Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Utley walks across the field after taking batting practice before a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles

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.

Braves ink Blaine Boyer to a minor league deal

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 2:  Relief pitcher Blaine Boyer #48 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers to home plate during the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on October 2, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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The Braves have signed reliever Blaine Boyer to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Bowman adds that the right-hander has a “good chance” to make the Braves’ bullpen out of spring training.

Boyer, 35, spent the past season with the Brewers, finishing with a 3.95 ERA and a 26/17 K/BB ratio in 66 innings.

Boyer, of course, started his professional baseball career with the Braves as they selected him in the third round of the 2000 draft. Since the Braves traded him in 2009, Boyer has pitched for the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Mets, Padres, and Twins along with the Brewers.

Report: Rays nearing a deal with Shawn Tolleson

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 18: Reliever Shawn Tolleson #37 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth inning at Busch Stadium on June 18, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Update (6:48 PM EST): Topkin reports the contract will be of the major league variety.

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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Rays and free agent reliever Shawn Tolleson are close to finalizing a contract.

Tolleson, who turns 29 years old on Thursday, had an ugly 2016 season, finishing with a 7.68 ERA and a 29/10 K/BB ratio in 36 1/3 innings. He was one of the Rangers’ best relievers in the two seasons prior to that, however, which included saving 35 games in 2015.