Chipper Jones celebrated his 36th birthday by going 3-for-3 with a home run in the Braves' 7-4 win over the Marlins on Thursday. It was his seventh homer of the year and the sixth in his last 11 games.

"I've always felt like I needed to do something cool on my birthday," Jones, who's hitting .500 (18-for-36) on his big day, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I really wanted to do something big, whether it was to hit a home run or get three hits. Either/or I would have taken. In a perfect world that was today, I got both -- it was awesome."

Jones also had another baseball gift in this game, as he got to watch catcher Brian McCann chug out his first career triple.

"That was just pure poetry in motion on the bases right there," Jones said. "That was pretty much how Pete Rose drew it up. The triple was one thing; the belly flop into third was tremendous. I'm sure that I'll hear about it because he's got more triples than I do now. It was the perfect topper for the perfect day. Of course, now we get to hear about it."

Grabow brings confidence with 0.00 ERA: Through 12 games this season, Pirates reliever John Grabow has been virtually unhittable with a 0.00 ERA, no extra-base hits allowed and 11 strikeouts against just two walks.

"He's been just great," Pirates starter Paul Maholm told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The best part is how cool he is, how confident when he comes into the game, even with men on base. He has that give-me-the-ball attitude."

Lopez smacks first grand slam in new park: Felipe Lopez has been a shot to the arm for the Nationals since being inserted into the starting lineup last week. Thursday night he had six RBIs, including a grand slam that broke a 3-3 tie and lifted Washington to a 10-5 win over the Mets. Lopez is batting .357 since regaining his starting job. It was just the fourth home run hit by the Nationals in their new park and the first grand slam.

"Even when he didn't win the job out of Spring Training, he never put his head down," manager Manny Acta told The Washington Post. "He worked hard, had a good attitude. He knew it from the get-go. I told him, 'It's a long season. It doesn't mean you can't work yourself back into the lineup.'"

Kotchman finds a new meal plan in Boston: Ballplayers are a superstitious lot, and Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman is no different. Last year in the playoffs against the Red Sox, Kotchman contracted food poisoning after Game 2 in Fenway and ended up watching Game 3 from a hospital bed. This year, in the team's trip to Boston, Kotchman avoided all food in the clubhouse. The food plan worked to perfection, as Kotchman hit a game-tying home run on Tuesday and a go-ahead homer on Wednesday and now has a team-leading six home runs on the year.

"I did room service -- I didn't eat at the park except for a few protein bars," Kotchman told the Los Angeles Times. "It's a little mental glitch for me. I'm trying to be safe. The tough thing is I like the food here, but I haven't messed with it."

Ryan snares pair of hits in '08 debut: In his first game at the Major League level this season, Brendan Ryan picked up two hits, scored twice and drove in a run in the Cardinals' 6-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. After starting the season at Triple-A Memphis as he was working through a rib injury, Ryan was more than ready to join the Cardinals.

"It felt like it's been Christmas Eve for a long, long while," Ryan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I was just waiting to get back here. ... I'm anxious to see [if the timing at the plate is ready]. That's one of the things you find out when you're thrown into the fire."

Soriano can count on leadoff spot: As Alfonso Soriano gets closer and closer to returning to the Cubs, manager Lou Piniella says that he has no doubt where his star will be once he gets back.

"Yeah, we'll put him back in left field and lead him off," Piniella told the Chicago Tribune. "We want to make sure he can do all the things a leadoff hitter needs to do. We don't really want to take any chances here early in the year of bringing him back too soon, and all of a sudden we have another problem on our hands. He's going to go through a full agenda of outfield play and running the bases and hitting and those sort of things to ensure that we can keep him as healthy as possible."

Teahen makes the shift to right field: After starting 20 games in left field this season, Mark Teahen was back in his 2007 stomping grounds, right field, on Thursday against the Indians.

"It's not really a big deal," Teahen told MLB.com before the game. "I'm still working on the same things at both spots so going to right field will remind me, hopefully, how comfortable I can be in the outfield."

Ludwick building on last year's success: Ryan Ludwick is batting .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs.

"I'm just building on last year," Ludwick told MLB.com. "I got the most at-bats I had ever gotten at this level last year and felt like I was starting to get the hang of it, and I just came into this year trying to get good pitches to hit and put good swings on the ball and hit the ball hard. After that, you can't control what happens, and, fortunately for me, I've hit some balls hard that have found some holes and things have been going well thus far."

Fuentes gets the closer role again: Brian Fuentes has been moved back into the closer's role for the Rockies. Manager Clint Hurdle said the time is right for Fuentes to be the closer. Fuentes entered Thursday's game with a 2.45 ERA. Fuentes has excelled as the Rockies' closer in the past. He has earned a trip to three straight All-Star games as the team's closer from 2005-07.

"I think what you need to do is what's best for the club and that's to give the ball to Brian right now, " Hurdle told ColoradoRockies.com.

Fuentes picked up the save with a perfect ninth inning in Colorado's win over the Cubs on Thursday afternoon.

Kazmir slated for an early May return: Scott Kazmir had yet another solid rehab start Wednesday, leading Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon to say that Kazmir is currently scheduled to make his 2008 debut next weekend against Boston. The start will come either May 3 or May 4. Kazmir, who led the American League in strikeouts last season, went 4 2/3 innings in his start for the Class A Advanced Vero Beach Devil Rays against Palm Beach.

"He came through very well," Maddon told Raysbaseball.com.

Hensley makes progress with rehab: San Diego pitcher Clay Hensley continues to progress from surgery performed last September to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The right-hander threw one scoreless inning of relief for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore on Monday night. Hensley will likely be used in relief when he finally returns to the active roster after he was primarily a starter in 2007. He was 2-3 with a 6.84 ERA, but the Padres won five of his last six starts.

"He had a good clean inning," Padres manager Bud Black told Padres.com. "He came out of it very healthy today. He will pitch again on Thursday over in [Triple-A] Las Vegas and then pitch again Saturday in Las Vegas before pitching again in Portland on Monday or Tuesday."

Wigginton optimistic about thumb injury: Ty Wigginton is close to returning to the Astros' active roster after playing catch and taking batting practice Wednesday. Wigginton is currently sidelined with a small fracture in his left thumb.

"It was by far the best it's been," Wigginton, who is optimistic about being ready for a rehab assignment by next week, told the Houston Chronicle. "There's still some soreness."

Lincecum takes over Major League strikeout lead: Tim Lincecum won a pitching battle with Chris Young, taking a 1-0 game thanks to a home run by Rich Aurilia on Thursday. The win ran Lincecum's record to 4-0, and the Giants are 5-0 in games started by Lincecum. With any other pitcher on the mound, the team's record is 5-13.

"That's cool," Lincecum told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Hopefully I can keep that going. Keep not telling me. It's easier not to think about it."

The outing dropped Lincecum's ERA on the season to 1.23 and, with nine strikeouts, he took the Major League lead with 36. His fastball registered 98 miles on a strike out of Brian Giles.

Thomas back in familiar spot with A's: After being released by the Blue Jays, Frank Thomas wound up in a familiar spot, as he was signed by the Oakland A's. Thomas spent the 2006 season with the A's and hit 39 home runs and drove in 114 runs before leaving to sign a two-year contract with Toronto.

"The risk and reward make it worth it," general manager Billy Beane told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We'd be crazy not to take a chance on someone like Frank -- if we don't sign him and he goes out and hits 30 homers and drives in 90 runs, we're the bigger fool."

Banks signs with Padres: The San Diego Padres added depth to their pitching staff Wednesday by claiming Josh Banks off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. Banks, who was a starter in the Toronto system, will be used as a reliever at Triple-A Portland.

"He's a right-handed pitcher with a fastball, slider and split-finger [fastball]," manager Bud Black told Padres.com. "He has good control and a low walk rate and started his entire career with the Blue Jays, but we're going to try him in the bullpen in Portland."

-- Red Line Editorial