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updated: 3/4/2013 7:42 PM

NL Central: Ramirez ailing; new hope for Prior?

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  • Milwaukee Brewers third baseman and former Cub Aramis Ramirez breaks his bat in an exhibition game last Thursday. Ramirez sprained his left knee Saturday when sliding into second, and the Brewers must be relieved the injury wasn't worse.

      Milwaukee Brewers third baseman and former Cub Aramis Ramirez breaks his bat in an exhibition game last Thursday. Ramirez sprained his left knee Saturday when sliding into second, and the Brewers must be relieved the injury wasn't worse.
    Associated Press

 
 

We get the best of both worlds as we take a look around the National League Central. The top items involve some notable ex-Cubs.

Milwaukee Brewers:

The Milwaukee Brewers are breathing a sigh of relief after getting news that third baseman and former Cub Aramis Ramirez does not have a serious knee injury.

Ramirez wound up with only a sprained left knee after he jammed it sliding into second base Saturday. An MRI showed no structural damage.

"It's a sprained knee, but it won't probably be day-to-day," manager Ron Roenicke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He's pretty sore today. Whether it's a week or a little more than that, that's probably what we're looking at."

Ramirez led the National League in doubles last year, with 50. He had a hitting line of .300/.360/.540 with 27 homers and 105 RBI.

Cincinnati Reds:

You may have read that former Cubs pitcher Mark Prior has signed a minor-league contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds' website reported that Prior contacted Reds manager and former Cubs skipper Dusty Baker. That might raise a few eyebrows because many observers blame Baker for overworking Prior in 2003.

"It's going to open old wounds," Baker told the site. "There's no manager around that doesn't have somebody that has gotten seriously hurt? The more you manage, the more the chance you have guys (that get hurt). It's like I got Kerry Wood (hurt). He had Tommy John already and pitched six, seven years after."

Prior, 32, last pitched in the major leagues in 2006 with the Cubs. Last year, he made 19 relief appearances for the Red Sox' Class AAA Pawtucket team, going 1-0 with a 3.96 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP.

MLB.com quoted Prior as saying: "I still have an opportunity. I don't necessarily feel like a martyr or something because I've worked hard and I should be paid with an opportunity, but I'm grateful for it. I don't take it for granted. I'll do everything I can to go out and perform and try for a spot. I enjoy competing, first and foremost. It's always a joy to go out and compete. I'm going to take it day by day. I know that's a cliché, but it's literal for me. I really do have to take it day by day. I was in San Diego without a job on Tuesday and I'm here today."

Baker also has high praise for former Cubs setup man Sean Marshall, who has that role with Cincinnati.

"Marshall is big in this equation," Baker told the Reds' site. "I never had a captain. They are anointed by the players, not by me. Just watch who they gravitate towards."

This is a familiar story. Baker was taking about Marshall not complaining about going from closer back to setup man last year when the Reds made hard-throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman their closer. When Marshall was with the Cubs, he never complained about his role, even when he was sent to the minor leagues.

"The guy (Chapman) that was pitching in the eighth was striking out everybody and I was kind of scratching my head," Marshall was quoted as saying. "It was probably inevitable. It didn't fluster me at all. I liked going back to my seventh and eighth inning role I knew I've been good at. I enjoyed closing, and if they need me, I will be ready for them again."

St. Louis Cardinals:

Bernie Miklasz, longtime columnist of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has taken the Cardinals to task for their shortstop situation.

"The Cardinals are a mess at shortstop," Miklasz wrote. "With a month to go before the 2013 regular-season opener, a vital position is more tangled than the ligament in Rafael Furcal's damaged right elbow.

"Furcal is being shut down because of lingering pain and distress. Really? And how can Furcal get shut down when he was never ready to play?

"This is all very confusing.

"Furcal tore the elbow ligament last Aug. 30 but didn't want to have surgery to repair the injury.

"A major-league team can't force a player to have surgery, but Furcal is in the second season of a two-year, $14 million contract. I'm sorry, but doesn't a player have a reasonable ethical obligation to honor his commitment by doing what's necessary to be able to play?"

For now, Pete Kozma is the Cardinals' shortstop, and he entered Monday with a .450 batting average. He hit .333 in 72 at-bats late last year when he took over for Furcal. The Cards also have former Cub Ronny Cedeno on the team.

Pittsburgh Pirates:

The Pirates are liking what they see from right fielder Jose Tabata.

Tabata signed a six-year, $15 million contract that runs from 2011-16 but he found himself sent to Class AAA Indianapolis for a spell last year, partly because of a lack of hustle.

"It was a little hard for me last year. I don't know why -- maybe because they gave me right field, and that made me feel comfortable," Tabata told the Pirates' website. "I know now I've got to be consistent every day, no matter what.

"I changed everything, and I feel great. I don't know why, but I feel good. After the season, I wanted to prepare my body (so he skipped playing winter ball in his native Venezuela). You can see -- well, maybe you can't -- the difference. I'm stronger. I opened up my batting stance. Last year, I was too closed. I didn't have power."

Manager Clint Hurdle said he wants Tabata to "show us the skill set we've seen in the past."

It still may be a struggle for Tabata. The Pirates' pre-spring depth chart listed Travis Snyder No. 1 in right-field.

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