Corey Hart takes outdoor batting practice, nearing return

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Brewers outfielder Corey Hart opened the season on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle and manager Ron Roenicke said at the time that there was no timetable for his return. Now, about two weeks later, that has changed.

From MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy comes word that Hart was able to take live batting practice in an outdoor setting Thursday for the first time since suffering his spring oblique injury. Hart took swings in indoor cages on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Brewers are hoping that the 29-year-old will be ready to begin playing in minor league rehab games this weekend — likely Sunday — and that he will feel well enough to return to the major league starting lineup on or around April 22.

“That will be nice to see,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. “He’s going to do [outdoor batting practice] for a few days, and then if everything goes well, he’ll be ready to go out on a rehab assignment.”

Hart batted just .172/.221/.313 this spring across 68 plate appearances, but he’s coming off a career-best 2010 season that saw him slug 31 home runs against 102 RBI. He should do just fine here in 2011.

Report: Welington Castillo to be suspended 80 games for violating Joint Drug Agreement

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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic confirms a report from journalist Américo Celado that White Sox catcher Welington Castillo will be suspended 80 games for violating baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement. Castillo was believed to have used a steroid, but according to Rosenthal, the substance was not a steroid. More details should come on Thursday.

Castillo, 31, entered Wednesday’s action batting .270/.314/.477 with six home runs and 15 RBI in 118 plate appearances. He has gotten the bulk of the work behind the plate, backed up by Omar Narváez.

Castillo’s absence will likely prompt the White Sox to call up Kevan Smith from Triple-A Charlotte. Smith battled an ankle injury in March and April, so he got a late start to the season. In 102 PA at Triple-A, he has hit .283/.343/.457.