Joined by high school students from Volunteers of America's Detroit Action Team, Curtis Granderson and Nate Robertson took some time away from the field this week to help turn around the city's high illiteracy rate.

The Tigers' duo and the students went to the Detroit Public Library on Wednesday to promote the importance of reading with disadvantaged kids from the area. Together with the student leaders from Mumford and Ferndale high schools, the players spoke with children from University Prep Elementary School -- which does not have a library -- and distributed two free books to each child.

The event was organized by Volunteers of America Michigan and the Detroit Action Team as part of an ongoing effort to highlight the increasing need for literacy programs in the Detroit area. National studies indicate that Detroit's illiteracy rate is among the highest among major American cities.

The event also showcased the inroads being made daily by the Action Team program, which was created by the Major League Baseball Players trust and Volunteers of America to encourage young people throughout the United States to volunteer in their communities.

"The Action Team Captains from Detroit are living proof that you don't have to be a celebrity to help improve the lives of others," Granderson said. "Today, Action Team Captains played an important role in raising the awareness of child literacy-related programs by providing books to area children.

"On behalf of all Major Leaguers, I applaud the efforts of Action Team Captains across the country for their efforts to inspire thousands of their peers to get involved by helping their neighbors in need."

A day earlier, Jay Gibbons, Adam Loewen, Melvin Mora, Corey Patterson and Brian Roberts played host to a group of young cancer patients from Johns Hopkins Hospital, University of Maryland Medical Center and Sinai Hospital.

The children and their families were brought to Baltimore's Camden Yards as part of the Major League Baseball Players Trust's Buses for Baseball program. In addition to meeting the players and watching batting practice, they were treated to round-trip transportation, game tickets, food, beverages and souvenirs.

In an on-field, pregame presentation, Gibbons and Roberts presented a $50,000 check to the Belanger-Federico Foundation on behalf of the Major League Baseball Players Association to help support the Foundation's efforts to find a cure for lung cancer and to make life more enjoyable for young oncology patients.

The foundation is named in part for Mark Belanger, the longtime Orioles shortstop and later a special assistant to MLBPA Executive Director Don Fehr who died in October 1998.

Schneider guides Nats' young staff: The Nationals went into Spring Training with just one established starting pitcher. Since the season has started, Washington has already used 17 different pitchers.

But the Nationals just took three games out of a four-game series against the Reds thanks in large part to the work of catcher Brian Schneider, who has guided the young staff to respectability.

"We can talk all we want about our pitching staff and the great job that Randy's doing, and Rick Aponte," manager Manny Acta told the Washington Post. "But Brian Schneider's been huge.

Acta was referencing pitching coach Randy St. Claire and bullpen coach Aponte.

"You got guys coming up here I haven't caught since Spring Training," Schneider said. "It's tough, being able to talk to them about what's been working for them down there, to what might work up here. What to set up. What counts to get out there on the corners. There's a lot of things going on, but it's all about what's going to make them the most comfortable."

The first time Schneider met pitcher Mike Bacsik, it was right before the hurler's first start for the club Saturday. Bacsik went out and hurled six scoreless innings. Thursday, Bacsik went 7 2/3 innings and picked up his first win.

"When he goes over the hitters before the game," Bacsik said, "he has a commitment to what he says, and he knows it's going to work, which makes me believe it's going to work, too."

Garciaparra is at home with the fans: Dodgers star Nomar Garciaparra will host the first Carne Asada Sunday after a game at Dodger Stadium. He will hang out with fans, share soft tacos and listen to mariachi music.

"I'm no different than the people who come to Dodgers games," Garciaparra told the Los Angeles Times. "People relate to me, I think, because they recognize that. They see that I go to work, I have a routine, I get there, have some coffee, give it my all, go home to my family and do it again the next day.

"I want people to know that's how I feel. I'm no better than anybody else."

Admission will be $50 for the event, with proceeds going to the Dodgers Dream Foundation.

Garciaparra has long been known for his charitable endeavors. When he was with the Red Sox, he started the "5 Fund," which among other things started a literacy program, developed an inner-city playground and made significant improvements to several orphanages.

"It was a Johnny Appleseed attitude," Garciaparra said. "I wanted the people to see tangible accomplishments, and we made them happen. I'm still attached to Boston because of all the stuff we did."

Garciaparra did not immediately start a charitable organization when he joined the Dodgers last year because he did not know how long he would be with the club. But with a two-year deal in place, he believes the time is now right.

"The people in L.A. feel like family. They've embraced me and I don't take it for granted. It's about doing good things. It's not easy given the time demands of this game. But it's important."

Now pitching: Ichiro? Ichiro Suzuki has played in 1,000 games for the Mariners, but there's one thing he hasn't done: pitch.

"It's one of my dreams," Ichiro told the Seattle Times.

If Ichiro does take the mound, it won't be the first time in his professional career. In an All-Star game in Japan in 1996, Ichiro came on to face Hideki Matsui. But the dream matchup never happened, as the opposing manager countered by bringing in pitcher Shingo Takatsu to face Ichiro.

"The best way I can express it to you," Ichiro said, "is that the fans were going crazy, I felt like boiling hot water and in an instant I became like ice."

Ichiro responded by not even throwing his best stuff.

"Since it was a pitcher, it's not much of a competition," Ichiro said. "So I just threw easy fastballs right down the gut, and it was a groundout to the shortstop."

The Mariners were involved in a high-scoring road game with the Devil Rays Thursday. When it was suggested that one more run and his wish may have come true, Ichiro indicated that it was not the right time nor place for his U.S. pitching debut.

"That wouldn't be all that exciting here," he said. "Imagine doing that at Safeco Field, against the Devil Rays. How would the fans react to that?"

A change of pace from Francis: Clinging to a 2-0 lead, Colorado's Jeff Francis showed he isn't afraid to throw his changeup in crucial situations.

With runners on first and second base, Francis was facing Carlos Quentin of Arizona, who with one swing of the bat can easily turn a lead into a deficit. But instead of sending the ball flying, Quentin could only watch Francis' 81 mph changeup float through the strikezone for strike three.

"(Former Triple-A pitching coach) Bob McClure used to tell me there will come a time in a game where you have to say you are in the big leagues and you have to execute this. I don't know if that was one of those situations, but it made sense," Francis told the Denver Post.

Catcher Yorvit Torrealba had complete faith in Francis throwing the changeup in that situation.

"I knew that Quentin was aggressive and that Jeff could get him with that pitch," Torrealba said

Francis, who threw seven scoreless innings, showed off his changeup regularly throughout the game. Of the 119 pitches he threw, 32 were changeups.

"That was filthy," said manager Clint Hurdle of Francis' effort on the mound. "A lot of self-confidence."

A good week for Wells: St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Kip Wells has had a good week. It started with Wells' wife, Emily, having the couple's first child over the weekend -- Georgia Janell Wells.

Then on Wednesday against his former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Wells picked up a quality start by working seven innings and giving up just one earned run in the Cardinals' 5-3 victory.

"Yeah, it is nice to pitch against them and pitch well," Wells told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "There is some history. I was there for five years. Some of them sent me baby gifts here in the past few days, and not every team would do that for you."

So while he was anxious to right his season and pick up a win, he wasn't necessarily worrying too much about the opponent. "But, at the same time, I've got to keep myself under control out there. I'm not out there thinking I've got to take it to the Pirates," he said.

Pittsburgh shortstop Jack Wilson noticed a difference between the Kip Wells that played for the Pirates and the Kip Wells he saw on Wednesday night.

"He had a little difference in his motion," said Wilson. "Overall, though, he really just threw a lot of strikes. He had a good sinker going, had good movement and ... we always said when he was over here that he's best when he lets his ball do the moving. That's what happened."

Greinke lifts Royals' bullpen: Kansas City Royals pitcher Zack Greinke, who was moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen earlier this year, has excelled in his new role.

After recording four outs and picking up the win on Tuesday, starting pitcher Odalis Perez said he believed that it was a good move for the team.

"That was the best move we've made," Perez told the Kansas City Star.

Second baseman Mark Grudzielanek agreed.

"I think the biggest thing is the bullpen stepping up with Greinke coming out and throwing the way he has the last five or six outings," said Grudzielanek. "He shuts the door on games we normally couldn't do it. He's a big addition out there."

In his last five outings, covering 8 1/3 innings, Greinke has not been touched for a single tally.

Bonderman puts blister behind him: In his first outing since May 9, Detroit Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman showed no ill effects in regard to the blister that has had him sidelined. Bonderman was sharp enough to work eight shutout innings in the Tigers 12-0 victory over the Anaheim Angels.

Bonderman, who gave up just four hits on the day, even made regular use of his breaking ball -- the pitch that used to make him feel the blister more than any other.

"I threw a bullpen [session] and it was good, so I wasn't really worried about it," Bonderman told MLB.com. "So once I got that out of my mind, it was just a matter of just going out and pitching."

While retiring 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced, Bonderman kept the game moving along as the Tigers cruised to victory.

"We got a big lead and I just kept pitching," he said. "I just wanted to keep moving the ball around, threw some changeups late in the game where I needed to, get some work with it. It was a good, fun game."

As a precautionary matter -- and with the game seemingly out of reach for the Angels -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland opted to not send Bonderman out for the ninth inning despite having thrown just 95 pitches. After the game, Leyland kidded that there was another reason for removing his pitcher.

"I'm going to kid him later on," said Leyland. "If he hadn't had a big contract, I'd have left him in there. He's got all that dough now, he doesn't need a shutout."

While having a good time with such a cushion, Bonderman understood his skipper's decision to pull him.

"When we got deep into that game and had a big lead, if [Leyland] wanted to take me out earlier, I wouldn't have blamed him," he said. "But I felt good out there, and it was fun."

Ordonez is red hot: Detroit Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez is on fire.

With four hits and three RBIs in Thursday's 12-0 victory over the Anaheim Angels, Ordonez is now batting .361 on the year with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs. His slugging percentage is an insane .710 -- easily the best of his career and nearly 200 points above his career average of .520.

"He's hitting it all over," Detroit manager Jim Leyland told MLB.com. "He's hitting them to right, right-center, left-center, pulling them. I don't know that I've seen anything quite like it. About as good as it gets."

Ordonez admitted that he is feeling good.

"The best I've felt being here," he said. "I used to feel like this with Chicago. I'm more patient. I'm swinging at a pitch to hit. I feel good."

The four hits on Thursday tied a career high for Ordonez, who is in his third year with Detroit after spending eight seasons with the Chicago White Sox.

-- Red Line Editorial