Alex Cobb aims to return before end of May

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Rays starter Alex Cobb is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a severely-strained left oblique.

The right-hander threw what Rays manager Joe Maddon described as an “electric” bullpen session on Tuesday afternoon and told reporters after the workout that he expects to be back in Tampa Bay’s rotation before the end of May. The initial recovery timetable had him in rehab mode until mid June.

Cobb registered a 1.89 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 19 innings before landing on the disabled list April 13.

The 26-year-old shut out the Reds for seven frames in his final start before the oblique strain diagnosis.

Mariners sign Ichiro to a minor league deal

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USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Mariners will sign Ichiro Suzuki to a minor-league deal. If he makes the roster he’ll make $750,000. At least until he retires.

I say that because it seems quite clear that the idea here, telegraphed since last season, is to activate Ichiro for the Mariners’ series against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo on March 20-21 and for hoopla surrounding it all. The Mariners and A’s will have a 28-man roster for that series, which is officially part of the regular season schedule, but it will be pared back down to 25 once games begin in the United States.

Suzuki, 45, hit .205/.255/.205 in 47 plate appearances through May 2 last season, at which point he agreed to be deactivated to join the Mariners’ front office. Many assumed Ichiro would announce his retirement later that season or during the offseason, but the Japan Series soon crystalized as an obvious way for him to offer his final farewell to both his American and his Japanese fans.

Unless of course he goes 6-10 with three doubles in that series, at which point everyone will be tempted to keep him on the roster past Japan. Which, given the Mariners’ rebuild and likely poor performance this coming season, wouldn’t exactly be hurting anyone, would it?