Ryan Howard set to begin rehab assignment on Thursday

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The positive news keeps rolling in for the Phils.

John Finger of CSNPhilly.com reports that first baseman Ryan Howard has been cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday night at Single-A Lakewood. He’ll merely DH at first and may have to ease into full games. But it’s a significant step in what has been a long rehab process.

Howard was placed on the disabled list at the end of spring training with a ruptured Achilles tendon that he suffered while making the final out of the Phils’ 2011 NLDS loss to the Cardinals. He’ll likely spend more than three weeks playing games in the minors before returning to the big-league lineup shortly after the All-Star break. Assuming there are no setbacks.

The 32-year-old first baseman batted .253/.346/.488 with 33 home runs and 116 RBI in 644 plate appearances last season. He’s under contract with the Phillies through the 2016 campaign at a whopping $115 million.

Cubs to activate Craig Kimbrel on Thursday

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The Cubs will activate reliever Craig Kimbrel ahead of Thursday afternoon’s game against the Braves, Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic reports.

Kimbrel, 31, ended a seven-month stint in free agency, agreeing to a three-year, $43 million contract with the Cubs earlier this month. He has made four minor league appearances, allowing one earned run on two hits and a walk with four strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings.

With an aggregate 3.96 ERA entering Wednesday, the Cubs’ bullpen has been among the better bullpens in the league. Adding Kimbrel, one of the greatest closers of all-time, certainly can’t hurt and will give them some stability in save situations.