Chase Utley: “I feel pretty damn good right now”

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Offseason reports about Chase Utley’s chronic knee problems and overall health were all fairly optimistic and today the Phillies second baseman said: “I feel pretty damn good right now.”

Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com notes that Utley said similar things upon arriving at spring training last year, only to miss the first 75 games of the season, but Utley explained that “all the hard work” he did during the offseason will make it different this time around:

Last year’s program didn’t work for me. It was disappointing. It was difficult to handle. But I wasn’t going to let it get me down. I knew I had lot of baseball left in me. I wasn’t willing to let this stop me. I’m just happy we put together a good program and now things are looking good.

This offseason, I trained to play baseball, not just take pressure off my knees. It’s worked. I have strength in my legs, and I can feel it taking ground balls and swinging the bat. There’s something there where the last couple of years there hasn’t been.

Hopefully he’s right, because even hobbled last season Utley was plenty productive offensively once he felt good enough to rejoin the lineup, hitting .256 with a .793 OPS in 83 games.

CSNPhilly.com has video of Utley talking to the media today.

Jorge Soler diagnosed with strained oblique, Opening Day in doubt

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Royals outfielder Jorge Soler has been diagnosed with a strained oblique, making it likely that he begins the regular season on the disabled list, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star reports.

The Royals acquired Soler from the Cubs in December in exchange for reliever Wade Davis. Over parts of three seasons with the Cubs, Soler hit .258/.328/.434 with 27 home runs and 98 RBI in 765 plate appearances.

When he’s healthy, Soler is expected to find himself in the Royals’ lineup as a right fielder and occasionally as a designated hitter.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.