- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Ryan Howard took live batting practice for the first time since he tore his left Achilles tendon while making the final out of the Philadelphia Phillies’ season-ending 1-0 loss to St. Louis last postseason.

Howard crumpled to the ground and needed help getting up after he grounded out to end Game 5. As the Cardinals celebrated, the big slugger limped off the field at Citizens Bank Park in pain.

Howard says he’s pleased with his recovery, but that he hasn’t set a “time limit” on his return. Howard only started swinging a bat less than two weeks ago, and took his first cuts off pitchers on Wednesday.

The 2006 NL MVP, Howard batted .253 with a team-high 33 homers and 116 RBI last season to help Philadelphia win its fifth straight NL East title. He was just 2 for 19 (.105) with a homer and six RBI in the NL division series, though, against the Cardinals.

From 2006-09, Howard averaged 50 homers and 141 RBI while hitting .278. He hasn’t matched that production since signing a $125 million, five-year contract extension in April 2010. Howard has averaged 32 homers and 112 RBI with a .265 average over the past two seasons.

INDIANS: The pitcher Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, told the Associated Press he hopes to obtain a judicial pardon and return to the Cleveland Indians this season.

Hernandez was placed on baseball’s restricted list after he was arrested in the Dominican Republic on false identity charges last month. Authorities have said he is 31, three years older than the pitcher claimed. Hernandez also said he keeps in touch with Indians manager Manny Acta.

REDS: Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce reported to camp weighing 16 pounds less than at the end of last season. He thinks the slimmer body will make him faster and help him get through the season better. Though he made the All-Star team last season, his batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage dropped slightly. Bruce batted .256 with 32 homers and 97 RB in 157 games.s

BLUE JAYS: Right-hander Rick VandenHurk agreed to a one-year contract with Toronto. VandenHurk, 26, had no decisions and an 8.00 ERA in four games and eight innings for Baltimore last year. He is 8-10 with 5.97 ERA in 35 career starts and 11 relief appearances in five seasons with Florida and Baltimore.

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