High school students who participate in the Action Team volunteer initiative were awarded certificates of achievement by Carlos Delgado and Brian Schneider in a pregame ceremony at Shea Stadium on Thursday night.

Administered by Volunteers of America and the Major League Baseball Players Trust, the Action Team program was created to encourage young people throughout the United States to volunteer in their communities.

To date, Action Teams of high school students and Major Leaguers across the country have inspired more than 12,000 high school students to help more than 55,000 people in need by volunteering in their communities.

Delgado and Schneider, who are among dozens of players who work directly with local high school students to encourage volunteerism, awarded the certificates to the New York Action Team captains: Megan Kagahastian, Elizabeth Granados and Kelly Yevoli of Cathedral High School; Armando Avila, Esteban Soler, Angel Tejada and Steven D'Elena of Queens Vocational and Technical School; and Marlene Bueno, Carlos Collado and Jessica Garcia of the High School for Arts and Business.

Yevoli also received a $1,000 college scholarship from the Players Trust in recognition of her dedication to community service.

The New York Action Team captains inspired hundreds of fellow students to volunteer in various community outreach efforts. Included in those efforts this past school year was hosting a holiday party for more than 200 senior citizens.

The Action Team program is currently underway in Cincinnati, Denver, Boston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Mobile, New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, Portland (Maine), San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C.

Volunteers of America and the Players Trust are planning to expand the Action Team program to Chicago, Cleveland and Tampa during the 2008-09 school year.

Furcal no longer hobbled by ankle: An injured ankle slowed Rafael Furcal all season last year. Fully healthy in 2008, Furcal is among the leaders in the Major Leagues in batting (.407), on-base percentage (.500) and runs scored (15).

"I'd seen him on TV and I saw him in Spring Training the last couple of years, but I didn't realize how good he was," first-year Dodgers hitting coach Mike Easler told The Los Angeles Times.

It's quite a turnaround from last year, when the injured ankle held him to a .270 batting average.

"I felt insecure at the plate last year because I was hitting on one leg," Furcal said. "My ankle didn't help me, especially on the left side. This year, I feel surer of myself."

Furcal is also enjoying a better season in the field, showing greater range and improved arm strength.

"Last year, there were times I got to balls, but, when I tried to stop my body and plant my foot to throw, I couldn't," Furcal said.

Smoltz just four K's away from 3,000: John Smoltz struck out 10 batters in five shutout innings on Thursday night to lead the Braves to an 8-0 win over the Marlins. Smoltz is now just four strikeouts shy of 3,000 for his career.

"Strikeouts are coming because of the lineups" Smoltz told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "and I feel like my slider's as good as it's ever been." Manager Bobby Cox removed Smoltz after 81 pitches because the Braves had such a big lead and wanted to be cautious with Smoltz's shoulder.

"Can't pitch any better than that," Cox said of the right-hander's performance Thursday. "Ten punchouts in five innings is phenomenal. We just don't want to take any chances."

Velez steps in looking for a triple: A September call-up in 2007, Eugenio Velez has used his speed to accumulate four triples in his first 15 hits in the Majors. Giants first base coach Roberto Kelly, who was Velez's manager in the Minors two years ago when he hit 20 triples, helped give the infielder the right mindset. Kelly taught Velez to look for a triple right out of the box.

"He told me, 'Every ball you hit in the corner or in the gap, it's going to be a triple,' " Velez told The San Francisco Chronicle. "He said, 'You have good speed. If you have good speed, you have to get a triple any time you hit a ball that way.' That's what I try to do every at-bat -- hit a ball into the gap."

Thome will join Ott with next blast: Veteran slugger Jim Thome is climbing the all-time home runs list. With a three-run shot on Wednesday, Thome now has 510 career blasts and is within one of catching Mel Ott for 21st all-time. Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews are just ahead of that with 512.

"Those are special names," Thome told The Chicago Tribune. "Those are guys who have done tremendous things in the game, and sometimes you don't think about it 'til we talk about it, but it's special and very cool."

Morneau lends a hand to Bartlett: Former Minnesota Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett had a gift waiting for him in the visitor's clubhouse Wednesday when the Tampa Bay Rays took on the Twins. Former teammate and Twins first baseman Justin Morneau sent a bat to Bartlett's locker. Bartlett hopes the bat helps his average, which was .191 entering Wednesday's game.

"I used to use his bat in BP," Bartlett told The Tampa Tribune. "I guess he saw that I'm not hitting, so he's trying to help me out."

Guerrero felled by swollen index finger: Vladimir Guerrero asked for a day off on Thursday due to a swollen right index finger. It's rare for Guerrero to be out of the lineup, but the slugger insisted that the injury is nothing to worry about and hopes to be back for Friday's game against the Mariners.

"I got hit by a pitch in Class A in 1996, and since then, when I start taking a lot of swings, at some point in the year it swells up," Guerrero told The Los Angeles Times. "Once it swells up, it won't go down. It's something I've lived with my whole career. I play with it."

Sweeney to get a look at Royals from the other side: For the first 13 years of his career, Mike Sweeney was a member of the Royals, where he was a five-time All-Star. Sweeney plays against his old teammates for the first time when Kansas City visits Oakland on Friday.

"I don't look at it as hard or easy," Sweeney told The San Francisco Chronicle. "I look at it as special."

The A's played the Royals in Spring Training, but this matchup will have more significance for Sweeney.

"Eventually, there has to be some separation between the past and the present," Sweeney said. "I think it'll be good for me. It doesn't take away the love that I have for a lot of the guys over there and the memories that I [had] in Kansas City all those years. But, I am an Oakland A now, and I'm very proud of that."

Wainwright picks up a home run and victory: Adam Wainwright did it all for the Cardinals on Wednesday night, picking up his second win of the year with 7 2/3 innings pitched in the Cardinals' 5-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. He gave up only one earned run on the mound and picked up his fourth hit of the season with a solo home run in just his eighth at-bat.

"I take pride in my hitting because I believe it can really swing the result of a game," Wainwright told The Belleville News Democrat. "If a pitcher's out there swinging the bat, keeping his team in the game and putting a quality at-bat on the pitcher to get base hits, there's always a better chance for you to score runs. It's something I take seriously, but pitching is what I'm here to do. I would have never made it out of Rookie ball as a hitter."

Kendrick settles in nicely at home games: Kyle Kendrick loves to pitch at home. Coming into Wednesday night's game against Houston -- a game in which he worked seven innings but didn't get a win as the Astros prevailed, 2-1 -- Kendrick had started 11 games at home and was an impressive 7-1 with a 3.76 ERA in those starts for the Phillies.

"I don't know what it is," told The Philadelphia Daily News. "The mound is great. It's pitching at home in front of the fans. I don't know what it is, but I like pitching at this park. I can't say what it is."

Galarraga puts up impressive outing: Filling in for Dontrelle Willis, Armando Galarraga worked 6 2/3 innings on Wednesday night and gave up just two runs on one hit in the Tigers' blowout victory. He also struck out six and, at one point, retired 16 straight Indians hitters.

"I was a little bit nervous, but when I gave up the home run, I had to get going," Galarraga told The Detroit Free Press. "The runs made me feel more relaxed."

Fontenot to get his turn in leadoff spot: Mike Fontenot hasn't spent a lot of time leading off over the past few years, but with Alfonso Soriano on the shelf, the Cubs are looking at Fontenot to take his cuts as their leadoff hitter.

"It's been a few years since I've done it," Fontenot told MLB.com. "When I was coming up with the Orioles, I led off. I keep my same approach. I usually don't hack at a lot of pitches -- I try to see a few pitches, so it works out."

Wright mows 'em down in relief: If Wesley Wright wondered how much confidence manager Cecil Cooper has him, he found out Wednesday night against Philadelphia. The Rule 5 selection entered the game in the eighth inning and had to face Pedro Feliz, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard while trying to protect a one-run lead.

Wright, a left-hander, struck out the right-handed Feliz on three pitches, then struck out the left-handed Utley on three pitches. After throwing a first-pitch strike to Howard, Wright fell behind in the count 3-1 before coming back to strike out the Phillies' slugger.

"It's exciting, man," Wright told Astros.com. "When I got the call that I was coming in the game, I was thinking, 'Just do whatever you need to do to keep us in the game.'"

Hill faring well in No. 2 hole: Searching to find a spark at the top of the lineup behind leadoff man David Eckstein, Toronto manager John Gibbons inserted second baseman Aaron Hill into the second spot. Since then, it seems the Blue Jays' offense has started to come to life.

"He's having such a good year," Gibbons told The Toronto Star of his underrated second baseman. "We put him up there a couple of times early, but that's his spot. You've got him, Rios and Wells -- your cornerstone guys. You figure you've got them a long time -- you've got to keep them all together."

Longoria's return gives Rays options: Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had an idea of how he wanted the lineup to look this season during Spring Training. But when third baseman Evan Longoria was sent to the minors before the end of camp, it changed Maddon's plans.

But the Rays have since recalled Longoria from Triple-A, allowing Maddon to bump B.J. Upton to third in the order and Carlos Pena fourth. With Carl Crawford hitting second and Longoria hitting fifth, the Rays are able to go left-right-left-right in the batting order from No. 2 through No. 5.

"That's something we've been wanting to do; I've just been waiting," Maddon told The Tampa Tribune. "With Evan here now I feel a little bit more comfortable doing it, so we're going to give it a shot and see how it works."

Ankiel gets ovation after 17-pitch walk: St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Rick Ankiel got quite an ovation on Wednesday night for something that doesn't often garner much attention -- foul balls. After drawing a walk in a 17-pitch at-bat against Milwaukee's Carlos Villanueva, the St. Louis fans let him know that his efforts were appreciated.

"It's fun to come out on the good end," Ankiel told The Belleville News Democrat.

-- Red Line Editorial