Chase Utley hopes to be back before the All-Star break

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According to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, Chase Utley spoke with reporters earlier this morning and said that he has made some progress with his ailing right knee. Specifically, he has begun to take some “light ground balls” over the past few days.

It doesn’t sound like much, but Utley said he is optimistic about avoiding surgery and getting back on the field at some point this season.

While Utley refused to offer a specific timetable for his return, he confirmed that one of his goals would be to play before the All-Star break. For what it’s worth, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. later added that they have no plans to place Utley on the 60-day disabled list, which at least opens the door for a return in the early part of the season.

Zolecki has the whole conversation over at his blog, so it’s worth checking out if you have the time, but this is my favorite part.

Q: Who is the specialist you saw? And how many have you seen?
A: If I tell you I have to kill you.

Q: What’s the big secret?
A: I don’t know. You guys know me by now, right?

This whole process has been clouded in such secrecy that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Utley blast a couple homers dressed as Green Man on Opening Day.

Yankees re-sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

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The Yankees have re-signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Niese was released on Sunday, but he’ll stick around and provide rotation depth for the Yankees.

Niese had knee surgery last August and got a late start to spring training as a result. In six spring appearances lasting an inning each, the lefty gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Niese, a veteran of nine seasons, put up an aggregate 5.50 ERA with an 88/47 K/BB ratio in 121 innings last season between the Pirates and Mets.

Orioles acquire Alec Asher from the Phillies

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The Phillies announced on Tuesday that the club traded pitcher Alec Asher to the Orioles for a player to be named later.

Asher, 25, was the victim of a roster crunch. He was not going to make the 25-man roster and the starting rotation at Triple-A Lehigh Valley was already full. The Phillies acquired him from the Rangers in the July 2015 Cole Hamels trade.

Asher had good results in 27 2/3 innings in the big leagues last year, posting a 2.28 ERA with a 13/4 K/BB ratio. While it didn’t show in those stats, the right-hander sometimes struggles with command and he doesn’t miss bats often enough to make up for it. The Orioles, however, are happy to add some pitching depth.