino has only appeared in 21 games this season while batting just .242/.276/.352 over 99 plate appearances.

Royals sign Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal

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Free agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Royals, the team announced Friday. While the move comes just two days after Saunders agreed to terms with the Pirates, he allegedly asked for his release after the club acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson in a multi-player swap with the Rays on Thursday. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan adds that Saunders will make $1.5 million upon reaching the majors, with a potential $500,000 in bonuses.

After earning his first spot on an All-Star team in 2016, Saunders followed up a solid campaign with a career-worst performance in 2017. The 31-year-old split the season between the Phillies and Blue Jays’ camps, batting a combined .202/.256/.344 with six home runs and -0.7 fWAR in 234 plate appearances. Although he remained healthy throughout the year, with no sign of the lingering hamstring strain that has plagued him on and off since 2013, he wasn’t productive enough to merit a full-time role on either roster.

With Dickerson slated for a starting role in Pittsburgh, it was unlikely that Saunders would have commanded anything other than a backup role in 2018. Now, however, he’ll compete for playing time amid a slew of outfield options, including Alex Gordon, Cody Asche, Jorge Bonifacio, Tyler Collins and Paulo Orlando.