Chase Utley leaves Phillies camp to see knee specialist, “doubtful” for Opening Day

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Chase Utley kept sitting out games and the Phillies kept insisting it was precautionary and simply an effort to keep him from wearing down during the long regular season, but now it’s clear his chronic knee problems are a much bigger issue than the team was letting on.

Utley has left Phillies camp and will see a specialist following what general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. called a “plateau” in his rehab process.

Here’s more from Amaro, who revealed that Utley is now experiencing problems in both knees:

Chase’s rehab process has come to a bit of a plateau. He has made some strides but not enough to take the field.  He is headed out of town for a few days to be evaluated by a specialist that has helped athletes overcome his issue.  We anticipate that this trip will allow him to build on what he has already done with [athletic trainer] Scott Sheridan in order to get over the hump.  He wants more than anything to be on the field with his teammates and we believe that this is a step in that direction.

That all sounds fine and reasonable, but Amaro and the Phillies have been less than forthcoming about Utley’s situation and have also painted a more optimistic picture than reality indicates with Ryan Howard’s comeback from a torn Achilles’ tendon. In other words, don’t be shocked if the specialist determines that Utley has suffered a setback.

Amaro admitted that Utley will almost surely begin the season on the disabled list, which means slick-fielding 22-year-old rookie Freddy Galvis will be the Opening Day second baseman despite a measly .613 OPS in the minors that includes just 33 games at Triple-A. Utley is under contract for $15 million this season and $15 million next season, and of course Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract extension doesn’t even start until this season.

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.