San Diego Padres starter Chris Young and his wife, Liz, gave back to the community earlier this week when they hosted 125 disadvantaged children for a back-to-school shopping trip at the Mission Valley Target Store.

The children were allowed to select from a variety of school-related items, such as backpacks, supplies and clothes.

"This was a terrific event," Young told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It was great to see the smiles on their faces. These kids don't have a lot, so it was great to give them a jump-start on their education year."

Young took over the event after Woody Williams, who hosted it last year, signed with the Houston Astros as a free agent this past offseason.

"Liz and I thought it was a great event, and it became her project over the summer," Young said. "And we had a lot of help from the Padres and outside sponsors. Hopefully I'll be here a long time because this is something we'd like to keep doing.

"The kids were really excited. And the Padres announced a free ticket program for them as an incentive to do well in school."

Verlander didn't take offseason off: When the Detroit Tigers lost the 2006 World Series, Justin Verlander didn't sit back and dwell on it. Instead he worked hard to prepare himself for another strong season in 2007.

"I worked pretty hard in the offseason to get ready for my second season. It wasn't based on trying to stay healthy as much as I was striving to be one of the best pitchers in the game. I know if I don't work hard, it will never happen," he told MLB.com.

"There have been a lot of guys who were pretty talented but never made it to that next level. I want to work as hard as I can so I know I never left anything out there. I want to be able to say, 'I gave it all I got.'"

One of the things that Verlander focused on during the winter was his strength.

"I did more strength training this past offseason, working my shoulder a lot harder," he said. "The team has a program for me. I did some stuff on my own, but mostly I worked with our strength and conditioning coach. I lived down in Lakeland, Fla., where our Spring Training site is, and he and I worked out four days a week. Our rehab guys are all there too, and we did separate exercises for my shoulder."

He had good reason to work on his strength, too, as he admittedly began to tire last season.

"I wore down a little late last season, so I took precautions in the offseason and during the first half of this season to make myself feel better in the second half," he said. "If you're feeling fatigued in August, it's too late to do anything about it. That was the problem I ran into last year."

Perez has family, team depending on him: Cleveland Indians reliever Rafael Perez has more than just himself and his teammates to think of when he pitches. A native of the Dominican Republic, Perez has family back home to consider, too.

Jose Fa, Perez's father, does not work. "They depend on me," Perez told MLB.com.

As do the Indians. "He's not only a guy who has had unbelievable success against lefties, but he gets righties out as well," said pitching coach Carl Willis. "If Rafael Betancourt needs a day, we feel confident using [Perez]."

In 13 appearances since the All-Star break, Perez has a 1.10 ERA and 42 strikeouts while walking just 10 in nearly 41 innings.

"I'm getting confidence each day as I go," Perez said through bullpen catcher Dennis Malave, acting as an interpreter. "Going out to the games and being able to do well gives the coaches confidence in me, and that gives me self-confidence."

Willis says that Perez's level of confidence is a factor in his success.

"He has a lot more trust in his fastball and the ability to sink his fastball on the plate or early in the count," said Willis. "That's been a big help for him, because it's eliminated [hitters'] ability to look for it in just one area. He's been tremendous. It's hard for him not to build confidence doing what he's doing."

Pence nearing return: Houston Astros rookie center fielder Hunter Pence is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Friday with Double-A Corpus Christi and then play for Triple-A Round Rock Saturday.

Pence, who is recovering from a chipped bone in his right wrist, started taking live batting practice Wednesday and said he is getting better every day.

"Every day it seems to get a little better," Pence told the Houston Chronicle. "It's not huge jumps, as it was when I was first rehabbing. But it's also a lot healthier than it was. It's gradually loosening up a little more and more.

"It's a little bit of a struggle to loosen it up, but once it gets loose, it's pretty capable of handling a lot of stuff."

The only thing that may keep Pence from starting his rehab assignment this weekend is bad weather in Texas.

"A lot of it is now going to depend on the weather in Texas to see where we can get him to play over the weekend," general manager Tim Purpura said. "Medically, it seems like he's ready to go now. We want to see from a baseball skills point of view whether he's ready to go (Friday)."

Sheets may be back for series with Cubs: The Milwaukee Brewers may be a little closer to having Ben Sheets return to the starting rotation. Sheets, who suffered a tear of tissue in the middle finger of his pitching hand on July 14 and has missed six starts, threw a bullpen session Thursday and could throw a simulated game Monday in Arizona.

If Sheets doesn't suffer any setbacks, he could return to the rotation in time for the Aug. 28-30 series in Chicago.

"Slow and steady; slow and steady," Sheets told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of his progress. "It's at the point where I feel like I can help. I feel like I'm close enough that I can help."

Manager Ned Yost wants Sheets back, but he is making sure not to rush his ace right-hander.

"I want him to make sure that he feels good and that he's free and easy," Yost said.

While Sheets does feel better, he knows he probably isn't going to feel 100 percent the rest of the season.

"They make the final decision," Sheets said. "I think it's going to feel like it feels the rest of the year. I think it got strong enough to where we could start throwing bullpen, and we did. We stayed aggressive. Whenever it allowed us to do something, we did it. We pushed it."

Jimenez steps up for Rockies: With injuries depleting the Colorado Rockies' starting rotation, rookie Ubaldo Jimenez did his part Wednesday by throwing six shutout innings en route to a 3-0 win over San Diego.

Jimenez struggled in his last two outings, allowing 11 earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. But against the Padres, he struck out a career-high nine hitters and allowed only one hit -- a single by Geoff Blum in the first inning. Jimenez has now thrown 12 consecutive shutout innings against the Padres.

"We were talking on the bench, (Jimenez) had a different look in his eye," fellow rookie teammate Ian Stewart told the Rocky Mountain News. "I have seen him do this at Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A, especially Double-A, where he really dominated teams like he did (the Padres). He is close to being that kind of pitcher."

With three starters on the disabled list, the Rockies will need Jimenez to come up with several more outstanding starts in order to stay in the National League West race.

"He was big time for us when we needed it, and he needed it," manager Clint Hurdle said of Jimenez. "He was overpowering. He did what he needed to do. He made his pitches. It was a very polished performance."

Martinez ready for big leaguers: Pedro Martinez is getting tired of rehab starts, and after his latest outing in which he threw four innings for the rookie Gulf Coast League Mets, Martinez is ready to face big league hitters.

"I need to pitch in the big leagues," Martinez told Newsday. "I feel like my pitches are improving, but I can't tell you how good I am until I get a big-league hitter out. I am already pushing the issue, but it's going to take me a little while still."

Martinez, who threw 60 pitches, 47 of which were strikes, threw three perfect innings before allowing a three-run homer in the fourth inning. He ended the night allowing three hits and one walk while striking out four.

"I like this outing a lot more than the other one," Martinez said. "I am more in command, and I actually felt like I pitched a little bit, making pitches where I wanted to, and overall it was a jump ahead. It was a great improvement."

The Mets are being cautiously optimistic about Martinez's progress.

"We got an encouraging report," said vice president of player development Tony Bernazard. "He had a better outing today. Let's wait ... to see how he feels and we'll take the next step."

Wainwright on a roll: St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright is on quite a roll. On a team missing would-be aces Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder, Wainwright has stepped forward in his first season as a starting pitcher to become as close to a stopper the Cardinals have in their rotation.

After working nine innings and allowing only a ninth-inning two-run home run against the Dodgers last Friday, Wainwright continued his dominance on Thursday in the Cardinals' 8-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. With 11 victories on the year, Wainwright has now lowered his ERA to 4.01.

The key for Wainwright on Thursday came in the third inning against rookie third baseman Ryan Braun, who has been a terror at the plate this season. With a full count, Wainwright used his outstanding curveball and froze Braun.

"He's hitting .350 for a reason," Wainwright told MLB.com. "He's got amazing hands up there. He can do a lot of things. I just wanted to make him beat me with my best stuff if he was going to do it. And if not, I was going to win. Right there, in that situation, with him up to bat, if he's going to beat me, he's going to beat me with my best stuff."

Catcher Yadier Molina was not concerned at all about calling for a curve -- three in a row actually -- with Wainwright on the hill.

"I've got confidence in him because he's got a great curveball and he can throw it for strikes," said Molina. "Every time we get in that spot, I don't doubt to throw any pitch because I know he can throw it for strikes."

Manager Tony La Russa, meanwhile, summed up the effort of both Wainwright and Molina succinctly. "Our stars were the pitcher and the catcher," he said.

-- Red Line Editorial