Hours after undergoing an MRI on his ailing back and being told he couldn't cause further damage, Ryan Braun got on a plane and flew to Pittsburgh, where he was able to join his Brewers teammates in the second inning of their game against the Pirates on Monday.

Braun entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and hit a two-run double to tie the game in an eventual come-from-behind victory for the Brewers.

"I was not anticipating playing today -- that's for sure," Braun told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It was kind of a crazy day, definitely something I've never experienced before. I got loose, got myself prepared, knowing that I'd possibly get a pinch-hit at-bat."

Napoli uses bat to stay in lineup: Mike Napoli has been on such an offensive roll that the Angels decided to keep him in the lineup as a designated hitter over the weekend. The catcher had a streak of reaching base nine times in a row and in 12 out of 13 plate appearances.

"I don't really pay attention to it," Napoli told the Los Angeles Times. "I guess I know now. I feel good at the plate. I'm seeing the ball well, obviously. I'm just trying to go out and keep it the same. Just keep playing."

"I like it," said Napoli, who had never had an at-bat as a designated hitter before this season. "It's way different than catching a game. It's a lot less stressful."

Kelley's relief absence 'devastating': Shawn Kelley, who has been outstanding in middle relief for the Mariners, had to be helped off the field on Tuesday after straining an oblique muscle.

"All signs would seem to indicate this is going to be a little bit of time to recover," manager Don Wakamatsu told the Seattle Times. "He was doing such a phenomenal job. To be able to have depth in the sixth, seventh, eighth innings ... he just kept climbing the ladder. So it's pretty devastating."

The 25-year-old right-hander hasn't allowed an earned run over 10 appearances and 11 2/3 innings for Seattle.

Pepper providing results for Reynolds: Last week, Mark Reynolds had a series of key two-strike hits against the Giants, Cubs and Brewers. With two strikes, the Arizona third baseman now chokes up on the bat and spreads his stance out.

"In my mind, I want to become a better and more consistent hitter, and the only way I can do that is to cut down my swing," he told the Arizona Republic. "I try to play pepper. That's what I've been trying to do. It's been working for me a little bit, and I want to keep it going."

Beltran brings power to .400 mark: Carlos Beltran is off to a strong start, batting .400 to go along with a .500 on-base percentage and 18 RBIs.

"He can be very, very dangerous," Mets manager Jerry Manuel told Newsday. "He's pulled a lot of home runs in his career. But to stay through the baseball and get distance, that's a very, very good sign for him."

A-Rod plays seven innings: Alex Rodriguez played seven innings during an extended spring training game on Monday, signaling his return to the Yankees could be just around the corner. Rodriguez went 1-for-6 with a home run and a walk.

The Yankees want Rodriguez to get in another seven innings at third base and then have him slotted as the designated hitter in one last tune-up before joining the team in Baltimore on Friday.

"So much of it depends on how he feels and when he believes that he's ready to go," manager Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News. "I haven't really put a date on it, because I want to see how he bounces back. It's up to him. When he feels that he's ready, we're probably going to take him back."

Hamilton tests ribs: Josh Hamilton, on the disabled list since last week, played catch on Monday and could start swinging the bat Wednesday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. While Hamilton didn't have a problem playing catch, throwing the ball wasn't as easy he felt some soreness in his injured ribs.

"I didn't expect to not feel anything," Hamilton said. "Compared to feeling normal, I'd say I felt about 85 percent. I'm right where I thought I'd be."

Longoria gets lineup help from in front, behind: Evan Longoria was named the American League Player of the Week for the second time this season on Monday.

Last week, the Tampa Bay third baseman hit .379 with 14 RBIs, four doubles and two home runs while scoring nine times in seven games. Longoria also had a slugging percentage of .724 and a .438 on-base percentage.

Longoria said one reason for his success is batting between Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena.

"It's a huge deal," Longoria told the Tampa Tribune. "They're worried about Carl stealing bases, so they have to throw me fastballs, and if 'Los wasn't really hitting, they'd probably just flip me breaking balls and let Crawford steal and walk me. They can't do that with Pena behind me."

Bay finds uncanny success against team's nemesis: Jason Bay hasn't been with the Red Sox for a year, yet he's already become a nemesis of the Yankees. In Boston's first five games against the Yankees, Bay is 10-for-18 with three home runs and 10 RBIs.

"Whether it's the Yankees or the Orioles or anybody else, it's the same approach," Bay told the Boston Herald. "It's really nothing that I'm doing anything different. I enjoy the atmosphere of these games -- it's second to none. But I'm not doing anything different."

Carpenter begins to throw off mound: Chris Carpenter, sidelined with a left oblique strain, threw off the mound for the first time in three weeks on Monday.

"We're going to take it day-by-day," Carpenter told MLB.com after Monday's session. "There's no set throwing schedule or anything like that, or throwing program. I'm just going to go out and play catch and keep stretching out. As my arm gets stretched out and feeling better, hopefully sometime this weekend or the beginning of next week, I'll be able to throw some balls off the mound if everything feels well."

LaPorta takes off to first, keeps going: Matt LaPorta's first Major League hit was a two-run homer on Monday. The Cleveland rookie sprinted to first base, unsure if the ball was going to leave the ballpark.

"It felt pretty good off my bat, but you never know," LaPorta told MLB.com with a smile. "I took off running."

Barfield returns to old stomping grounds: For Josh Barfield, visiting Toronto always feels like a homecoming. He spent much of the first nine years of his life in Toronto while his father, Jesse, played for the Blues Jays.

"I love coming back here," Barfield told MLB.com. "It's probably my favorite place to play. I spend a lot of time up here and I've got family that lives up here now. It's a great city, and I've got a lot of memories up here, so it's always fun to come back."

Howard spies homecoming chance: Ryan Howard, who grew up in St. Louis, relishes the possibility of playing in the All-Star Game in his hometown this year.

"That would be awesome," Howard told the Philadelphia Daily News. "That would be a great experience, being in the All-Star Game in your hometown. It would be right up there."

Sardinha brings backstop depth: Tigers manager Jim Leyland says having Dane Sardinha in the fold is extremely important.

"He's a tremendous backup catcher, in my opinion," Leyland told MLB.com, "because he can catch and throw as good as anybody. He's good -- he's really good. Defensively, he's as good as there is in the league, in my opinion."

Greinke's confidence fuels team: Zack Greinke has been named the American League's Pitcher of the Month for April after posting a 5-0 record with an ERA of just 0.50.

"The confidence he takes to the mound ... spreads to the rest of the team, whether they are playing behind him or watching," Royals manager Trey Hillman told the Kansas City Star. "It's a nice thing. I'm glad to see him getting recognized with an award."

-- Red Line Editorial