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Fernando Tatis Jr. takes batting practice, San Diego Padres ‘optimistic’ for Friday return

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San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. took live batting practice in Pittsburgh on Thursday morning, and his manager, Jayce Tingler, said the team is “optimistic” that he’ll be available for Friday’s game against the division-rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

Friday marks the first day Tatis is eligible to be activated off the injured list since suffering a subluxation of his left shoulder during a violent swing on April 5, his third reported issue with that shoulder in a span of 23 days. Subluxations, which is when the shoulder essentially slips out of its position in the socket but doesn’t fully dislocate, often lead to surgery. But there are also cases when players can manage the ailment for a prolonged period of time, and the Padres are hopeful that Tatis can do so.

Tingler cautioned that he still needs to meet with the Padres’ medical department but added that Thursday was Tatis’ “best day” with regards to hitting since suffering the injury.

“We’re optimistic that he has a good chance to be ready to play tomorrow,” Tingler said.

Tatis, 22, batted .301/.374/.582 with 39 home runs, 27 stolen bases and eight triples in his first 143 games from 2019 to 2020, compiling 6.5 FanGraphs wins above replacement. Before the 2021 season began, he had already secured major marketing deals with Gatorade and Adidas, graced the cover of MLB The Show and obtained a 14-year, $340 million extension.

But Tatis amassed only three hits in 16 at-bats over his first four regular-season games this year, striking out six times and committing five errors. A couple of scouts who watched him closely believe he was favoring that left shoulder, which caused him trouble a couple of times during spring training. Tatis revealed prior to Opening Day that he has been managing that shoulder “since rookie ball.”

Tatis was in noticeable pain immediately after suffering the subluxation, but Padres general manager A.J. Preller said he felt much better shortly thereafter and was pining to return to the starting lineup the following day. His MRI, Preller said, showed a slight labral tear that was consistent with a subluxation but not much different from what had shown up on his prior physical, adding that Tatis had regained full range of motion and that he would attempt to manage the injury after a short IL stint.

“This is not something that we feel like long term we’re putting him at risk if he goes out there and continues playing this season,” Preller said on April 6. “There’s always the chance that he can have another episode, another incident, where there’s another subluxation, and at that point in time, we’ll evaluate from there. But this is not a situation where our doctors — knowing the player, seeing him, examining him, looking at the images — feel like we’re putting him in an issue to have any kind of long-term, more damage or anything like that if he goes out there and plays.”

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Albert Pujols in agreement with Los Angeles Dodgers on major league deal, sources say

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The Los Angeles Dodgers and first baseman Albert Pujols are in agreement on a major league contract, sources told ESPN on Saturday, confirming a report by the Los Angeles Times.

The agreement isn’t expected to become official until Monday, a source said.

Pujols, in the last year of his 10-year, $240 million contract, was designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels on May 6 and was officially released on Thursday after clearing waivers.

Pujols, 41, would seemingly be coming in for a part-time role. Max Muncy has started 32 of the Dodgers’ first 38 games at first base, but he also provides the versatility to help at third base and second base, which would open up some playing time for Pujols at first base.

The Dodgers entered Saturday with a .663 OPS against opposing left-handed pitchers this season, 136 points less than the team’s OPS against righties.

Pujols, one of the best right-handed-hitters in baseball history, could help with that. Pujols was batting only .198/.250/.372 in his first 92 plate appearances this season, but his .513 expected slugging percentage suggested he had also been running into some bad luck.

He is fifth in major league history with 667 homers and 13th with 3,253 hits. A three-time National League MVP and two-time World Series champion with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols has a .298 career average and .921 OPS. He is a 10-time All-Star and had been the oldest active player in the major leagues.

Pujols was in a 7-for-43 slump at the time he was cut.

He batted .328 with a 1.037 OPS in St. Louis, but hit .256 with a .758 OPS in Anaheim along with 222 homers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tampa Bay Rays deal reliever Hunter Strickland to Los Angeles Angels

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The Tampa Bay Rays traded right-handed relief pitcher Hunter Strickland to the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Strickland, 32, has appeared in 13 games for the Rays this season, registering a 1.69 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 16 innings pitched.

He made the Rays roster in spring training as a non-roster invitee.

The eight-year veteran has a 16-16 career record with 21 saves and a 3.14 ERA and 249 strikeouts. He also has pitched for the Giants, Mariners, Nationals and Mets during his career.

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Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ ‘good’ after being activated from IL

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The Chicago Cubs activated outfielder Ian Happ from the injured list after he missed time due to bruised ribs.

“They’re good,” Happ said Saturday morning. “I feel great. It’s not like anything I’ve ever had before. Working out the last three to four days, being able to throw, hit, run and do everything it takes to play in a major league baseball game.”

Happ, 26, was injured in a collision with second baseman Nico Hoerner as both players converged on a pop up in the outfield earlier this month. Hoerner also spent time on the injured list with a forearm injury. He was activated on Friday.

To make room on the roster for Happ, infielder Ildemaro Vargas was designated for assignment. Happ is batting sixth and playing centerfield against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday.

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