Confirmed: Chase Utley to begin rehab assignment today

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UPDATE: Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer confirms that Chase Utley will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Single-A Clearwater on Saturday. He is expected to play five innings in the field.

Friday, 11:48 PM: When asked by Todd Zolecki of MLB.com if Chase Utley was going to begin a minor league rehab assignment Saturday, Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said the following:

“It depends how he feels.”

Another source tells Zolecki that Utley could play tomorrow, meaning that he would be a go as long as his surgically-repaired thumb responded well to a Friday workout.

Friday, 11:19 PM: Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com dropped some word earlier tonight that Chase Utley told some teammates that he could return to the starting lineup as soon as next Tuesday. It seemed overly optimistic at first, but the other shoe has dropped since then. According to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, Utley will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Single-A Clearwater on Saturday.

It all depends on how the thumb responds to game activity, but according to Salisbury, Utley “is so far ahead of schedule” that he could return at some point during the team’s 10-game homestand which kicks off Tuesday against the Giants.

When Utley underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb on July 1, he was originally projected to miss eight weeks, which would have put his return somewhere around the end of August or early September. The All-Star second baseman insisted he would be able to beat that timeline all along. And it looks like he’s about to do it.

The Phillies were shut out against the Mets on Friday night, however they are 16-5 in their last 21 games and currently sit just three games behind the Braves in the National League East. It’s nothing the Phillies haven’t overcome before. And now that they are about to get two of their biggest bats back, it’s going to be awful tough to doubt them.

Jon Gray will start Opening Day for the Rockies

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Manager Bud Black has tabbed Jon Gray to start on Opening Day for the Rockies. That will be Monday, April 3 in Milwaukee against the Brewers in an afternoon contest.

Gray, 25, is starting Opening Day for the first time in his career. He’ll be the sixth different Rockies pitcher to start Opening Day in as many years.

The Rockies and Gray had a bit of a scare on Friday as he left his spring training start with discomfort in his left foot, but everything came up clean in an MRI. He pitched again on Wednesday with no issue.

Last season, Gray went 10-10 with a 4.61 ERA and a 185/59 K/BB ratio in 168 innings. A consensus top prospect entering each of the previous three seasons, Gray surprisingly put up better numbers at Coors Field — the most hitter-friendly park in baseball — than away.

Blake Treinen named Nationals closer

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Today Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker named Blake Treinen as his closer. Treinen has saved exactly one big league game.

There wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice, however. Last year Washington had Mark Melancon, but with him gone and GM Mike Rizzo’s failure to land a high-profile closer in the offseason, it became a contest between Treinen Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover.

Treinen posted a 2.28 ERA with 31 walks and 63 Ks in 67 innings in 2016. His big improvement last year came against lefties, who had tattooed him in the past. He pitched well this spring as well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

The Nats are our favorites to win the NL East, but we do have some questions about the pen. Blake Treinen will take the first crack at answering them.